“King Sugar” has captured the American diet while diabetes and other chronic illnesses have skyrocketed, but is there a link?
Author Gary Taubes delivers a resounding “yes” while conceding that more research is needed before we can say for sure how much sugar is too much for a healthy diet.
“The Case Against Sugar” compares cigarette smoking with sugar consumption. Few people any longer doubt that cigarettes can cause lung cancer and other serious ailments, but the case against sugar is more tentative.
Researchers have linked high levels of daily sugar intake to diabetes and obesity. Scientists cannot say for sure if there is a safe level of sugar consumption.
Over the past century sugar intake mushroomed in chocolate bars, ice cream, fruit drinks, snacks, cereal and all kinds of desserts. The industry even pedaled sugar as a health food and marketed sugar-laced cereals to children. Some cereals now are 50 percent sugar.
The Centers for Disease Control says diabetes has soared 800 percent from 1960 levels to the present, which coincides with a huge increase in sugar consumption.
Taubes says that sugar craving is hard-wired into our brains, but is it addictive? Sugar affects the area of the brain known as the “reward center,” which also reacts to nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol.
One result of sugar ingestion is a huge increase in cavities. Some native groups here and in the South Pacific have nearly cavity-free teeth for life because their diets are sugar free.
Taubes fairly presents both sides of the argument about sugar consumption, while offering a readable history of the subject going back centuries.
Sugar has been blamed for the increasing level of obesity. Fifty years ago, one in eight Americans was obese. Today one in three fit that description. The sugar industry argues that sugar has nothing to do with it, blaming instead the growth in overall calorie consumption. Those who are trying to lose weight should reduce their carbohydrate intake, sugar proselytizers say.
Although Taubes is a fierce opponent of sugar, he concedes that science has not yet proved his view. Answers about whether sugar is a true addiction and/or a link to various illnesses will require studies costing millions of dollars and extending over many years.
Prudence, however, would seem to indicate that we should at least reduce, if not eliminate, sugar from our diet. People can start by reading food labels when they go grocery shopping.
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