A personal history: I grew up in the low-fat high-carb era. As an example, my mom made Kraft mac and cheese with just the noodles, cheese packet, and a bit of skim milk, because the butter the box called for would make the meal “bad for us.” I had cereal for breakfast, a sandwich with chips and a snack cake or fruit snacks for lunch, and equally carb-and-sugar-heavy snacks and dinners. Part of this was the nutrition info available at the time (“fat makes you fat!”), part was the lack of money for much in the way of meat. I personally didn’t drink soda because I never liked it, but I did have a particular sweet tooth for chocolate. Thankfully, though, my mom didn’t give us stuff like white bread or chocolate cereal, so at least there was some degree of moderation. We also had teeny tiny portions, and combined with competitive swimming, I was underweight through most of my adolescence.
The first time “sugar might be a problem” hit my radar was when my dad brought home the book Sugar Busters in the mid/late 90s. I didn’t give it much thought, though, until my sophomore year of college. I tried to “get healthier” by cutting out a lot of meat/fat and eating more in the way of corn, potatoes, and whole wheat breads. While I’d never had a problem with my weight before this – I didn’t gain an ounce my freshman year – this particular dietary change triggered something inside me. I began to suffer from hypoglycemia, which eventually developed into full-blown insulin resistance (though I’ve yet to develop diabetes, and hope to never do so!). The hypoglycemia led me to study more in nutrition, and after a few years, I discovered that a relatively higher-fat-lower-carb diet did wonders for me. I’m not talking super-low-carb like Adkins, just an adjustment from a diet that was probably 75% carbs to one that was closer to 40%.
It’s been 13 years since I made that discovery, and I’ve changed my diet a lot in that time. I still have far too much of a sweet tooth, though, and have suffered from it. Hypoglycemia continues to sneak up on me when I’m not careful about sugar. I have full blown PCOS and hypoglycemia. My triglycerides are borderline too high – something that science is more and more coming to realize is due to sugar, not saturated fat. I know all this, have known it for a long time, but sugar is just so hard to remove from the diet! And as I’ve been thinking about my health a lot lately, and about things like how the calorie-equation-theory just doesn’t add up, I decided to do a bit more research into sugar – hence, this book.
In The Case Against Sugar, Taubes lays out a history of the sugar industry, of the increase in sugar consumption in our culture and in cultures across the world, and a strong case that sugar is the primary – if not only – cause of a myriad of western diseases and disorders. He discusses the increase of insulin-sensitivity over time, passed down from mother to fetus, and the way insulin resistance and metabolic disorders spill over to just about every part of health. Taubes does not, however, offer any kind of weight loss or health plan – this is a history-and-science-of-sugar book, not a diet book. He tries to persuade readers of the dangers of eating sugar, but doesn’t sell any kind of product, plan, or lifestyle.
I learned a lot from Taubes’ research. I didn’t know, for instance, the roll that sugar has played in cigarettes, and in making it easier to take nicotine in, increasing addiction. I didn’t know the history of the sugar industry’s crusade against artificial sweeteners, or their influence on national policy (though that last bit doesn’t surprise me). I learned that Americans are consuming somewhere between 90 and 120 lbs of sugar per person per year (an amount that equals about 3/4 cup daily). I learned about the way insulin affects so many different parts of your system, and how when one part is out of sync, the rest suffer, and so insulin resistance can cause disruption all over the place. Some of this stuff, I knew or kinda knew, but this book made a lot of the relationships very clear. It’s the third or fourth book I’ve read that has stated that many doctors are starting to call Alzheimer’s “type 3 diabetes” (something that’s important to me, given family history) and discussed the way cholesterol is far more affected by sugar than fat.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been enough studies done to know whether or not a strong decrease (or complete elimination) of sugar can reverse insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and other related diseases. As I stated before, this isn’t a diet book that gives you a recipe for better health. Taubes states that it might be possible to reverse some damage, but a lot of that will depend on genetics, the extent of damage, and the degree to which a person changes their diet.
But honestly, even if there’s only a little hope, I know this is something I need to do. I said this before, last week, when I talked about decreasing sugar for my mental health. I’d also really like to improve my insulin levels, counter my PCOS as much as possible, and be able to lose weight. In the past, I’ve only completely eliminated sugar once, for four weeks. I also eliminated flour and grains at the same time, so there may be some conflicting factors there, but during those four weeks, I lost 12 lbs – while eating the same number of calories I’d been eating before. My diet during those four weeks was at a 25-25-50 ratio of protein-carbs-fat, and unfortunately it wasn’t really a longterm sustainable thing. I’m not going to 100% repeat the experiment. But for the last few days, I’ve been trying to keep my sugar** at under 1 oz per day (equal to 28 grams, or 2.27 tablespoons, daily, or about 23 lbs per year – much less than the American average). I’d like to try to keep this up as much as possible over the next few months and see what kind of difference this makes to my blood stats (next blood tests to be taken in April), insomnia, weight, and insulin levels. (I’m also trying to cut out flour as much as possible, since that basically turns right into sugar when you eat it, though this won’t count toward my levels.)
Jason is on board, too. He just had some blood tests done and his cholesterol is too high. Guess what his doctor told him he needs to do? Cut out sugar. Yup. It feels so good to hear doctors starting to get on board with this rather than telling us to cut out eggs and meat. So he and I have a plan of how we’re going to eat over the next few months until his next blood tests in March and mine in April. Wish us luck!
**This does not include natural sugars from milk, fruit, or vegetables. Just table sugars of all kinds and the sugars added into foods, condiments, desserts, etc.
Sugar and cholesterol? That’s interesting. I will have to ask my doctor whether she has read of this connection and what she thinks about it. I wouldn’t mind getting off of my statin.
I’ve been reading the different scientific reports and studies about it for the last maybe five years or so, but have only heard doctors starting to recognize it in the last couple years. I’ve personally experienced a huge drop in LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, as well as an increase in HDL, after giving up all sugar for a few months. This time I’d like to do it more sustainably and see what happens.
Sounds like a good plan! I
Turns out that just that little bit of sugar helps me to not feel deprived. I’ve seen a small amount of results in just the last five days. We’ll see how it works out longterm in ways that I can’t measure (like cholesterol)!