T Nation

Article: Is Sugar Toxic?

Gary Taubes has a longish article in this weekend’s NYTimes magazine discussing the health issues surrounding sugar consumption. It’s well written and covers much of the recent research as well as a few upcoming studies to look forward to. I like articles like this in reputable mainstream sources because people who otherwise ignore good information they’re paying for will actually sometimes listen to the same when it’s coming from a source like this.

It’s behind the paywall but you can use a javascript blocker like Noscript for Firefox (install it then go into options and select “Scripts Allowed Globally” then go to the NYTimes website, click the icon in the bottom right corner and select “Mark nytimes.com untrusted”) to get around it if you don’t want to pay.

chronic and excessive overconsumption of calories can lead to health problems…

Ockham’s razor bruh.

[quote]etaco wrote:
Gary Taubes[/quote]

Stopped paying attention right about here. Go look into Taubes’s definition of science and you won’t be so impressed. There are blow by blow refutations of GCBC out there. Taubes only really impresses people who like seeing footnotes in their books. Cherry picking, misinterpreted data, and willful omission do not make good science.

Start with this:

[quote]MODOK wrote:

[quote]Stronghold wrote:

[quote]etaco wrote:
Gary Taubes[/quote]

Stopped paying attention right about here. Go look into Taubes’s definition of science and you won’t be so impressed. There are blow by blow refutations of GCBC out there. Taubes only really impresses people who like seeing footnotes in their books. Cherry picking, misinterpreted data, and willful omission do not make good science.[/quote]

Completly, 100% disagree. He is a fantastic science writer. I encourage everyone interested in general nutrition in our society to read “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” Its a tremendous book for those with a background in health sciences.[/quote]

A man who claims you can eat as much as you want and not get fat so long as carbs are omitted is clearly delusional.

[quote]forbes wrote:

[quote]MODOK wrote:

[quote]Stronghold wrote:

[quote]etaco wrote:
Gary Taubes[/quote]

Stopped paying attention right about here. Go look into Taubes’s definition of science and you won’t be so impressed. There are blow by blow refutations of GCBC out there. Taubes only really impresses people who like seeing footnotes in their books. Cherry picking, misinterpreted data, and willful omission do not make good science.[/quote]

Completly, 100% disagree. He is a fantastic science writer. I encourage everyone interested in general nutrition in our society to read “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” Its a tremendous book for those with a background in health sciences.[/quote]

A man who claims you can eat as much as you want and not get fat so long as carbs are omitted is clearly delusional. [/quote]

He actually compares restricted calorie diets that are either low carb or low fat and finds that the low carb approach has a high success rate while the low fat approach has a low success rate. In no way does he endorse eating any macronutrient combination above maintenenace to lose weight.

[quote]MODOK wrote:

[quote]Stronghold wrote:
Start with this:

http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/big-fat-fake[/quote]

You have to consider who wrote that article; Michael Fumento. Thats all I’m going to say about that.[/quote]

I’m not overly concerned with who wrote it, but rather the points he raises over how Taubes cherry picks his research and clips down statements from other researchers to fit his motive.

For example, dismissing a weighty body of research contrary to his bias based on perceived irrelevance due to the studies being intervention based, then going on to base his entire premise on 5 intervention based studies. That is not “tremendous science”. It’s tremendous bullshit.

Not to mention that other researchers that Taubes “interviewed” issued public retractions of whatever statements that Taubes claimed they had made due to the whittling down and de-contextualizing those statements had undergone before making it into his “work”.

In GCBC, Taubes has no problem referencing self report and rat studies when they support his assertions, refusing acknowledge the proven unreliability of such methodology. Hell, with regards to rodent research, he uses it as a supporting argument in one chapter, and then in another offers explanation as to why it’s not relevant after presenting a study that isn’t supportive of his bias.

He even references a particular source when stating that glycerol phosphate is rate limiting for esterification when that source ACTUALLY states that there is no evidence to show that glycerol phosphate is rate limiting for esterification. If the man is a TREMENDOUS SCIENTIST, then why can’t he be buggered to even READ the studies he’s referencing?

This blog has a pretty good series of fact check articles with regards to GCBC, if you’re interested in challenging your biases.

[quote]MODOK wrote:

[quote]Stronghold wrote:

[quote]MODOK wrote:

[quote]Stronghold wrote:
Start with this:

http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/big-fat-fake[/quote]

You have to consider who wrote that article; Michael Fumento. Thats all I’m going to say about that.[/quote]

I’m not overly concerned with who wrote it, but rather the points he raises over how Taubes cherry picks his research and clips down statements from other researchers to fit his motive.

For example, dismissing a weighty body of research contrary to his bias based on perceived irrelevance due to the studies being intervention based, then going on to base his entire premise on 5 intervention based studies. That is not “tremendous science”. It’s tremendous bullshit.

Not to mention that other researchers that Taubes “interviewed” issued public retractions of whatever statements that Taubes claimed they had made due to the whittling down and de-contextualizing those statements had undergone before making it into his “work”.

In GCBC, Taubes has no problem referencing self report and rat studies when they support his assertions, refusing acknowledge the proven unreliability of such methodology. Hell, with regards to rodent research, he uses it as a supporting argument in one chapter, and then in another offers explanation as to why it’s not relevant after presenting a study that isn’t supportive of his bias.

He even references a particular source when stating that glycerol phosphate is rate limiting for esterification when that source ACTUALLY states that there is no evidence to show that glycerol phosphate is rate limiting for esterification. If the man is a TREMENDOUS SCIENTIST, then why can’t he be buggered to even READ the studies he’s referencing?

This blog has a pretty good series of fact check articles with regards to GCBC, if you’re interested in challenging your biases.
carbsanity.blogspot.com/[/quote]

I didn’t say he was a tremendous scientist, he’s not a scientist at all, he’s a tremendous science WRITER. He has been awarded the Science in Society Journalism Award by the national Association of Science Writers THREE times. Only one other writer has ever received that prestigious award three times. He didn’t just go from being one of the most acclaimed science writers in the world to a shill overnight simply because he is writing about someone’s sacred cow.

He has also conducted Grand Rounds at Harvard and Columbia Medical Schools on the subject of Human Nutrition. That is an incredible accomplishment for a non-MD. A fraud would hardly get that opportunity. He has also received acclaim and approval from people as diverse as Pollan and Weil.

I guess what I don’t understand is what specific points do you not agree with? His work debunking Key’s Lipid Hypothesis, his chapter on the carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity, the work on the history of the Dietary Guidelies of the USDA, AHA, etc? What’s the beef?

People are trying to make him out to be Robert Atkins redux. Thats not the case at all. He is simply trying to show the research was NEVER THERE for the guidelines of 6-11 servings of grain, etc. The lipid hypothesis was accepted as conventional wisdom without being proven through scientific studies. He is also trying to show that there is an alternative hypothesis to the lipid hypothesis that haas been around since the 19th century that had its own group of champions in the scientific community that says saturated fat and cholesterol were NOT the problem in heart disease. They have very compelling data to back up their claim.

In fact, he doesn’t even personally condone or have a “diet”. The only diet I have seen him print is the Duke University Lifestyle Medical Clinic diet. As you know, Duke University is the preeminent academic center for the study of human nutrition and nutrition-related chronic disease in the country. The diet they use in their obese patients is very similar to an “Atkins-type” diet.

So Gary Taubes is:

  1. One of the two most acclaimed science writers in the world ( by the National Association of Science Writers)
  2. Given Grand Rounds at Harvard and Columbia, among other places.
  3. Has been endorsed by Pollan, Weil, and many other acknowledged experts in the field of human nutrition.
  4. Is such a kook that the only diet that he sees fit to print in his book was developed and is used at Duke University.

And I’m supposed to believe that he is a shill and a “bad scientist” because a jealous competitor science writer ( who wrote his own HORRENDOUS book on this subject back in the 90’s) says he is?

Taubes work speaks for itself, and I’m certainly not in a mood to get into one of those stupid ass internet debates throwing around studies. I only ask for people to read his works (or anyone’s works) for themselves and make up their minds based upon how the evidence hits their brain. Science will stand on its own two feet. Bullshit masquerading as science will always eventually be washed away and disproven.
[/quote]

So you don’t have any thoughts on the methods he uses for excluding research that doesn’t conform to his bias? If you are as familiar with his works as you claim to be, then you must be aware of the things mentioned in the article I posted (as they are definitely not small fragments of his writing). This isn’t some nobody claiming that he’s into fetish porn, this is a fellow writer exposing inconsistencies between what Taubes claims qualifies research as relevant and what actually makes it into his work.

I have read GCBC, and I like to consider myself as having a more scientific mind than many (and I think that there are other posters here who can vouche for that, knowing me in real life). I thought GCBC and Why We Get Fat were loaded with bullshit science and sideways implications (“insulin is the main driver of fat storage” and the metabolic advantage) that Taubes makes but doesn’t state outright because he knows he’s full of shit.

the main issue i have with taubes is how people perceive his ideas…

for example…

“exercise doesn’t work because it makes people eat more”

after reading that, the general population will assume that exercise is not effective for fat loss…

another one

“insulin is the cause of obesity”…and people will think they can eat jars of peanut butter…

that is just basic human nature…

[quote]D Public wrote:
the main issue i have with taubes is how people perceive his ideas…

for example…

“exercise doesn’t work because it makes people eat more”

after reading that, the general population will assume that exercise is not effective for fat loss…

another one

“insulin is the cause of obesity”…and people will think they can eat jars of peanut butter…

that is just basic human nature…

[/quote]

My beliefs exactly.

[quote]D Public wrote:
the main issue i have with taubes is how people perceive his ideas…

for example…

“exercise doesn’t work because it makes people eat more”

after reading that, the general population will assume that exercise is not effective for fat loss…

another one

“insulin is the cause of obesity”…and people will think they can eat jars of peanut butter…

that is just basic human nature…

[/quote]

It continues to shock me that how people will perceive an idea or statement doesnt matter to some.

“In moderation sugar is fine” = “I dont have to watch my sugar intake”

“Carbs are carbs” = “Bread is just as healthy as broccoli”

“If another carb source was in all our food, that one would be the biggest problem” = “All carbs are the same, why would I watch what kinds I get?”

“Its all just calories in vs calories out” = “I’ll continue eating this shit food, but maybe eat a bit less”

[quote]CappedAndPlanIt wrote:
It continues to shock me that how people will perceive an idea or statement doesnt matter to some.

“In moderation sugar is fine” = “I dont have to watch my sugar intake”

“Carbs are carbs” = “Bread is just as healthy as broccoli”

“If another carb source was in all our food, that one would be the biggest problem” = “All carbs are the same, why would I watch what kinds I get?”

“Its all just calories in vs calories out” = “I’ll continue eating this shit food, but maybe eat a bit less”[/quote]

I guess its fine to list that here but don’t drag that crap into other threads just to rant about “common misconceptions” amongst the public

[quote]MODOK wrote:
I’m not really sure what is up with the tone of your post; you sound angry or at least on-edge. Maybe thats just your personality; I can’t recall from our interactions before. I applaud you for being conscientious about science and thinking critically on these issues. I would like to know what specific issue you have with his work though. That insulin is the “master storage” hormone? You aren’t claiming that it isn’t, are you?

Like I said, I’m not going to e-fight with you. Thats never constructive and I don’t have the time to do that shit anyway. Taubes writing will stand or fall on its on, but there are those of us out there who know our way around the primary literature who believe he has done an excellent job compiling the evidence and stating his case very succinctly: that simple carbohydrates and sugars are largely responsible for the escalation of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity in western society. Do you have a problem with that general thesis? Its most certainly not “bullshit science”. I have read both books as well (GCBC years ago) and I can’t see anywhere physiologically where he is off-base. Sure his conclusions are his OPINION, as is every conclusion. How he says the body works in the book, is how the body work. You have mentioned some little details that you believe demonstrates his ineptitude or some sort of willful obfuscation of the truth, but where do you see his general thesis? Where are you on the heart disease/metabolic syndrome/obesity question?
[/quote]

My posts weren’t meant to come across as confrontational. I apologize if that’s how I came off.

My specific issues with Taubes’ positions are legion. I’ll list some off of the top of my head:

  • An increase in dietary carbohydrates, and ONLY dietary carbohydrates, is to blame for the obesity epidemic
  • Average fat intake has not risen over the past 25 years (it has, significantly)
  • Insulin drives fat storage, even in a caloric deficit
  • Self report data and anecdotes regarding macronutrient and caloric intake from the obese are accurate and reliable means of collecting data
  • Intervention studies are unreliable due to the counseling involved in interventions (Taubes contradicts this however in citing intervention studies that supported his bias)
  • Lean people tend to be active because they are lean instead of vice versa
  • The only meaningful variable in a diet when it comes to weight reduction is carbohydrate quantity (and possibly quality)

I will say that arbitrarily picking and chosing what research to consider valid constitutes more than “little details”, as it demonstrates that he is looking for research to support his preconceived conclusions rather than drawing conclusions from the research. That’s bad science and someone of his (admittedly high) achievement as a science writer should be expected to do better than that.

As to my own position on heart disease/metabolic syndrome/obesity, it’s simple:

We live in a culture that rewards and encourages convenience and efficiency. We expend less energy in the acquisition and consumption of food now than at any other time in history. We have an abundance of delectable, inexpensive, calorically dense, and nutritionally devoid food readily available to us at all times. For perhaps the first time in history, it is quite capable to be both obese AND malnourished. The issues supposedly caused by carbohydrates don’t come with moderate consumption, but with the over consumption of carbohydrates in the context of over consumption of all foods. The addition of a completely sedentary lifestyle further complicates the obesity question beyond the scope of a discussion of macronutrients. I like Michael Pollan’s gross oversimplification: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” As far as gross oversimplifications go, that one nails it pretty well.

The standard North American diet is such absolute shit that any inferences about whether low fat or low carb is ultimately superior are useless since a diet of bug spray and skittles would be healthier than what the average American currently eats. Either you concede that calories consumed vs. calories burned is the ultimate driver in weight loss/gain or you head down a path to which the only logical conclusion is that a single macronutrient or food ingredient is the sole cause of obesity and the removal of that macronutrient or ingredient is the sole driver of weight loss.

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

[quote]MODOK wrote:

Then wouldn’t that be you having an issue with the people perceiving his ideas, and not an issue with Taubes?

He says the “exercise” thing in a different context. That is, that layman exercising as the only variable thinking “exercise will help me lose weight” is flawed. Of course he also says it for shock value to get people to read his stuff, only later to explain it in context.

His writing isn’t for everyone. He seems much more suited to writing to scientific-minded audience than to the lay public.
[/quote]

i believe most people(scientfic minded or not) would walk away from reading that book thinking in black and white terms…

I know better as I’ve researched the matter from both spectrums…I know calories are the reason why people are fat…

I know that sugar is fine if used in moderation…same with alcohol…saturated fat…protein…and anything else you put in your body…

I suggest most people read the actual studies for themselves and come to their own conclusions…instead of relying on someone else to interpret them for you…

[quote]chillain wrote:

[quote]CappedAndPlanIt wrote:
It continues to shock me that how people will perceive an idea or statement doesnt matter to some.

“In moderation sugar is fine” = “I dont have to watch my sugar intake”

“Carbs are carbs” = “Bread is just as healthy as broccoli”

“If another carb source was in all our food, that one would be the biggest problem” = “All carbs are the same, why would I watch what kinds I get?”

“Its all just calories in vs calories out” = “I’ll continue eating this shit food, but maybe eat a bit less”[/quote]

I guess its fine to list that here but don’t drag that crap into other threads just to rant about “common misconceptions” amongst the public

[/quote]

Those common misconceptions are the driving force of obesity and disease in this country. I think they’re very important.

[quote]CappedAndPlanIt wrote:

[quote]chillain wrote:

[quote]CappedAndPlanIt wrote:
It continues to shock me that how people will perceive an idea or statement doesnt matter to some.

“In moderation sugar is fine” = “I dont have to watch my sugar intake”

“Carbs are carbs” = “Bread is just as healthy as broccoli”

“If another carb source was in all our food, that one would be the biggest problem” = “All carbs are the same, why would I watch what kinds I get?”

“Its all just calories in vs calories out” = “I’ll continue eating this shit food, but maybe eat a bit less”[/quote]

I guess its fine to list that here but don’t drag that crap into other threads just to rant about “common misconceptions” amongst the public

[/quote]

Those common misconceptions are the driving force of obesity and disease in this country. I think they’re very important.[/quote]

Do you really think the average obese person has even an ounce of dietary knowledge?

You really think that misguided dietary knowledge is what’s driving obesity in this country rather than laziness, convenience, and abundance?

You must not know many fat people. Those who have reached the disease state of obesity, by and large, got there by not caring at all. People eat poptarts as much for convenience as they do taste. People rumble through fast food restaurants daily because it’s EASY. Your average fat person is ultimately more concerned with taste and convenience than with nutrition. Certainly the dishonest labeling of high sugar foods as “healthy” is not benefiting the situation, but to claim that it is a primary driver is asinine and completely ignorant to the actual psychosocial drivers of obesity.

All of your “examples” are attacking a moderation based approach on the fact that it doesn’t work when people eat ad libitum, and this is flawed. No diet works when people consume unlimited quantities, and barring extreme levels of restriction such as some of the more hardcore paleo guidelines, it is possible to overeat on nearly all of the popular weight loss diets. The diet industry relies on the premise that there is some magic combination or exclusion of foods that allows one to eat as many calories as they want and still lose weight. This is what keeps diet books moving while people still get fatter and fatter. Once again, recognize that taste and convenience are the primary motivators for the average person’s food choices, and recognize that there is essentially no way to address this effectively without a basis in overall caloric restriction. Caloric restriction has been shown to produce weight loss and improved health markers even when comprised of suboptimal food choices. Ad libitum eating (read: overeating)under any set of parameters has not.

This is one of my issues with Taubes: His assumption that people are fat, not in spite of public health interventions and promotions, but because of them. He gets on the low carb/anti-low fat bandwagon with the assertion that people over the past 25 years have been eating lower fat and higher carb when, in reality, ALL of the evidence points to the average caloric, carbohydrate, AND fat intakes ALL rising significantly. He, and other members of the low carb zeitgeist, invariably base arguments on the premise that people are fat because they’ve been following the common public health recommendations, when the indisputable reality is far from that.

[quote]MODOK wrote:

  • Is there a biological hormonal feedback for the human body which makes it difficult to release stored fat, preferentially stores fat in adipocytes, and sends a signal to your brain to tell it your body is hungry again? The answer is YES. Insulin does all those things. The over-arching theme is to try and get people to see this problem. Taubes knows and has talked about if you eat 4000 calories of lard or chicken breasts you will get fat. Its irrelevant because NO ONE that is obese is doing that. THe simple fact is that carbohydrates drive your hormonal control of nutrient storage. He is trying to get people to see that hormonal control IS the issue in our society. That is what is up with the carbohydrate. In effect, it IS the entire problem. Not theoretically or scientifically, but in our society in real life it is.[/quote]

[quote]MODOK wrote:

  • Average fat intake has gone up slightly, but only because total calories have gone up. He reports that the percentage has gone down because that was and is the marker that the USDA guidelines used. The Guidelines which were issued by the government those years ago called for Americans to “reduce their total fat intake from 40% of total calories to 30%”. That is their stupidity for choosing that as a guideline, not Taubes. Blame the McGovern commission for that one.[/quote]

No, as a science writer trying to maintain a high level of credibility, his willful misrepresentation of that statistic is telling.

[quote]MODOK wrote:

  • Insulin DOES drive fat storage and mobilization, even in caloric deficit. This isn’t a controversial point. Its in every Biochemical text on the subject from undergrad through my Biochem text I used in my doctoral program. I’m not sure where you see a problem there? Its an established fact. [/quote]

Did the biochem text you used in your doctoral program state that it was possible for insulin to drive a significant net gain in bodyfat during periods of caloric restriction? That’s what I was getting at.

[quote]MODOK wrote:

  • Taubes has stated many times the flaws of the studies quoted in his books. Part of the reason he wrote GCBC was to generate discussion to do better studies on this subject. He is not a researcher, he can only report on the research. And yes he has a bias- every human being, researcher or not, has a bias before during and after they do research, interpret the data, or comment on research. You have a bias, so do I, so did Ancel Keys, so does Taubes. You try to get rid of it for the sake of science, but it is there and ever-present when you are reading drug studies, etc. That doesn’t excuse his bias, but it is everywhere in research.[/quote]

The previously mentioned instances of poor research and journalism by Taubes that you have dismissed for whatever eason indicate that he is writing to his bias. This paragraph reeks of apologism and I’m certain that if the AHA, ADA, USDA, etc cherry picked and misrepresented research in the same way that Taubes does (examples posted/linked to in this thread), then Taubes would be all over it.

[quote]MODOK wrote:
-His “lean people” assertion is a stretch for sure. Thats his own personal theory though and he is entitled to it.[/quote]

Its funny that you mention the modern diet as being of poor quality, nutrient poor, and it being possible to be obese and malnourished. Taubes agrees completely with this and has an entire chapter on it in his new book.

And there is no evidence to state that “moderate consumption” of simple sugars does NOT lead to the problem he is stating. It has NEVER been studied. (I’m talking specifically about heart disease, blood lipid profile, etc.)

Calories burned vs. calories consumed- why does everyone keep coming back to that like he said thats not the case? Of course thats the case for obesity. Taubes talks about it in this context- it tells you NOTHING. Of course its true, its a given. The question is not consumed vs. spent calories, the question is WHY are people eating more calories??? Hormonal control (insulin) is fucked up.

And you can go on with the diatribe of “eat in moderation, thats the problem” all you want. The US government, AHA, etc. have been saying that exact statement for 30 damn years and you’ve seen the good that its done. Its not going to work. People aren’t going to magically push themselves away from a table full of delicious food. So what are you going to do? Continue to say the same thing and watch the country spiral out of control? Same thing with the physical activity. People aren’t going to get up off their couch from in front of their 50 inch LCD to go pull weeds out of their flower bed, hoe a row of vegetables, or chop down a tree with an axe. The new paradigm in this country is what it is right now. People are going to chill out and enjoy being American couch potatoes. Its in our biological make-up to chill out, and if you don’t HAVE to work your ass off your body will not want to do it. And you aren’t going to get any more appreciable percent of the population to adopt an exercise program either. Most people don’t get into that. So what do you do? Stand on the side and watch Rome burn while saying “Calories in, calories out, people!” Or try to attack the problem by educating people what macronutrient that they are taking in which is causing their bodies to preferentially store calories as fat, and preventing it from burning the fat? They still may not give a shit, but at least they will know the TRUTH and not feel like they are failures when they try and fail repeatedly to just “eat in moderation”.

[/quote]

[quote]MODOK wrote:educating people what macronutrient that they are taking in which is causing their bodies to preferentially store calories as fat, and preventing it from burning the fat?

[/quote]

Here we go. Something good.

So you believe that given isocaloric intakes of carbohydrates vs. fat, the carbohydrate group will result in a greater net storage of bodyfat?

That’s metabolic advantage, and it’s horseshit.

[quote]Stronghold wrote:
… I’m certain that if the AHA, ADA, USDA, etc cherry picked and misrepresented research in the same way that Taubes does, then Taubes would be all over it.
[/quote]

That is exactly what the AHA, ADA, USDA, etc. have been doing for the last 40+ years!