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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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...


My beliefs exactly.


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"


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


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.


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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...


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


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.


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

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.

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.

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".



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.


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