Taubes takes on sugar

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I've read Gary Taubes's latest story in the NYT Mag, and though it warrants comment, I'm a little hesitant. The problem is that I've not given credence to his previous work, especially his paean to the Atkins Diet, because it advocated so strongly for a course I am sure did not benefit me, and this time I'm agreeing with him.


I was a patient of Dr. Atkins in the mid-'70s, when I would be excused from high school in Greater Boston to fly down to New York for consultations. The diet worked fabulously for me, in the manner of practically all diets that "work": I lost more than 100 pounds three times, but when I no longer could follow the diet's fairly all-or-nothing guidelines, I started regaining immediately.

And, as an added bonus, I was a confirmed binge eater after my Atkins years, because the diet's devil's deal is as much as one wants of the approved foods, in exchange for none of the disapproved ones. I'm not saying Atkins necessarily makes one a binger, but binge eating is part of the Atkins value proposition: "Eat as much as you want and still lose weight!".

My third objection is that the Atkins diet is, by necessity, a temporary measure — no fruits and practically no vegetables is not a way to live. In general, diets fail because they are short-term solutions to long-term problems.

Anyway ... on to his present story, "Is Sugar Toxic?" The first stroke I like is his reuniting refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup as siblings, as opposed to a wide perception that one is good and one is bad. I wrote as much last month.

I also appreciate his review of government inquiries of sugar's effects, and his declaration that the sugar industry's claims of nutrition innocence is not borne by a 1986 FDA study.

I learned plenty from his review of sugar-based history, including the nugget that Elliott Joslin, for whom the Joslin Diabetes Clinic on Joslin Place in Boston is named, argued for years that sugar had no role in diabetes! (Duly noted: Joslin's history page doesn't mention this.)

Though I understand it goes as far as it can, I'm not nuts about Taubes's conclusion because it doesn't land where I do:

I’d like to eat [sugar] in moderation. I’d certainly like my two sons to be able to eat it in moderation, to not overconsume it, but I don’t actually know what that means. ...

Like Taubes, I want more research, but my goal, born strictly of experience, isn't to learn to live with refined sugar in an appropriate amount. For me, and people like me, there isn't an appropriate amount, because small amounts lead to obsession for unreasonable amounts.


I have no desire to ban sugar, or to keep it from people who want it. But as I find myself saying more often these days, I think very many people would be happier if they tried living completely without refined sugar for, say, 30 days, and would decide to keep it from their diets if they got to experience the physical effects of such a gambit. But I hold no illusions about how likely people are to experiment; most would rather die than be so deprived.

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