Sugar and refined sugar

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

I continue to be a big fan of Melanie Warner's Food Fight blog, and was glad to see her follow up on Gary Taubes's NYT Mag cover story, "Is Sugar Toxic," which I wrote about last week.


Her headline, "What Gary Taubes Missed In His Big Attack on Dietary Sugar," gets right to the a point I didn't take note of: The story doesn't strain to distinguish between naturally occurring sugar and refined sugar, even though there is a big difference.

My favorite analogy compares plants (poppies, coca, sugar beets/sugar cane, and wheat/rice/other grains) with their derivatives (heroin, cocaine, table sugar, flour): innocuous plants, chemically refined into related-but-quite-different whitish-powdery substances.

Part of Taubes' story looks at table sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup and concludes, as I did a while ago, that the distinction isn't worth making. The issue is not "good sugar" vs. "bad sugar"; it is how processed sugar is included in the vast majority of processed foods, including many foods you might not identify as sweet, and how that very widespread practice affects us.

Any time anyone defends processed sugar as a naturally occurring substance, that defense is hollow, even if the point is accurate. Processed sugar may have started out as a plant, but so are many outright poisons. I'm not saying sugar is poison; I'm saying that plant origin does not guarantee wholesomeness.

Meanwhile, a useful rule of thumb is that a food product's value declines as the level of added, processed, refined sugar — from any plant — increases. Its palatability may rise with added sugar, but palatability and value are decidedly different, and food's first function is sustain life, not taste good. (I get tired of adding all these caveats, but...) I'm not saying food shouldn't taste good. I'm not saying palatability and nutrition can't or shouldn't coincide. I'm saying that the more added, processed, refined sugar a food product has, the more likely it isn't good.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
Video | Services | Clients