Experts at Sea

Big Sugar Nutritionists

Gary Taubes has a new book to sell. So he needs an enemy. Big sugar is the big enemy in his book, The Case Against Sugar. But in this polarized age, we need fresh enemies to hate all the time. And in today’s edition of the New York Times, he makes the case that we should be upset with nutritionists who keep giving big sugar the cover they need to sell more of their deadly white stuff:

To the sugar industry, the nutritionists’ dogmatic belief that obesity is a calorie overconsumption problem and a calorie is a calorie has been the gift that keeps on giving. So long as nutrition and obesity authorities insist that this is true, then the sugar industry can rightfully defend its product on the basis that the calories from sugar are no better nor worse than those from steak or grapefruit or ice cream – perhaps even kale or quinoa. We can’t have it both ways.

Though we don’t agree with him on everything, at least he implicitly concedes that “dogmatic belief” can be a problem. To sell his own dogma that sugar is deadly, he’s setting up a false choice. We must choose between attending to the quality of what we eat or the quantity. “We can’t have it both ways.”

But we do want it both ways. Both quality and quantity of food matter. Sugar is not poison. It’s been in the food supply for eons. Right now, we have way too much of it. It makes perfect sense to have a healthy suspicion about the added sugar that keeps us coming back for more. Food makers add it so we’ll buy more of their products. But other qualities of our food matter, too.

Still, a perfect world with an unlimited supply of perfect food will not give us perfect health. Perhaps the answer to good health and wellness will not come from a focus on food alone. It certainly won’t come from a focus on the evils of sugar alone.

Meanwhile, we cannot accept Taubes’ suggestion that we should blame nutrition scientists for an excess of sugar in our food supply. Sugar is not the only problem in our dysfunctional relationship with food.

Nutrition professionals are simply doing their jobs by keeping their eyes on that fact.

Click here for Taubes’ essay in the Times. Click here for another perspective from Daniel Engber in the Atlantic, and here for yet more from Julia Belluz in Vox. You’ll find a bit of truth in the words from each of them.

Experts at Sea, illustration © Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig / flickr

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January 15, 2017

4 Responses to “Big Sugar Nutritionists”

  1. January 15, 2017 at 7:20 am, Richard David Feinman said:

    The real question, dodged in Taubes’s book is: for general health — in a broad way, no details — is it better to replace fructose in the diet with glucose, or is it better to replace carbohydrate, any carbohydrate, with fat, any fat (leave out trans-).

    • January 15, 2017 at 7:32 am, Ted said:

      Lots of questions. Lots of unsatisfying answers. Best answers seem to focus on the big picture – an overall healthy pattern of eating.

  2. January 15, 2017 at 12:12 pm, Karl J. Kaiyala, Ph.D said:

    Stephan Guyenet has a brilliant takedown of Taube’s claims that the government and incompetent scientists are to blame:

  3. January 17, 2017 at 2:30 am, David Brown said:

    The question researchers ought to be asking is how does sugar affect the endocannabinoid system?