Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sugar: Not so sweet after all

Science writer Gary Taubes is back, this time with a piece about an insidious but plentiful dietary compound that in all likelihood is far more dangerous than fat and red meat: sugar. His recent article in the New York Times Magazine, "Is Sugar Toxic?" combs through the research to find out how much is too much. Americans, by the way, eat a lot.

His digging shows that if sugar is toxic, it is of the "chronic" versus "acute" form, which means that while humans can tolerate high sugar in a meal or two, it might blind them to the impact it has over thousands of meals (which actually transpires over a period of mere months.) His investigation also shows that diabetes and metabolic syndrome are very likely triggered by fat we can't see: fat that accumulates in the liver as it attempts to metabolize large amounts of sweetened food. There's even a potential link to many common cancers: elevated insulin and related hormones (needed to process sugar-laden diets) appear to feed and accelerate tumor growth.

As he has in the past, Taubes mentions the Inuit, who experienced vibrant health and virtually no diabetes or malignant cancers while eating traditional diets, comprised of copious amounts of fatty meat accompanied by virtually no fruits or vegetables. As their diets became more "Westernized," rates of diabetes and cancers shot up.

Perhaps most telling in his article: the researchers who study the connection between cancer and sugars (here we are talking about the added stuff, not what is naturally occurring in fruits and other foods) have tried to eliminate it from their own diets. They admit that to them sugar is "scary."

Taubes has been doing some remarkable research and following it up with bold, provocative writing. He's responsible for the monumental piece "What if It's All Been  a Big Fat Lie?" which was published by the New York Times back in 2002. It reopened the debate over whether meats and meat fats are really the culprits behind modern diseases. His contention: not likely.