Gary Taubes: We can win the sugar fight

Posted on July 26th, 2013

A little update from my Adventures in New York…

Photo via The Atlantic

Photo via The Atlantic

Today (it’s Thursday evening here) New York Times science writer (the guy who wrote “Is Sugar Toxic”) and author of Why We Get Fat Gary Taubes and I met for a drink. We wanted tequila. The bar only served wine. I had Cote du Rhone.

We met to chat about his Nutrition Science Initiative, a not-for-profit organisation to “fund and facilitate rigorously well controlled experimental trials, carried out by independent, sceptical researchers”. I wanted to share with him about the University of Sydney study I Quit Sugar is doing whereby members taking part in the online course can have their health monitored to see if quitting sugar has changed their status. It’s a big study that can provide you – personally – with a very good picture of what’s going on nutritionally for you. And if you live in Sydney and you’re cool to join The Program, you are encouraged to take part….find out more here.

(Oh, and we also discussed the Australian dieticians from University of Sydney – a different crew to the one teaming up with I Quit Sugar – who continue to claim that Australia is eating less sugar than ever before. But we’ll get to that in two paragraphs.)

Then we powered twenty blocks up Avenue of the Americas together to see if I could be snuck into the Harvard Club (where he was due to dine with a colleague) in shorts and running shoes. Alas, to no avail. But we managed to talk some more and I asked Gary this: does he agree with Dr Lustig that the fight with Big Food (to get sugar regulated and treated as the problem science shows it to be) is going to be as gnarly as the fight the world had with Big Tobacco a generation back?

No, Gary said. We’re going to win this one. “We’re already well on our way,” he said.

I tend to agree. Big Tobacco had nowhere to go. They couldn’t make nicotine-light fags. Coke, however, can turn to bottled water, McDonald’s to salads (for what they’re worth). Also, the world is sick of being duped. The world is worried for their kids.

All this was happening as the New York Times published this revealing read about how Australians Are Getting Fatter.

Well, well. Not a revelation, but the way it’s unfurling is indeed interesting.

Here’s some bits from the read:

* “Obesity rates in (in Australia and the US) have tripled in the last three decades.”


* “The prevalence of obesity appears to be increasing faster in Australia than in any other industrialized nation. While obesity rates have recently plateaued in America…the rise in Australia (will) continue across all age groups for at least another decade.”

This is serious and sad.

The article then profiled some weak campaigns geared mostly at sugary soft drink. See my thoughts on this here. (In essence, my point is that it’s the sugar that’s the issue, so why not target sugar in breakfast cereal and other foods, too.)

Then the journo picks up on this, referring to the two Uni of Sydney sugar fans I mention above:

  • “In 2011, two leading nutrition and diabetes experts published a study arguing that at the same time obesity rates soared, the consumption of refined sugar in Australia had appeared to fall substantially. The researchers called this phenomenon “the Australian Paradox”.

Issue is, there is no Australian Paradox. And it’s frightening that the two experts in question are the same two who appear on TV, in print etc over and over to dispute the idea that we should be eating less sugar.

I’ve commented on this before…but if you want to learn more, meet Rory Robertson. He has been on a crusade to expose the hypocrisy and commercial interests behind this dangerous and very faulty claim. Read more here at his site AustralianParadox.


* Another paper published this month by a group at the University of Western Australia argued that there is no paradox.

In fact, very much the opposite. There are a number of reasons why, one of them being this:

* Australia is one of the leading exporters of raw sugar in the world, exporting more than 80 percent of its raw sugar. Production data alone makes it appear that the amount of sugar in the domestic supply has been decreasing. But in reality, the study found, a large amount of the raw sugar that Australia exports is processed elsewhere and then returned to the country in the form of packaged foods.


I’ve copped some social media campaigning from a few “experts” lately who support this Uni of Sydney crew. My Troll (whose name I won’t register on Google by writing here) has gone in hard (albeit this time refraining from setting up fake Twitter accounts to barrage me; he went quiet after I called him on this and on being paid by a soft drink company). I’ll be writing a response to the stuff The Troll tries to call me on soon. In the meantime, you might like to read a little more on the subject:

1. Here’s Gary’s piece in British Medical Journal explaining why tackling obesity by focusing on calories (the whole calories in , calories out schtick) and not sugar ignores the science.

2. And a more digestible version in Daily Beast.

3. And there’s this Editor’s Choice letter in BMJ explaining How science is going sour on sugar.

4. And finally – thank you Rory for linking me – here’s Eric Clapton talking about how his addictions started with sugar.



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  • Karina

    Today my 6 year old son had day surgery at a Sydney (private) hospital. He had to fast all morning and when he woke and throughout our few hours there he was offered 2 x ice blocks, 2 apple juices, 1 half size lemonade, a sandwich made with white bread, custard, jelly, ice cream and strawberry looking mousse and a vanilla milkshake. I was gobsmacked – all sugar! Not once were we offered water (I had to ask) and not one bit of wholefood in sight. Needless to say 80% of that wasn’t eaten, he only wanted an ice block, water and a sandwich. How can dietitians say this offer by hospitals is healthy?


    Leanne Reply:

    Not unlike the food offered to diabetics in hospital! Sigh.


  • It’s all interesting. I don’t see how people can be so anti it when actually you’ve only got to stop and think about it and you can work out the damage that sugar and GMF are doing to our health.

    Re your troll, I had two of them pop up and try to question me about it after I retweeted one of your links. I try not to get in to battles on social media, it’s futile, people aren’t interested in debates they’re just interested in making sure they shout the loudest.

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re fighting a very worthy battle. As I mentioned on my blog earlier today – food has become complicated. And there’s the problem. It doesn’t been to be full of sugar and fillers…when will people get that?

    Let me tell you a quick story, one I think Sarah will have you recoiling in horror. I went on a mini break with some friends. One of my friends (overweight) was complaining of having a bad stomach, she’d recently had a gastic band done because she claimed she couldn’t lose weight (this is a family who think they eat healthy because they buy low fat goods – I’ve tried so many times explaining low fat = chemical shitstorm but I would have more luck selling ice to an eskimo). Anyway, her mother (used to be over weight lost 11 stone by exercise & healthy eating) said have a coffee with some sugar in…it’ll help. *radar going off*…I didn’t say anything because, well, none of my business. However, she sat and poured 8 – yes 8 sugars in this cup of coffee. I said you know you really shouldn’t be having that – her answer?

    But its better than sweetner because it’s natural.

    And THAT is why you’ve got a fight on your hands.


  • Lauren Burke

    I have just started a short stint at another primary school. As a parent, and someone who strives to improve my families nutritional intake (more wholefood, less processed/packaged etc) I am still in awe and shock at what kids are eating and the amounts they are eating. Its crazy and heartbreaking at the same time. Some canteen food is getting better, which is a good sign. I often feel like I’m the ‘strict’ parent who won’t let their child have a huge ice-cream after school, just because they’ve whinged for it (occasionally, of course) or let them have this, this and this all at the same time. Its madness ! My own parents are no help either, and even their ‘diets’ I think, need serious improvement (diet yoghurt, artificial sweetener, lots of processed etc). Its like fighting an uphill battle some days.
    But I do love coming here for some inspiration and ideas, so thankyou!


  • Leanne

    Yep. One of the standard offerings for diabetics in hospital (along with bread, oatmeal and starchy veg) is fruit yoghurt. I had to ask especially for natural yoghurt! Carbohydrate foods are cheap and I think this is why they are the mainstay of hospital food. That and the fact that most dietitians and other health authorities follow the misguided advice of conventional nutrition ‘wisdom’. Thankfully, I have discovered your blog, Sarah, and Gary Taubes’ books and my health is much improved. I aim to stay away from hospitals in future!

    The silly thing is that it is so simple: Eating carbohydrates, and especially sugar, makes your blood sugar spike, so it makes sense to minimise them.


  • Keep up the amazing work and ignore the troll. Clearly he doesn’t have anything better to do!


  • I like you asking how old I am and then using the ‘we could answer but we don’t want to’ comeback. It would be valid if the situation had changed since I first got here, but it hasn’t! Nice try!


  • Meg

    Just curious David – and I know this is a bit off-topic – do you also engage in debate with anti-vegetable oil, pro-saturated fat Nutritionists such as Kate Skinner* etc?

    Would you say that people using the title of ‘Nutritionist’ are somewhat more accountable when ‘misrepresenting the science on fats’, as they are more likely to be seen as an authority on the subject, as opposed to people like Sarah who make it clear they are not a dietitian?

    I haven’t quit sugar myself (and don’t intend to!) but I am curious as to why the focus is on Sarah, when there are others with similar messages? Is it because she’s in the mainstream media?

    * From Kate Skinner’s fb page: “Evidence-based nutrition advice, sifting through myths and misunderstandings about food and good health”

    “Australians were warned (finally!) on ACA tonight that vegetable and seed oils are THE #1 CAUSE OF OBESITY in first world countries and are primary contributors to conditions such as T2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. I couldn’t agree more. POLYUNSATURATED SEED OILS ARE 100% TOXIC, there’s no two ways about it.”


  • Meg

    “why would you assume that the focus was Sarah?”

    Yes, I imagine there are many others who are lucky enough to share your focus when it comes to internet debates!

    To answer your question: I figure time spent commenting on someone’s blog would mean there has been ay least *some* focus on them/their message? (eg. )


  • Hi team,

    Here’s a trailer for a new film on featuring sugar as a menace to public health, much like tobacco:

    At one point there’s a snippet of me saying a sentence. I was just a random who turned up to meet a mate on the day, and then got given a five-second gig. I doubt it will survive in the final version. In my defence, I have a good head for radio.

    Earlier comments above about the availability of sugary junkdrinks and junkfoods in hospitals are disturbing. For those interested, I’m campaigning for bans on all sugary drinks in all schools everywhere, and also in other places where children are “captive” for extended periods, including hospitals and airliners:

    Readers, if after assessing the facts you think this proposal has merit, please forward it to parents, students, teachers, principals and heads of schools, nurses, doctors, dentists and others involved in public health and education.


  • M.D

    Lucky you, Gary Taubes is a god in our house. My husband lost over 35 kilograms after reading his book and has kept it off for 3 years. After struggling with his weight all of his adult life and having this happen for him relatively easily I find it hard to understand why people are still so obsessed with the calorie in/calorie out method of “weight loss”.


  • M.D

    No sorry, but I added protein powder into my diet last week and am suffering too :-/


  • Bronwyn

    David D. appears to think a person’s blog is an open invitation for public debate. It is not.

    If you have so much to share, start your own blog and invite others to read your views there. Man up and simply say ‘I disagree, you can read about why ‘here” and link to your Own blog for your Own views, instead of hijacking the blogs of others with your content. You will get a much better response and even a little respect.


    David Driscoll MSc Reply:

    “‘David D. appears to think a person’s blog is an open invitation for public debate. It is not.”

    So the comments allowed must only be supportive?

    If you are directly or indirectly being criticised (eg your profession), you still don’t think you have a right of reply – or again, only supportive comments should be permitted?

    “Man up and simply say ‘I disagree, you can read about why ‘here” and link to your Own blog for your Own views, instead of hijacking the blogs of others with your content. You will get a much better response and even a little respect.”

    Sorry, I would have thought trying to take people away from this site, to my own would have been worse – or more likely, it is a no win situation!


    Jane Reply:

    David Driscoll, MSc, professional toilet cleaner (Linkedn profile), troll, part-time sociopath.

    Sociopathic traits;
    Lack of empathy for others,
    Lack of concern for the impact their behaviour has on others,
    poor boundaries and behavioural control,
    robotic communication style (lack of emotion), need for attention & excitement,
    highly reactive to perceived insults & slights, (his need to defend all dietitians)
    social predator, harassment, trolling,
    narcissistic personality disorder.

    Yep, that’s him.

    While this space is Sarah’s personal blog, it is also a community where we are all guests. We are predominately a community of women. Women who are empowered, educated and intelligent. We don’t take lightly to men who harass other women. Unfortunately in our society harassment and trolling can and does lead to stalking behaviour and violence against women. This has gone beyond debates about sugar, it’s about Mr Driscoll’s disturbing behaviour and the threat he poses not only to Sarah but to all of us.


    David Driscoll MSc Reply:

    Your worst attempt yet to inflate the situation, distract from the topic and attempt to insult me! 😉

    Almost all of my fellow dietitians (the ones I am defending) are women, so your ridiculous premise falls down at the first hurdle!

    Just wondering if you are the pot or the kettle here?

  • Lisa

    Oh for the love of stevia – please block David Driscoll from your blog, Sarah. I think everyone is well and truly sick of reading his constant drivvle!!


    Jane Reply:

    Yeah!! I think he’s finally gone.

    ‘Ding Dong! The Troll is dead. Which old Troll? The Wicked Troll!
    Ding Dong! The Wicked Troll is dead’.

    (Wizard of Oz)


  • Donna

    My son was admitted to hospital this year for a soy allergy and while he was recovering there he was offered bread roll, sausages, instant mash potato, fruit yogurt, ice cream, sandwiches and instant gravy- all of these foods contained SOY! And were even labelled on the packets. The nurse and doctor didn’t think to check which foods my son was offered. Need we say more…