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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 15 2017

Sugar’s Day Is Done? A Review of Gary Taubes’ Latest Treatise, The Case Against Sugar

By Mark Sisson
115 Comments

unhealthy white sugar on wooden background conceptIn 2002, Gary Taubes penned a New York Times piece that questioned the legitimacy of the presiding low-fat dogma. His article made a persuasive case for the safety—and metabolic urgency—of eating more animal fat and fewer carbs. It shifted the national conversation on healthy eating and paved the way for the rise of the ancestral health community. If the experts were that wrong about a healthy diet, what else were they getting wrong?

He expounded the arguments in the Times piece in his next two books, Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. The first, which utterly demolished the conventional wisdom about saturated fat, was deeply influential for me.

In this latest book, The Case Against Sugar, Taubes lays out a convincing case for sugar as the primary cause of obesity, diabetes, and other degenerative diseases “of civilization.”

Many Taubes critics make a mistake. They take him too literally, quibbling on details while missing the big picture: The way he recommends people eat helps them lose weight. It just works.

When he blames the governmental push against saturated fat and cholesterol for their purported crimes against the heart and waistline, he’s not saying the USDA literally said sugar was fantastic to eat (although bureaucrats did recommend “hard candy, gum drops, sugar, syrup, honey, jam, jelly, marmalade” and other high-sugar foods as good low-fat snack options). He’s saying that the full-throated demonization of fat overshadowed everything else they were saying, and that their advice against eating too much sugar was tepid and ineffectual. The result was that average people focused on avoiding fat and cholesterol. What’s left over after fat and cholesterol and all the wonderful foods that contain both nutrients have been removed from the diet? Carbs. Protein is mostly out because it often comes attached with fat. Even eggs have that little poisonous nucleus lurking inside.

And to make low-fat foods palatable, what do you add? Sugar.

The Case Against Sugar will leave you white-knuckled in frustration at the egregious mistakes (honest or not) the powers-that-be made along the way.

  • The collusion between the sugar industry and scientists to bury the research indicting sugar and push the now-discredited attacks on animal fat.
  • How when high-fructose corn syrup was shown to cause lower blood glucose spikes than pure glucose, scientists approved its use for diabetics—ignoring that it was only because the fructose goes straight to the liver for processing that it evades the rise in blood sugar.
  • The widespread implication on the part of the food industry that high fructose corn syrup wasn’t even sugar. After all, it was made of corn, it had more of that diabetic-friendly molecule known as fructose. Hell, it was practically a vegetable! It’s hard to remember since these days HFCS is rightly vilified. Back then, people really didn’t know better, and the industry capitalized on this ignorance.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that Taubes has overlooked some other factors. I’d argue that sugar isn’t the only issue, but I’d agree that it’s one of the primary ones. He isn’t setting out to write an MDA post that considers such arcane influences on health as blue light at night, PUFA-laden vegetable oils, and job-related stress. But not everyone needs that. If your grandma reads it on a whim and stops drinking those two Dr. Peppers each day, she’ll probably extend her life. If your dad reads it and becomes an anti-sugar zealot, he’ll probably drop a few notches on the belt and impress his doctor. Maybe they’re losing weight and improving their health for additional reasons other than Taubes lays out in his book. But does it matter if it works?

Taubes even acknowledges the shortcomings of the book and his argument. He relies mainly on animal trials and observational studies of humans because, well, those are all that’s available. The kind of randomized controlled trial on sugar intake he’d like to see performed in humans doesn’t really exist. It arguably can’t exist.

As Dr. Eades explains, it’d take a truly revolutionary team of researchers with a ton of money at their disposal to do the “definitive” (if such a thing exists) study on sugar and obesity/diabetes/etc:

To truly nail this down, scientists would have to randomize people into two groups, the subjects in one of which would be expected to eat 100 pounds of sugar per year, while the subjects in the other group would eat almost no sugar (or a significantly lesser amount). The study would have to last for years to realize a significant outcome. Ethical issues aside, a study like this would be enormously expensive and would be impossible to accurately monitor. It’s one thing to randomize people into a study and have them not eat sugar for a month or six weeks – it’s entirely another to get them to forsake it or gorge on it for six years (or however long it would take for meaningful data to emerge).

Maybe when we hit the Singularity and possess the capability to generate virtual universes indistinguishable from the real thing, we’ll be able to run one of these studies to completion. Probably from an iPhone app.

So when a critic points out that obesity rates have progressed despite average sugar intake dropping, it might be that enough folks are still eating over a hundred pounds. But that’s the average. Some people, like you or me, eat less than a pound of sugar in a year. To hit the national average, that means other people are eating well over a hundred pounds each—and they’re probably the ones getting sick, fat, and diabetic.

As Taubes himself concludes, we don’t know whether sugar is the primary cause of metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and all the other trappings of civilization. We can’t know for sure. But sugar is a strong candidate. It performs no essential physiological role, and when people do give it up good things happen to their health.

This case against sugar is a strong one, with lots of circumstantial evidence pointing toward it as a major culprit. A jury might not convict. But this isn’t a courtroom. Luckily for the individual, we don’t have to give sugar the benefit of the doubt. We’re allowed to presume guilt.

Go out and grab a copy of the book. It’s a good one that will only improve public health.

Did anyone else read The Case Against Sugar? What did you think?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!

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115 thoughts on “Sugar’s Day Is Done? A Review of Gary Taubes’ Latest Treatise, The Case Against Sugar”

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  1. Gary Taubes is right. Sugar is just plain dangerous. As far as the study Dr. Eades suggests, it would be definitive, but how would you like to be part of the control group dosed with 100#+ of sugar each year? Is that tantamount to pre-meditated murder? Of course there are those who eat in that way, but hard to track in a study.

    1. Maybe we could relegate the task to our corporatist prison system.

      1. Why not? They’re already being tortured with soy products. How much additional harm could a mountain of sugar do?

        1. Probably, willingly suggesting the use of humans beings who have already had their freedom stripped from them and their humanity destroyed is not the best idea the primal community could have. Ya dig?

          1. I’m not sure about using them in such an experiment, either, but they gave up their freedom, they weren’t stripped of it.

          2. I don’t think they should be used as experiments either, because we as society are better than that. But let’s not paint them as victims that have had their freedom stripped away and their humanity destroyed. They made their choices and must deal with the consequences. My friends daughter on the other hand, who was violently assaulted and robbed at gunpoint while she had the audacity to work a night shift job at a grocery store, had her humanity and freedom taken from her. The monster that was arrested for the crime deserves every minute in jail he was sentenced to.

          3. In a primal world, there are consequences for making anti-social choices.

  2. I listened to the audiobook. Fascinating stuff. So sad this is what has happened to our food. So glad Mark and others are standing up for real food!

  3. I also read this book, and I loved it! Particularly the history of sugar consumption and the growing cases of diabetes. If I hadn’t already been trying actively to purge my daily diet of sugar and other carbs, this would have been the primary convincer for me. Since reading his book, I’ve been a podcast junkie, searching him out specifically to listen to what he has to say. I’d love to hear him on YOUR podcast! 🙂

  4. Reading one of Taubes’ early books was also very influential for me, and it empowered me to question a lot of conventional wisdom about diet. I’ve not read Taubes’ latest book but, coincidentally, just before I read Mark’s piece I was reading Stephan Guyenet’s review of the book at http://www.stephanguyenet.com/bad-sugar-or-bad-journalism-an-expert-review-of-the-case-against-sugar/. If accurate, it suggests that Taubes may be overstating his case, and the truth (as often) is a little more nuanced.

    1. This absurd comment in the Guyenet review persuaded me Guyenet is not to be relied on:-

      “Taubes points his finger at others while never disclosing his own conflict of interest, which is that his fame and fortune rely on perpetuating his controversial ideas to an audience that has little basis for evaluating them.”

      Guyenet suggests Taubes’ success as a researcher and author of books challenging carbs and sugar constitutes an undisclosed conflict of interest by him. Beyond ridiculous.

      Also in that quote is the second absurd allegation that Taubes’ readers have little basis for evaluating his views. How could Guyenet possibly know that? It’s clearly not true if only in the fact a review of Taubes’ latest book is on this site.

        1. Yes he is. He’s a journalist researcher. He’s not a scientific researcher, but I didn’t suggest he was that. Not all research by any means is done in a laboratory. Legal research which I’ve engaged in for many years for example.

    2. Thanks for this link, JH. Also interesting is Clark’s comment below the review, pointing out some flaws the review. All very interesting on-going discussions.

    3. The point that Guyenet and others seem to miss is that Taubes is this is not a book about all possible causes of the diabesity crisis, but rather should be seen as a prosecutor’s case. There could be other suspects, but Taubes mission was to examine the case against sugar as is inferred in the title. I suspect that the distinction is too subtle for Guyenet as his animus towards Taubes does him discredit.

  5. Taubes book is a great read, provocative, well researched and fairly presented, as all of his books are. It is especially galling when he implicates other “every day” diseases such as gout, hypertension, and even cancer as being essentially preventable with simple good dietary advice steeped in the long history of mankind, and not in our trusted nutritional guidelnes, which continue to crumble like a house of cards under the weight of alot of bad conclusions and weak evidence.
    Taubes book makes one wonder if there may be other maladies that can be implicated with excess sugar consumption he hasn’t even touched on, understandably because the evidence is still forthcoming. Perhaps presbyopia? Or example, consider schizophrenia and other neurological diseases:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2652467/
    http://www.techtimes.com/articles/117242/20151217/schizophrenia-patients-may-benefit-from-this-high-fat-low-carb-weightloss-diet.htm
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4101992/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312079/

    And of course grains, a great source of sugars are also implicated here:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6609726
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4809873/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3944951/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517012/

    Kinda makes one wonder if that champion of American agriculture, the USDA, through the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, should have anything to do with creating food guidance systems…

    Pass the butter.

  6. Giving up sugar takes the first obstacle to good health away. Then the other obstacles become more apparent and can be targeted. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.

  7. I’m fascinated with the subject and look forward to reading the book. Thanks for the review. I grew up in one of those households where corn syrup was considered healthy, so I got to have Dolly Madison snack cakes and Carnation instant breakfast to start my days and for health snacks while my mother starved herself with indulgences like… Ugh, tofu cheesecake mage with nutrasweet. …Yeah. Definitely looking forward to learning a bit more about what happened there.

  8. I found it interesting that the link to this article came in the same email as a link to Paleo Desserts.

    If you listen to Gary Taubes, he’s speaking of ALL sugar, from ALL sources. Sorry, but most people won’t live that way. In fact, he told me that even his own kids don’t!

    1. Because it’s so addicting. He goes over that in the book too. It’s hard to resist it in a culture that considers it innocent unless you REALLY know why it’s so bad. Every time I’m tempted to eat something sweet, I say to myself, “It’s crack. Do I really want that monkey on my back again?”

      1. Exactly. Nine years without refined or process sugars, and I can’t imagine riding that train again. Even my personality changed once the sugar was gone. It took me a little longer to give up bread and all those flour based carbs, but that has turned out to be at least as beneficial as giving up the sugar, I think. The bread was a core issue; occasional sugary food was just a crappy little habit.

        That being said, I eat a piece of fruit every day and put a teaspoon of honey in my coffee once in a while. For the minerals, you understand. Our ancestors were not going to pass a raspberry bush by, I am pretty sure.

        1. Just followed the link from last Sunday’s post… I gave up bread first and then sugar — about 4 years ago. I feel so much better without it that I am not tempted to ever go back. And my personality changed too. I never met anyone else in real life who lives without sugar.

  9. I did read it and, as with his other books, it’s incredible how much information he can pack into such a readable book. It will definitely give someone trying to cut back on or quit sugar another weapon to fuse against cravings. It certainly did for me.

    1. That’s “use”, not “fuse”. My proof-reading needs a proofreader.

  10. I listened to the audio book and loved it! I also learned a lot as well (like the connection with the tobacco industry). I have enjoyed all of his work.

  11. I just purchased his book on audio. I’ve listened to his lecture while at the Institute for Integrated Nutrition. I like his speaking stye. Like an investigative reporter, without bias. He lays out real facts, like a prosecuting attorney.

  12. I haven’t read this yet. Sure I will at some point. But I already know that sugar is addictive and does nothing for me. I still indulge from time to time, but so many things taste overly sweet to me now. Totally agree with Mark that sugar is not the only culprit but it’s a HUGE one. For many people, that one change could literally turn their life around. And I totally believe that when you make that one change and it sticks, it leads to other positive changes. Huge ripple effect! For example, after cutting out sugar, someone will lose weight and have more energy. That in turn will help them be more active. Maybe just go out and walk their dog after dinner. Which also improves their health (and the health of their dog). While walking, they meet their neighbors. Social interaction is good for your health too. Someone at work asks how they lost all the weight. They say it started by cutting out sugar! And then someone else is inspired.

  13. Thing is, nobody can control what someone else does. Sugar and HFCS-laden products will remain on the market, probably forever, and people will continue to eat that stuff. The same is true of grain products, particularly wheat. An occasional cheat isn’t going to kill anyone. It’s when “occasional” becomes “daily”, and then “several times daily”, to the exclusion of healthier choices, that problems start to arise.

    Unfortunately, it isn’t a matter of getting the word out. The word IS out there and has been for years, but too many people just don’t care. They know they won’t live forever, but they are utterly convinced that bodily decline and disease “just happen” and aren’t related to what they eat–or that they are “genetically programmed” toward obesity and therefore food choices don’t matter. I know from personal experience that it’s nearly impossible to change this kind of mindset.

  14. Gary Taubes and Mark both indirectly helped me manage my gout. One day I was suffering from an attack and naturally I sat in pain scouring the depths of the internet searching for solutions. That’s when I came across an MDA post on gout. One of the comments gave a link to the lost chapter from, Good Calories Bad Calories, regarding gout. Fructose! I had been treating my gout on a fructose diet and wondered why attacks even with unpleasant medication (indomethacin and colchicine) lasted 2 weeks. Now if I feel and attack coming on I load up on potassium rich greens and avoid fructose like the plague. Instead of hobbling attacks monthly, I only get a slight tinge about three times a year without the horrific side effects of medication. I am a great believer in Gary’s work. If Gary is listening, why not use that “lost chapter” as the basis for your next book concept, Inflammatory Foods and What Causes Systemic Inflammation. P.S. I want a signed copy please and thank you the MDA reader that originally posted the link.

  15. Just one teaspoon (4g) of sugar in your coffee once per day adds up to 3.2 lbs of sugar in a year. This is not a lot (Mark even says he does this). But it is easy to see how it adds up. 100lbs in a year seems easy to hit for an average person on the SAD diet.

      1. I use a tablespoon of raw honey and a table spoon of blackstrap molasses, along with cocoa and whole cream, to my morning mug of Joe. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

        1. Is that even coffee anymore? Sounds like a dessert. Just sayin’

          1. +1. Lol, that’s just too complicated for me in the mornings to make a coffee beverage like that haha. Straight plain black coffee for me. If I feel like it I might add some trace mineral drops to it, but that’s it. The trace mineral”s” is mostly just magnesium though. I started doing it awhile back because I figured the magnesium would lessen the vasoconstriction of the coffee. Since magnesium is a vasodilator.

    1. If I need something sweet in my coffee; 1/2 teaspoon of Coconut oil OR a small amount of Royal Jelly honey works for me.

      1. I haven’t heard of putting Royal Jelly honey in coffee. Does it taste like regular honey? What does it cost relative to regular honey?

      2. I love using this sugar substitute that’s extracted from the kabocha squash called BochaSweet in my coffee every morning. It tastes just like sugar and it doesn’t spike my blood sugar levels or leave a bitter aftertaste like other sugar substitutes on the market. I am a type 1 diabetic. I love this stuff! I’ve tried everything from monk fruit, stevia, Swerve, etc and nothing comes close to this stuff. You can check out their website it’s called http://www.bochasweet.com

    2. Laird Hamilton has a line of coconut based non-dairy coffee creamers which are awesome, low sugar, and have aquamin for mineral content. Much better than sugar, especially when paired with ghee.

  16. I too am a fan of Taubes and have been heavily influenced by his writings, as well as by the Primal and Paleo philosophies. Another of my go-to authors is Denise Minger, whose fabulous book “Death By Food Pyramid” was published by Mark Sisson’s publishing company.

    Minger has written a fascinating, very long and detailed article — more like a thesis — called “In Defense of Low Fat: A Call For Some Evolution of Thought (Part 1).” Here’s the link, for anyone interested in reading it: https://deniseminger.com/2015/10/06/in-defense-of-low-fat-a-call-for-some-evolution-of-thought-part-1/

    Among other things, Minger describes the work of Dr. Walter Kempner. In the 1930’s he set about to treat kidney disease by putting patients — ultimately 18,000 of them — on a diet that COMPLETELY EXCLUDED fat, protein and sodium. So what did they eat? Get ready: white rice, fruit, fruit juice, refined table sugar and in some cases a few vitamin supplements. That’s it. What happened? Well, not only were they cured of kidney disease, but “…obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, coronary artery disease, psoriasis, and arthritis often saw major improvement or total reversal as a result of the diet.” And the majority of them stayed cured.

    That’s the tip of the iceberg of successful high fat-low carb studies mentioned in this article. Keep in mind that Minger is hardly a shill for the low fat movement. She just likes to read the dickens out of studies, understand them and explain them to the rest of us, to get at the underlying truth about what is essential in human nutrition and what is optional or variable. Minger doesn’t offer a hypothesis in Part 1; maybe in Part 2 she will go into detail about the possible mechanisms of action for such a dramatic reversal of disease.

    I’m confused, to say the least, but fascinated. Ultimately, I’m like Minger: I’m interested in what works, and why. When there are contradictions, there has to be a reason. Perhaps it’s genetic variation, but a sample size of 18,000 patients would not favor genetics as a explanation.

    So Mark, what do you make of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    1. I’ll bite. Being a big Minger fan myself, I also read that article. She’s learned that both high fat/low carb (Paleo/Primal) and a high carb/very low fat diet BOTH WORK. So this leads to my conclusion: Who the hell would want to choose the high carb/almost no fat diet, with one full of butter, cream, coconut products, cheese, olive oil, bacon and eggs?

      1. Good point, Nocona; I certainly wouldn’t want to give up all the yummy high fat foods for carbs, which only give me annoying cravings.

      2. It’s true that they both work -if – and it’s a big if, the high carb diet is based on beans, lentils, unprocessed grains and whole fruits and veggies and avoids almost all sugar. I’ve never met a high carb/low fat person who did that though.

        1. Except that the study I describe about employed none of the foods you mention — only sugar and white rice. Obviously it was part of a study and not how people would ever eat in the real world. Nevertheless, it reversed kidney disease and other serious conditions permanently. I’m not saying I advocate such a diet, but the results are worth contemplating and need explaining, at least to me.

          1. I meant to write “the study I describe above”

    2. Reminds me of the Potato Hack, which I read recently and have tried a couple of times. https://potatohack.com/

      If you wish to put it in an ancestral perspective, you can argue that many foods are seasonal. When a hunter-gatherer population, living in a natural environment, has access to a source of nuts, fruits or tubers – or a herd of migratory animals – they have a tendency to eat a preponderance of that common and readily-available food.

      It is only with the advent of modern refrigeration and food storage facilities that it became possible to eat seasonal food such as fruit, all year round without losing most of it in storage. Fruit and vegetables rot. Nuts and grains are eaten by insects. Storage methods such as cool cellars and pickling are only practical for sedentary societies.

      So yes….. I suspect that swapping between eating styles from time to time, may confer some benefits.

  17. What if it’s all been a big fat lie? I have been low carb since that 2002 NYMag article as well. Sites like MDA would not even exist without Taubes. Paleo would not exist either. Taubes is a hero.

    1. Well said, JJSmith! Taubes is a hero. I have read both his first books and several of his articles…as well as “That Sugar Book” , “Sugar Crush”, “Pure, White, and Deadly” and many more, by other authors. “Sugar:The Bitter Truth” is an excellent video of an enlightening speech given by Dr. Robert Lustig. I look forward to reading Taube’s new book on sugar. Sugar is seductive, innocent looking, addictive, and ruinous to your health. When I gave it up, I gained the liberty to make all manner of other better food choices. Vertigo went away and never came back; gouty knees, gone. Heart palpitations, sinus infections, colds, cavities, all gone. Reading “10% Human” (about the Bacteria in your gut and the rest of you) and other works gave me an understanding of how the gut bacteria that favor the sugar manipulate us into eating it, they want to ensure their survival, too! It became easier to say “no” when I realized I was being manipulated by bacteria! I still occasionally have a little sugar; a few teaspoons of premium ice cream on vacation, a S’more on a camping trip, but I respect it as the powerful (and terrible) drug it is; and I make sure to wait at least a month, before “imbibing” again, to ensure there is no addiction. Better would be none, maybe some day I’ll get there. My daily coffee has warmed whole milk, a tsp of unsweetened cocoa, and real whipped cream on top, with a sprinkle of cinnamon. It is a treat, no sugar needed.

  18. I did read The Case Against Sugar, and all of Taubes other works. Its true that the “proof” to convict sugar would be near impossible to get, but as Mark said, we don’t need proof to convict. The evidence is strong enough to presume guilt.

  19. Sugar is dangerous, no doubt. And avoiding all forms of processed sugar is a must for a optimal healthy diet. Avoiding grains (basically indirect sugar) is important too. However if I was to pick one single ingredient to target the most it would be industrial seed oils. Studying the paleo diet has lead me to focus not so much on macronutrient ratios but just eating real whole foods (besides grain) and avoiding vegetable oils. There was a few primitive tribe that ate not really high carb, but higher carb then today’s low carb standers without much chronic disease. However the one factor they all had in common whether low carb or moderate carb was the absence of industrial seed oils which cause systemic chronic inflammation. OF course it seems vegetable oils wasn’t bad enough of us so we had to go and hydrogenate them too.

    1. The newly revised Deep Nutrition goes into detail about why seed oils are so bad for humans. Because of the way they are processed, canola/corn/soy/etc. oils are a novel substance for the human body. The body can’t utilize them like the normal animal or vegetable fats that humans are adapted to. The seed oils have been processed to smell and appear innocuous, but they’re not.

  20. I read Why We Get Fat and heard Taubes on the Joe Rogan Podcast. I have since stopped eating sugar and because of you have stopped eating grains. My weight has dropped 12 pounds and still going.

  21. Loved the book. Also loved watching the doucmentary FedUp and That Sugar Film

  22. I’ve read Taube’s previous books but not this one yet. I was Lower-carb paleo for almost a decade but constantly struggled with low energy issues. I went back to a more Zone style diet and later added sugar. I find that sugar – which i try to get from fruit, raw honey, but also use fruit juice – helps keep my energy up and brain awake. On Paleo, I struggled a lot with carb-flu and feeling brain dead. Anyone had this and know how to work through it?

    1. I’ve been listening to the lectures from the LCHF conferences in South Africa last year and Denver this year. To avoid carb-flu, you need to add more salt and fat to your diet. (Healthy fats goes without saying) but the key is actually salt. Yep, salt. Good salts like Himilayan or Celtic, not just the nutritionally void table salt. But low carb,high fat should also include a moderate salt intake. I use a pinch in my water every morning for starters.. which is good for regulating your adrenals, as well as electrolytes and a good way to get additional minerals. They also recommend adding quality made bone broth. Also, you need to give your body time to adjust.. it can take a long time. A lot longer then we originally thought. some take 6 weeks, some 6 months. Anyway, if you get bored go to the Living LaVdia Low carb podcast and listen to the lectures. it is VERY informative!

      1. Thanks, i think in Taubes book, Why We Get Fat, he recommended this, but I may need to try this again. I had always kept fat levels high, but will try the salt.

        1. Salt is huge! (not that huge amounts of salt are needed) 99% of the salt that most people get come from the processed foods of the SAD diet. Combine cutting those foods with the salt shaker aversion we’ve all been trained to have and it’s pretty easy to get salt-deficient.

          Especially if you are dipping down into ketosis – it has a diuretic effect that leads to increased sodium excretion along with the water.

          1. So right about salt, especially for those new to ketosis, etc. There’s a book coming out in June that I think is going to blow the whole ‘low salt’ thing out of the water. Sorry, I’ve forgotten the name, but it has a blue cover and a salt shaker on the front and will be released June 6th…I’ve pre-ordered it.

          2. Just went to look it up, it’s called “The Salt Fix” by James DiNicolontino

          3. Yes. What’s wurst is that the industrial foods are made with iodine free salt and not using the salt shaker means their diet is almost completely lacking in iodine.

      2. What you say about salt is true. Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek, who have studied the effects of a ketogenic diet on human subjects in the lab for many years, are adamant about the need for sufficient salt in a truly high fat-low carb diet. Check out “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.” Fascinating stuff.

        1. I recently was having a drastic fatigue problem shortly after eating lunch. Would be so dragged out it would ruin the rest of the day. Looked around online and kept seeing that it could be an electrolyte issue. I already use sea salt but made sure to sprinkle it on more often, added potassium chloride on a regular basis, plus a snack of seaweed here and there. So far it has solved the fatigue problem, thank goodness.

    2. Hey it’s important to note that the low carb lifestyle and paleo lifestyle are not synonymous with each other. Read some of Dr. Cordain’s work, very rarely does he discuss the macronutrient ratios as a big deal. Mark Sisson does a fabulous job splicing low carb and paleo to create the primal blueprint. Which Mark’s way makes more sense to me anyways. Think about it, living in the wild during the authentic paleo era there wasn’t hybrid domesticate fruits and tubers, so getting past about a 150 carbs a day would’ve been rare for most civilizations. And net carbs were certainly probably low since all the wild plant foods they had access to were real fibrous. I think to a certain extent paleo is sort of low carb, but nothing close to ketogenic. If you eat a paleo diet rich in fruits and vegetables the chance of getting carb flu is low. Simultaneously though the chance of getting too many carbs and metabolic syndrome is rare because of the absence of processed foods and grain. I’ve been eating around 130 carbs of years without much of a problem either way. I don’t even carb count anymore, I go by feeling. Keto can work, however you really have to up the amount of fat you’re eating.

      1. Correction, I said civilizations. There wasn’t civilizations during the Paleolithic era, I meant tribes.

        1. The thing is, our ancestors wouldn’t have eating fruits and veg every day because they were seasonal. I guess if some still lived in warm climates, those tribes would have had ‘some’ vegetation throughout the year, though. Once again, it’s up to each of us to do our own experimenting on what works best for us as you’ve done.

          1. Depending on the geographical region there was a wide range of different macronutrient ratios. We ranged from near carnivores to 70% plant based in some areas. Artic tribes would damn near eat nothing but animals and south american tribes had excess to wild fruits and wild vegetables (leaves, stems, roots). None of them ate refined seed oils though.

  23. I read it and enjoyed but it was a case of preaching to the converted – I also loved Gillespie’s ‘Sugar, the Sweet Poison’. I think the bit that really hit me with the Taubes book was the observation that when people are short of money for food, they will sacrifice nutritious food and buy sugar – that’s how addictive it is. I am a ‘recovering sugar addict’ and I find it very tough, even knowing what I know about sugar.
    If I have one criticism of the book, I think Taubes possibly pushes his case a little too hard – lots of repetition of his key points; I know he is really pressing home the case but I think it could be construed as trying too hard.

    1. So how did you become a “recovering” sugar addict? I’m having an extremely difficult time and would love to know.

      1. To be honest – with difficulty. I think you have to remember that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. I chose to go cold turkey and it was hard! However, after about 3 weeks (I know it takes longer with some people) I found that I could easily resist sweet stuff – even though I bake and make cupcakes! It felt such a relief. But it is like any other addiction – I thought I could have ‘just a little bit’ but soon found myself back in the full addiction. I think you should just take one day at a time (I even put little stars on my calendar for each day I managed). David Gillespie does the Sweet Poison Quit Plan which also has some useful tips for breaking the habit. Good luck.

        1. Thank you so much! I did a Whole30 in January, but still went right back to sugar. I almost get panicky when I think of never having sugar again, but that says to me that it’s really an addiction.

          1. I know what you mean – cupcakes with lashings of buttercream!?
            A

          2. I have just downloaded Paul McKenna’s latest offering on getting rid of sugar. As usual he has a relaxing ‘mind-programming’ audio which, if nothing else is very relaxing! I’ve just started it so I’ll let you know how I get on – his other books/audios have been very good.

    1. And “Sugar Blues” in about 1972…Weston’s book is still one of the all time greats!

  24. Loved this well-reasoned — not to mention reasonable — take on the new Taubes book. It’s one reason this site is one of my ver few go-to sources to ferret out truth from hype. Thanks, Mark. All I know is that every aspect of my physical health got waaaaay better once I reduced sugar to the absolute minimum over 25 years ago.

  25. All,

    If the intent is to lose body weight, as opposed to body fat, then, for a short term goal, it doesn’t matter what you eat. So long as your metabolism is healthy and you maintain a moderate calorie deficit you can lose weight.

    I’m not sure if anyone remembers, but Professor Mark Haub from Kansas State University conducted a weight-loss study on himself in 2010. He started the study at 211 pounds and at 33.4 percent body fat, and calculated that he would need to eat about 1,800 calories per day to lose weight without starving himself.

    While he did have one protein shake and a couple of servings of vegetables each day, two-thirds of his daily calories came from Twinkies, Little Debbies, Doritos, sugary cereals, and Oreos—a “convenience store diet,” as he called it. And he not only lost the weight, but his “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his “good” cholesterol, or HDL, increased 20 percent. Of course, Haub doesn’t recommend this diet, but he did it to prove a point. When it comes to weight loss, calories are king.

    Of course long term exposure to a moderate calorie ‘convenience store diet’, or SAD, regardless of weight loss, comes with its own plethora of issues, many associated with the lack of nutrients required by the body to ultimately maintain good health.

    And, as everyone who follows MDA knows, healthy fat loss (not weight loss) isn’t as simple as cutting your calories and starving yourself. Eventually the muscle loss, metabolic slowdown, and other undesirable hormonal effects become too much. And when you finally can’t take the abject misery anymore, you’ll likely go back to increasing calorie intake and end up right back where you started.

    So while a “calorie is a calorie” for weight-loss purposes alone, a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to optimizing your body composition. And based on the Professor Mark Haub experiment, what you eat seems to matters very little if you’re just trying to see the number on the scale reduce in your favor. However, it does matter if you’re trying to lose fat, and not muscle, and also maintain a level of acceptable health in the long run with appropriate energy to match.

    Which means that among other forms of carbohydrate, sugars, in their natural unprocessed form, could, and most probably should, predominantly because of their positive effect on the endocrine system, form part of your day-to-day diet.

    1. Regarding calories – “It not how low you make them; it’s how you make them low.

  26. I remember having that aha moment when I was reading Taubes 2002 NY magazine article. Of course I didn’t read it until just three years ago. But it was still just totally shocking to me. Cognitive dissonance shoved right at me. I reread it immediately and have been on a quest for health and knowledge ever since

  27. I’ve replied to comments in this thread, but it’s worth asking the question, what about seasonal variation?

    When a hunter-gatherer tribe comes across a grove of fig trees or nut trees with abundant ripe fruit, they don’t just snack on a couple and move on. Nor do they carry masses of easily-soiling fruit with them, or preserve masses of them in bottles or cellars. These are luxuries only available to sedentary societies, particularly those with modern refrigeration and insect control.

    The tendency is to camp where the easily accessible and tasty food is, and eat a lot of it while it is available.

    Tribal aboriginals in Australia were known to travel considerable distances and engage in large communal gatherings to take advantage of seasonally available foods, both plant (bunya nuts, and yams) or animal (bogong moths).

    “Ancestral” diets should account for this, and it may account for the (short term?) success of some LFHC dietary experiments.

    1. Very cool observation. I agree and think you’re spot on. In a natural environment there are always fluctuations and it’s hard to find a constant steady supply of any one food. Seasonal abundance of one food followed by its absence and replacement with another seasonal food is the norm. Even in tropical environments there is seasonal variation. You only have to look at wildlife to see the variety many animals feed on throughout the year. Even where some foods are available year round, it might be easier/harder to get to them at different times.

  28. I respect Taubes because he is persuasive and compelling but willing to doubt himself and admit his biases. He invites the reader to follow the data and draw their own conclusions.

  29. It is not that difficult to give up sugar. At Christmas when there are lots of sweets and one indulges, then going off sugar is difficult . . .for a while. It is so much easier to give it up completely, rather than feeling tempted. In the morning I have tea with a drop of YL essential oils of peppermint, cinnamon, ginger, thieves and coconut oil. There is a slightly sweet taste with the cinnamon

    I have read two of Taubs books and they are fantastic. I look forward to reading his book on sugar..

  30. Mark: I seriously doubt that you eat <1lb sugar per year. If you consume ANY fruit other than berries – say, an apple – or a serving of plain Greek yogurt, according to the nutrition data/labels, you're eating around 15g of sugar. Multiply 15g per day by 365 = 12 pounds per year. Cut that back to a couple servings per week and you're still well over a pound.

    I have been tracking all of my food intake for 6 months (annoying to do but enlightening), and have struggled to stay under 50g/day of sugar, even eating only whole foods – unless I declare "paleo" and stop eating Greek yogurt, fruit, and squash for a while, the sugars from those foods and berries add up (God forbid I add rice). 50g per day is about 40 POUNDS of sugar per year – while deliberately avoiding processed food and added sugar! 100lbs is 124.3g per day (on average), which sounds like a whole lot, but it's not hard to get there quickly if you eat a couple of pieces of fruit, a sugar-sweetened beverage or juice, and perhaps a beer, cocktail, and/or cookie. Sounds like a lot to the kind of people who frequent this forum, but for most people in the USA it's completely normal eating – you don't have to ingest an entire pint of Moose Tracks.

    Obviously I haven't read the book yet so maybe he discusses these calculations; my point of posting here was just to call BS on you for claiming to eat less than a pound of sugar per year!

    Grok on 😉

    1. I think the 100 pound figure is based on *added* sugar which IMAO include sugar from extracts like fruit juice. Fruit is absorbed slower, whereas fruit juice is almost mainlining sugar.

  31. Remember fruit juice has about as much fructose as soda.

  32. Another good read that gives a good understanding of the insidious nature of sugar in our diet is “Sweet Poison – Why Sugar makes us Fat” by David Gillespie. Puts the physiology into very easy to follow terms – a bit MDA like !!!!

  33. A fantastic but little known book on the history of sugar and it’s detrimental health impacts is “The sugar blues” by William Dufty …published 1975. I read it 20 yrs ago and gave up sugar on the spot, am 52 now in great health trail running in the mountains 24km 1100m elevation. an extract from the book here https://www.quantumbalancing.com/news/sugar_blues.htm Hi to all from Cape town, South Africa.

  34. I haven’t read ‘The Case Against Sugar?’ but I’ll make sure I do! Thanks Mark, great post.

  35. Unfortunately it’s NOT just about sugar! Sugar (Sucrose) has less of an impact on blood glucose levels than starchy carbohydrates that are generally almost pure glucose and get absorbed by the body very quickly (therefore spiking blood glucose levels). The demonization of sugar and the current media focus on ‘Sugar’ (and that unfortunately includes Taube’s book) as the problem, is creating a huge smoke screen that is hiding the real problems such as modern wheat (The stuff that vermin won’t touch!) and the huge availability of ‘Carbs’ being pushed by virtually every high street chain like Costa & Subway. This is not to say that Sugar plays a role, it’s just not the huge main culprit that everyone is making out. Bread, pasta, rice and potato are much worse when looking at diabetes and fruit is fattening!

    1. Agree with you wholeheartedly about starchy carbs and fruits, but I thought sugar was half fructose and half glucose. Either way, the only carbs I eat now are veggies grown above ground, but that’s me; I need to lose weight and keep my blood sugar down for health.

  36. I read the book back in January – I really enjoyed it, but it didn’t bowl me over like Good Calories, Bad Calories did when I first read it. Maybe that’s because I’ve already read up on sugar and some of the studies that Taubes sites in the book, while GCBC was one of my first significant reads into why most of what I believed about nutrition at the time was wrong. Despite that, the historical overview of sugar use and the rise of the sugar industry was both fascinating and frustrating to read about.

    I agree that the book makes a pretty convincing case for sugar as a primary cause of our “diseases of civilization”. I just tend to think that it’s become a myriad of things, as I’m sure many here think too!

  37. A question, Mark (wrt to Dr Eades’ assertion that it would take years of controlled study to find a “significant” outcome). Assuming that by “significant” he means statistically significant, then is sugar really that bad? If it’s as horrible as we think, then why wouldn’t a relatively short term study yield significant findings? It would seem the key would be how we are defining the outcomes – since there are loads of markers that correlate to poor health outcomes (e.g. inflammation, cortisol, blood lipids, etc.) then can’t we see how these outcomes are affected by short term or relatively short term (1 day to 4 weeks, say) ingestion of sugar, and of sugar in varying amounts and percentages of total caloric intake, and then posit possible longer term outcomes based on that?

    Don’t get me wrong – I believe sugar is “bad” because I feel better when I don’t eat it, and once I stopped eating it I stopped craving it. But that happened in the very short term – took weeks and not years – so it would make sense that there would be measurable markers that would identify the short-term effect sugar was having on my body.

  38. I’ve been off the site for a while and just saw a YouTube video claiming that Mark Sisson had a heart attack a few years ago, was diagnosed with blockage of a coronary artery and plaque, and put on statins. Supposedly he wrote about it here on the site, but I could find no mention of it. Is this a scam or is it true?

    1. Ahhh yes, you ran into vegetable police. Be careful with taking these youtube vegan enthusiasts seriously. His knowledge (or lack thereof) in nutrition is staggering. He’ll say anything to attack a lifestyle that isn’t vegan. There’s a few more on there just like him. I actually like watching them sometimes because they get fired up lol. It’s funny stuff, but shouldn’t be taken seriously. Vegan gains and Durianrider are some more funny pseudointellectual fellows. Mark Sisson told his story on a Joe Rogan podcast. He’s had several health problems (in the past) which lead him down the road he’s on. Coronary artery disease wasn’t one of them.

      1. Trust me, I’m no fan of the vegetable police as you call them. But this person held up an image of (supposedly) Mark’s website and read from it. Should I assume this dude made up the story and faked the web page? It seems like a long way to go to discredit somebody’s diet, but stranger things have happened.

    2. Lol, I went to check out the video because I smelled a rat. The majority of commenters were vegans who had it in for the “meat and dairy industry”. It gave me a good chuckle to see how desperate the non-paleo side is.

  39. I read it. And then I gave up sugar for Lent. The increases in per person sugar consumption over the last two centuries should cause people to pause and think.
    I don’t eat nearly the national average, but I do have a sweet tooth and will binge on chocolate especially, at times. I don’t drink soda (wasn’t allowed as a kid and never acquired a taste for it). But wow, since I’ve started really label-reading, sugar is everywhere! Sugar is in stuff that used to be made without it when I was younger.
    So now I’m 16 days without sugar at all. I’ve dropped three pounds, and I feel like I eat a lot of primal food. It helps that I’m not the least bit afraid of (good) fat anymore. It feels good to no longer be a slave to the white stuff.

    1. Soda is particularly evil. Some people recover just from ditching soda. Dr. Lustig gets kids out of diabetes II just by taking them off soda. (Diabetes I and II are opposite conditions, but some unfortunates (mainly those who follow consensus medical advice) can get both at the same time. Having both is the logical result of the consensus medical advice.

  40. I read that article in the Times (Taubes ties sugar to cancer as well), and then copied it to give to my sophomore history students. We do a whole unit on Sugar and Slavery–looking at how sugar fueled both the slave trade and European industrialization (Sidney Mintz’s brilliant historical work Sweetness and Power postulates this theory). I argue that sugar not only is ruining public health, but also our environment (Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma reveals the U.S. agribusiness built on corn). I cannot take much sugar–it makes my throat hurt and my mouth taste gross. That being said, I’ve not been successful getting all sweetness out of my diet (I still like maple syrup, honey, and fruit). We’d all do well to reduce, reduce, reduce.

  41. I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to my coaching clients who are struggling to get off sugar. As a scientist by training, I find Taubes’ arguments to be well researched and they make a lot of sense to me.

  42. I have read some great books that show how truly awful sugar is. Notably works by Robert Lustig amd John Yudkin. I have read Taubes’ two earkier books and will now add this one to my reading list.

  43. Hi, I have a question for the readers here. It’s about apples. Background: I’m on a journey to lose weight (mostly from inhaled steroids and some from lifestyle) and heal my asthma, which is fairly bad. Over the last six weeks I’ve been able to go low carb, and pass on wheat, dairy and eggs. The eggs were especially sad but I tested positive on my naturopaths allergy testing and I do think that I maybe saw increased symptoms when I retried them yesterday after abstaining several weeks. Having come this far I think I’m also ready to mostly let go of potatoes, beans, and rice for the weight loss. Now, about the apples. They are good for asthma and I plan to eat them because i have to have some sweet joy. I’ll have no more than one a day and with skin. Sprinkled with cinnamon they taste like heaven in my new world. My question is about the sugar in them. I wonder if it’s that simple. Given the complexity of their fiber and water do they really raise blood sugar? I know they do have health benefits. I eat gala organic apples but might experiment with green apples. And I eat kiwis and berries. Thanks for any thoughts on apples and if anyone has any general asthma tips I’d love to hear.

    1. PS. Forgot to mention. I completely gave up sugar. I’ve had a very little raw honey and once molasses which somehow feels good on my lungs.

  44. For me, I hardly eat sugar except a spoon or so in cooking and normally not daily. some times I’ll binge when my friends or relatives give me cookies during the holidays, or I’ll buy some chocolate ice cream and eat a 1/2 quart in one night. The last time I did the cookies, was after Christmas, 3 months ago and I ended up giving most of them away the minute I went to church. The last time I had the chocolate ice cream was over a year ago, so you can see that I probably eat less than a lb of sugar in a year and of the two binges that I had, I noticed negative reactions in my body, like my eyes and ears becoming infected, or rashes popping up here and there around my body. Now I live such a sugar starved existence because I had Pneumonia when I was a baby and was given antibiotics which caused my rashes, that came with more antibiotics and by the time i reached 14, they turned to pimples which I still get at seventy one. I know that I got this condition because of the antibiotics, but I know that it’s made worst by consuming sugar.

  45. Gary Taubes is a bright guy. an exhaustive researcher. clear mind. calls out bad science. if everyone read the book and took steps to steadily eliminate added sugar it would be a huge step forward.

    personally, the less added sugar i eat the sweeter everything tastes. a big red bell pepper sliced and dipped in hummus – oh man, very sweet. berries in grass fed fut fat yogurt – dessert 😉