by Gary Taubes
Review by Christian Perring on Mar 21st 2017
Taubes presents a case that sugar is dangerous, and is the main cause of obesity and diabetes. Conventional wisdom is that the causes are a combination of sugar, saturated fat, overeating and a lack of exercise. Taubes argues that it's just sugar. So The Case Against Sugar is a radical view that would have major implications for what it takes to be healthy. He often compares sugar to tobacco in its dangerousness, and argues that there is no known safe level of sugar consumption. His message is not very different from that in his 2011 book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, but it is more focused. In the earlier book he argued against carbohydrates generally, while here he puts the blame on sucrose and fructose, with occasional mention of refined flours.
This take on sugar comes from a debate in current nutrition science, and Taubes sets out this debate in some detail. He takes a dim view of how the sugar industry has funded research into the ill-effects of saturated fat as a way to protect its product, and he makes a strong case that this has distorted the science and the public understanding of it. Taubes presents plenty of evidence that the simple hypothesis that sugar is the main culprit for a large number of western health problems. The writing is clear and what he says is compelling.
Of course, we are very used to nutrition science changing its mind about what is healthy or unhealthy, and we should probably take most of the recommendations with a pinch of salt. Some nutrition experts have already written rebuttals of Taubes: there is one here by Stephan Guyenet. It's not a debate that will end soon. But many readers will decide to cut back on sugar because there is enough reason to make its consumption very troubling. It may also be that readers start to allow themselves a little bit more saturated fat and feel less need to exercise.
Note that the performance of the unabridged audiobook performed by Mike Chamberlain is hard going. Chamberlain has a consistent tone, but it's a grating one. It's puzzling, since he is an award-winning narrator, so maybe my reaction may be atypical. You can judge for yourself from his own webpage which has samples of his readings.
© 2017 Christian Perring
Christian Perring lives and teaches in New York.