Review of The Case Against Sugar

Working in research for the past 13 years, I think I approach this book with a bit more scrutiny than others might. I am having a hard time pinpointing exactly what I have to say about this book. On the one hand, I do agree with his argument. Sugar is bad. Probably worse than we’ve been led to believe. There are compelling arguments for sugar being involved in every metabolic syndrome disease. As sugar became more prevalent in cultures, those cultures developed various syndromes that were rare prior to the abundance of sugars. There is also compelling evidence that the sugar lobby has sought to prevent proper research from taking place to study the effects of sugar in the diet. Money always corrupts and there is a lot of money in a vice like sugar. 

On the other hand, he overplays some of the evidence and draws conclusions where it is not a clear line. He provides some good evidence against the low fat diet, noting the cultures who consumed very high fat diets and had little to no diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and obesity; but then were introduced to sugar and suddenly the rates of these diseases are growing in the community. These are compelling case studies. But then he cites poorly controlled research to further prove the point. One study launched in the early 90s stands out in particular. From the book: “The roughly twenty thousand women in the trial who had been counseled to consume low-fat diets (and to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less red meat) saw no health benefits compared with the women who had been given no dietary instructions whatsoever.” (emphasis mine). There is no mention of any attempts to then survey the women about what kind of diet they actually followed over the course of the study. Particularly the women who were given no instruction, because during that time period, following a low fat diet was the norm. It was the accepted dietary advice of the time for good health and to lose weight or stay slim. So odds are that many of the women in the control group were following the same advice as the women in the experimental group. 

Even with some of the evidence falling flat for me, I still believe that limiting sugar is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. I only wish this book had been a little more compelling and motivating for me to actually follow that advice.

6 comments

    • That is so true, and something he really didn’t even talk about much on the book. He talks about our consumption of sugar increasing but not what that looks like.

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  1. Interesting. I found the book a lot more convincing than you by the sound of it. It was one of my picks of 2019. Given that most recognise sugar has undermined the health and wellness of entire populations I thought it could have drawn even sharper conclusions than he did. I remember being quite surprised by his general fairness. Some books like this often come across as preachy and shrill – I didn’t find that to be the case with this one.
    The overriding problem with the whole thing of course is that research into food and human nutrition is so imperfect that in most cases it’s not even science. All those self-reporting studies are essentially worthless for example.
    Besides a few of the studies you mentioned, were you convinced about the case against sugar though? Or do you have doubts?

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    • I am convinced that sugar is bad and likey to blame for metabolic diseases. I do think it’s far more harmful than we’ve been led to believe. I felt this way before I picked up the book though and I guess it just didn’t push me further than I already was. Despite believing sugar to be bad, it is a hard addiction to kick and I think I needed more hard proof, or more compelling arguments. It’s tough, like you said, because the research just doesn’t exist.

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      • Yep. Given how disposable nutrition science is- I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job than Taubes managed here. Science is probably never going to be able to definitively prove the claims against sugar, it’s just too hard – but luckily most people don’t need that level of evidence. Like you say though it’s super hard to remove from our diet because it’s addictive and ‘big food’ knows it!

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