Gary Taubes: We can win the sugar fight

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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