Ontiveros: New book should sour America on sugar

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Not long after Krispy Kreme opened shop in Homewood last month, a video turned up on Facebook.

The guy shooting the video drove alongside waiting cars in the Krispy Kreme drive-thru lane, from back to front. He wanted to show the number of people in search of donuts. I counted 92 cars.

At 1 a.m.

America has been in an ever-increasing love affair with anything and everything sweet for quite a while. It didn’t happen by accident, and it is nowhere as innocuous as we might think.

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That’s the conclusion one reaches after reading “The Case Against Sugar” by Gary Taubes (Knopf, $26.95). This is the award-winning science writer’s third book, rich with meticulous research and documentation, that takes on the shaky facts and flimsy research (not to mention a variety of individuals’ personal agendas) that have shaped nutrition policies in our country, this time targeting sugar.

Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that fat – especially saturated – and to some extent salt are our health enemies. Sugar? We’ve been given the impression that at worst it’s empty calories that might lead to a cavity or two, maybe a thicker waistline.

How exactly did those opinions get shaped? Largely, according to “Case,” by research that was guided – and funded – by the heavy hand of the sugar industry. It not only worked successfully to get its product deemed safe and heralded as a great source of energy, but also spent serious dollars to make sure competing products – such as artificial sweeteners – were discredited.

It wasn’t total smooth sailing for sugar. Along the way doctors and researchers warned of the association between sugar and insulin resistance (a first step toward diabetes) but their arguments eventually would be pushed aside by a louder chorus from lofty places – including Harvard and the American Diabetes Association – discounting concerns.

Reading “Case,” it’s obvious the sugar industry did an impressive job of growing its market and others. I had no idea there was a tobacco/sugar tie until reading this book. Basically, folks already were smoking cigarettes, but once tobacco was blended – with other tobaccos and sugar – that product took off too. Sugar makes just about anything tastier and something we don’t want to do without, it’s easy to think.

But then “Case” rains on the sugar parade. It presents troubling information about the sweet stuff’s association with our most vexing chronic health maladies: diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, heart disease and more. “Case” presents a persuasive argument that where sugar intake increases, so do these diseases. Not immediately, but over time, according to Taubes.

This infuriates me. We’ve all been told by the experts that – tsk, tsk – our chronic diseases are the result of us eating too much and not exercising enough. It’s our fault! Just eat fewer calories; and it doesn’t matter what because a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.

“Case” shows this is nonsense. For me, this anger is indeed personal. I’m a Type 2 diabetic, someone who wasn’t overweight and exercised like a maniac when diagnosed. I very much wanted to remain healthy. If anyone had told me back then to dramatically reduce my sugar intake, I would have listened.

I can’t be the only one.

It’s more than discouraging to see that science and health took a backseat to the profits of a forceful industry. But that’s the impression one comes away with after reading “Case.”

Email: sueontiveros.cst@gmail.com

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