Subscribe to the Show
Get the latest show each week with FREE access to TRANSCRIPTS. You'll also get FREE YOGA, TAI CHI, and MEDITATION resources with the Urban Monk Reboot.
Sugar isn’t so sweet
Did you know that Sugar has been found to lead to a number of health issues? Diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and dementia are just a few of the problems that sugar has been linked to. So if sugar is so bad for us, why does the government allow it to be sold?
Gary Taubes has some great info that dives deep into how sugar has saturated society and is slowly making everyone who uses it unhealthy. Gary has studied applied physics at Harvard and aerospace engineering at Stanford and has written a number of books, the latest being – The Case Against Sugar.
A few little secrets
Did you know that recent investigations have proven that for over 50 years, the sugar industry had some hidden helpers? Lobbyist have been used to convince the government that ‘sugar’ is ok, and that it’s actually cholesterol that is the problem. One of these helpers was the head of the Harvard Nutrition department, who, decades ago, was hired by the sugar industry to say that it’s harmless. This misleading campaign set back research by at least 25 years.
Gary tells us about an experiment in which researcher gave mice a choice between sugar and cocaine or heroin. Amazingly, the mice shifted from cocaine (and heroin) to sugar. This has proven how addictive sugar really is. This might explain why it’s so hard for people to give up sugar … they are addicted!
Our society has been conditioned to believe that sugar is not harmful. We reward kids with a sugary treat for good behaviour. We can’t imagine a birthday party or any celebration without cakes or some sort of sugary dessert.. Sugar has become the way many, many folks express love to another.
Is sugar a food that should be consumed or is it a drug that is legally being pushed on us by the sugar industry? Listen to this interview and you can decide for yourself.
Interview Notes From The Show:
– Hey, welcome back to The Urban Monk, Dr. Pedram Shojai here today talking about sugar. Why? ‘Cause we’re in the holidays and it is all around. I gotta say I’ve been craving sugar and I don’t really like sugar that much. It’s just everywhere. Some of it might have to do with serotonin levels and sorry I’m being hemispherically prejudiced here. If you’re in the Northern hemisphere, things are getting dark and your body wants to hibernate and you want more carbs or you crave more carbs. So today, Gary Taubes is my guest. He has written a very comprehensive book, The Case Against Sugar, and we’re here to talk about the history of sugar, what it does to us and why we should probably avoid it. Hey, welcome to the show.
– Thanks for having me, Pedram.
– Yeah great, man. So you have been doing a lot of investigative work in health for a long term. How’d you land on sugar?
– Okay, well yeah. My first two books on nutrition. So again, I think of myself as an investigative journalist. I just stumbled into nutrition science ’cause there was a lot to investigate and a lot of second, third, fourth rate science. My first two books implicated refined grains and sugars in total in obesity and diabetes and whenever I lectured on this somebody would say “Well if you’re blaming sugar on refined grain “or you blaming obesity and diabetes on refined grains, “what about Southeast Asia?” Which was sort of a rather large, black swan. So the obvious explanation for why you might have, if you’re blaming highly processed grains and sugars for obesity and diabetes and you have a population that consumes highly processed grains, but doesn’t have obesity and diabetes, maybe it’s the sugar and one of the things I knew from my early work was that in 1960s when Japan has levels of diabetes similar to what we had in the U.S. in the 1860s, they had sugar consumption similar to what we had in the 1860s and then you have all these biological mechanisms that link ambiguously sugar to this condition known as insulin resistance, which is this sort of fundamental defect and type two diabetes and is highly suspect as a mechanism for obesity and so there’s just a lot of reasons to focus on sugar and I decided that’s what I would do.
– It’s interesting, when we were making the Origins movie, there were a few people that had kind of made this case that sugar became kind of the basis of the slave trade in the New World and so it was driving this insatiable appetite, probably ’cause it’s addictive, in Europe and so there was all of these African slaves being brought into the plantations, not just in America but the Caribbean and everywhere and sugar cane was being grown and so now slavery has been abolished for the most part, but we’re all addicted and we’re all slaves to sugar. So it’s like come full circle and so historically, has anything changed? I mean, we’re still producing sugar cane, but now there’s all these sugar substitutes out there as well.
– Well the way sugar crept into our diet in various waves and the one you pointed out with the founding of the sugar sort of colonies by the U.K. and France and the Scandinavian populations and the Caribbean in the 16th, 17th century, you start getting this wave of sugar heading to the U.S. and to Europe that’s in this triangular slave trade. It’s funny, in the U.S. we tend to think of slavery as related to cotton, but it was driven by the sugar industry as you pointed out. Some 12 million black Africans were forcefully removed from Africa to the Caribbean and many of them died in doing what was just horrible manual labor, which is the cutting cane and refining it. The late 19th century you get the Industrial Revolution beginning in the turn of the 19th century, which makes it very inexpensive to refine sugar and then the beet sugar industry takes up in the 19th century spurred by Napoleon. By 1850s, you’ve got the founding of the chocolate industry, the candy industry, the ice cream industry and then 30 years later the soft drink industry, which are all sort of dedicated, if you think about it, to providing sugar for children. So it used to be too expensive for kids for the most part and then by the 19th century what we’re doing is we’re offering sugar to children and women while the men are getting cigarettes and alcohol primarily and then the sugared cereal industry comes along about 50 years late delayed by cereal industry nutritionists. So cereal started as a health food and so the Kellogg’s and Post and all these big cereal manufacturers had in-house nutritionists who thought that sugar was bad for you. So they sort of delayed the inevitable by about 50 years and then finally in 1960s, breakfast gets transformed into sort of a low-fat version of dessert and now children in particular are just mainlining sugar in doses the likes of which the human race never experience and then the argument is that 20, 30 years later you see this explosion in obesity and diabetes rates. May not be a coincidence.
– I mean, some of this could possibly be chalked up to being a testament to the efficiency of capitalism.
– It’s certainly a story of capitalistic success, yes.
– It really is to the point where there’s no moral safe guards and it has now gone way beyond any point of kind of measure in sanity where now children are having sugar cereals every day. So let’s talk about what this does to the kids because I’m appalled at the fact that these things are still legal, right, yet it is an enormous industry and there’s people right now as we speak buying some sugary cereals for their children.
– Right. I mean again, I don’t, you were probably the same way. I mean, some parents just wouldn’t go there. I was raised by a mother who wouldn’t, Frosted Flakes were not going to cross our door and this was 1960s suburban New York. But clearly there are people who don’t, that the food industry can prey on. I mean, sugar is the cheapest calories. It’s one of the reasons why it’s such a massive success because you can make the most amount of money marketing it. It’s funny, back in the 1930s there were various, I’ve got quotes from the Wall Street financier from George Orwell, famous quotes about basically when people are really poor, like in the midst of a depression, the one thing you can sell them and you can make money on is you market to their vices and you sell them things that give them pleasure ’cause when you’re really poor, you need pleasure in your life. It’s not like these are rich people, this is what Orwell said and the fact that rich people can find pleasure anywhere and they can live on rye crisp and orange rinds and be content that they’re making themselves happier, but when you’re poor you need some pleasure and cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, sugar are the acceptable ones, were the acceptable ones. Now we’re down to sugar because the others have slowly been sort of demonized and now I come along as the Grinch trying to push the demonization of sugar as well.
– Well I think Starbucks might be arguing that caffeine is still on the menu and if you look at the tremendous success of caffeine as a drug, yeah right. Mine’s actually got water in it, but I am guilty of drinking tea. Caffeine’s an incredible drug and it fuels our system as well, but one by one we’re starting to recognize that none of this is really good for us.
– Yeah, I mean it’s interesting ’cause the caffeine data, I pay attention to this stuff and it’s like everything else ambiguous, but there’s as much ambiguous evidence that it’s good for us as it is that it’s bad. Even well sugar is interesting ’cause it’s got these described 100 years ago by chemists as these remarkably stimulating properties. So as early as 1916, biochemists realized that we metabolize sugar quicker than particularly the fructose portion of sugar, half of the sugar molecule. We metabolize it quicker than other carbohydrates. So this idea that the sugar industry used to market that it’s quick energy is literally true and you had this period in 1900s, 1910s, 1920s where sports coaches would experiment with sugar as a performance enhancing drug. So like the Harvard rowing team and I think I found one article in the Times about the Yale soccer team. I forget if it was Yale or Columbia that was experimenting with sugar around 1913 or so and they thought it worked even though they lost five to one to Penn.
– But they felt so good about it.
– They felt so good. So it had these sort of stimulating properties, but simultaneously the question is like in many performance enhancing drugs, does it have long-term deleterious consequences. So you take it for a race or you take it for practice or you take it to pass a test and it’s beneficial and I think we all had that experience where a sugar rush usually with caffeine attached got us through some exam periods in college, but then simultaneously once you’re hooked and it’s an everyday thing, you’ve got these long-term consequences and one scary thing is that you could pass those, if you’re a woman you could pass them on to your children while you’re pregnant.
– That’s one of the metaphors I used in my last book was it’s kind of like deficit spending. If you don’t have the money, you can borrow it, but there’s a price to pay and so it will. I mean listen, I could have sugar and coffee right now and dramatically alter my mood and probably enhance my performance for about three hours and then tonight’s gonna suck, right, and that’s really that delayed hit, sometimes you gotta get through the day, but if you live a life in a way where every single day you’re taking that drug to kind of bump you to the next gratification, you’re not living a balanced life. So you mentioned something about paying it forward into the next generation that I don’t think many people know about. If a mother is having sugar, what happens to the next generation?
– Well so this is and again this is speculation and so I have two chapters in the book that are called the If Then Problem, chapter one and then If Then Problem two. So the thesis of the book is that sugar is the fundam, it’s a dietary trigger of this condition called insulin resistance. So that’s the sort of precursor to obesity, well it goes along with obesity, it’s a precursor to diabetes and heart disease. The CDC says today around 75 million Americans have what’s called metabolic syndrome, which means they’re insulin resistant and they’re at high risk for heart disease and diabetes. Sugar is a likely or the likely cause of it. That’s the argument I make in the book. So you consume sugar, you have this metabolic, this cluster of metabolic abnormalities that go along with being resistant to the hormone insulin. So now your blood sugar’s elevated, you’re over secreting insulin, you’ve got what’s called dyslipidemia, which means instead of just high cholesterol, you’ve got a whole slew of sort of lipid problems are what they’re called. Your blood pressure’s elevated and again you’re on your way towards getting diabetic. So now if you’re a woman you get pregnant, the fetus is going to see basically its fuel supply, the blood sugar crosses the placenta in proportion to the blood sugar in the mother. So it’s going to see a high blood sugar environment and it’s going to as it’s developing its pancreas, it’s going to overdevelop insulin secreting cells in the pancreas in preparation for what it sees as this high blood sugar environment and this is well documented. This isn’t crazy speculation. This is text book science.
– [Pedram] We’re on solid ground still.
– We’re still on solid ground. So the mothers who are obese or diabetic or what’s called gestationally diabetic where they manifest diabetes while they’re pregnant will have babies that are born bigger and fatter and this is the reason why and this is one reason why when women get pregnant they get a glucose tolerance test to see if they’re becoming diabetic because you don’t want this to happen. They’re also at higher risk at having birth defects and complications in pregnancy and when the kids grow up, they’re at higher risk at becoming obese and diabetic adults and this is really well documented in a Native American population in Arizona called the Pima where they’ve been studying a longitudinal study since the 1960s and women who are diabetic when they’re pregnant have a 30 fold greater risk of giving birth to children who will become diabetic as adults than women who are healthy and stay healthy through their pregnancies. So you can imagine a scenario basically where each generation of mother getting these high-sugar diets gives birth to a generation of children who are more predisposed to become obese, diabetic and insulin resistant when they hit adulthood and get pregnant themselves and so you have a sort of vicious cycle that gets worse with each generation and you have researchers talking about this possibility in the literature and again we address it with the glucose tolerance test during pregnancy, but nobody’s ever really discussed the population, the real implications and particularly so of these if the initial insulin resistance is caused by sugar and like I said there are populations where you see obesity and diabetes just explode from the time you have Western diets come along and then within 10 years you see sort of the immediate effects in the population in the adults and then the children with each succeeding population that the age at which they get diabetes gets lower, the age at which they get obese gets lower. So it’s a frightening scenario, but it’s one that has to be discussed.
– Yeah and in that there’s also another layer that is getting some discussion, but not enough is that the bacterial cultures or colonies that thrive under a high-sugar diet aren’t necessarily the ones that are the greatest for our epigenetic expression, aren’t the ones that will help us with immunomodulatory effects the way that kind of a native, how shall I say, kind of original type of colony would and so now we’re starting to push kind of transgenerational bad bacteria down the timeline as well and that’s leading to all kinds of other things and so that’s just that’s so cutting edge. There’s a lot of people looking at it, but we don’t know what the hell to even make of it yet.
– Well that’s the thing. There’s a lot of, one of the subtexts of my research is that the nutrition, and sometimes it’s not just the subtext, nutrition and obesity research communities screwed up big time. So I have a chapter in the sugar book called The Gift That Keeps On Giving, which is about this idea that obesity is an energy balance disorder. So you get fat merely ’cause you take in too many calories and this is 100-year-old thinking and it ignores well 100 years of medical science that came after, but because it ignores the entire field of endocrinology, which exploded in the 1920s, the science of hormones and hormone-related diseases, the research community, the argument I make, just sort of completely botched the story with obesity and by association diabetes. So they came up with this kind of inanely simplistic idea that it’s just a calorie balance issue and some people get fat ’cause they take in too many calories and others don’t and the hypothesis couldn’t explain anything, which is what you want a hypothesis to do is explain as many phenomena around the subject as you can and it also turned out to be a failure in terms of preventing these disorders. So as we got obesity and diabetes epidemics that exploded in the past 30, 40 years where it’s just clearly the case that something dramatic has happened, now people are looking for explanations other than we screwed up. So one of the ways to deal with it is you say well it’s a multi-factorial complex problem and nobody could solve it ’cause it’s so complex or you say hey look, this gut biome stuff came around. Maybe that’s the solution. So if it’s all in the gut biome, we don’t have to say we missed, we screwed up. We just we needed a new technology. Now that we have a new technology, the ability to sequence the genomes of these gut bacteria and see what species are really living in our guts, now we can solve the problem. So there’s a lot of focus on that. The point I make in the book is that you see this it’s called dysbiosis, these dysfunctional gut bacterial populations in association with obesity and diabetes and Western diets and so clearly the simplest possible hypothesis is it’s also caused by whatever it is in the diet that causes the other diseases. We don’t actually know where it falls in the causal pathway. Did first the gut bacteria get, those populations get skewed and then whatever they do cause the obesity and diabetes? Did they all happen simultaneously? Do they feed back on each other? We don’t know. But we know that it goes that they’re all associated and there was a British naval researcher named Peter Cleave who wrote some very insightful research on this stuff in the ’60s, ’50s and ’60s and he said look, one of the what we’re now calling Western diseases, these diseases that associate with Western diets. We got obesity, diabetes, heart disease, probably cancer, possibly Alzheimer’s and gout and tooth decay. Okay, tooth decay is like the canary in the mine. You give sugar and white flour to any diet and within five years you’ll see tooth decay in the kids and then you’ll see obesity, diabetes 10, 20 years after that. So the simplest hypothesis, whatever causes the tooth decay also causes everything else and he said it’d be crazy to think that the foods that cause havoc to the bacteria in our mouth don’t cause havoc all the way down the GI tract. So again, you’re still implicating sugar and white flour ’cause that’s clearly the issue with tooth decay.
– Which we know. Which we know from years of dental science. We know that these causes caries.
– Exactly. So again, so the argument is I don’t know what role, the long winded way to say that dysbiosis is fascinating and as you put it there’s a lot of smoke right now and it’s hard to see where the real science is. There are a lot of noise. We don’t know where the signals are. But most likely whatever’s causing that is the sugar and the white flour and that’s what we have to worry about.
– We just had Joel Kahn, a cardiologist on the show and he was talking about the oral bacteria that are correlated in heart disease and you could do a carotid artery. Once you open up a carotid artery, you start to pull the bacteria that are in the plaque and you can basically line them up in a line up with what’s in the mouth and they line up perfectly and so some of the things that are implicated there are listerine and triclosan and some of the things that are found in the traditional kind of hygiene care community, which is also backwards as all hell and so you had mentioned this mea culpa piece where they said okay well we don’t really, we didn’t know, we might have messed up, but oh it was because we didn’t understand the gut bacteria. So there’s our alibi. But how much political lobbying and kind of other invisible hand pieces were involved in this ’cause the sugar industry was very active in making sure that their products were still selling.
– And this is actually it’s funny, one of the things that prompted me to do this book was when I was in my earlier books and they were pretty dense investigations, you can kind of feel the influence of the sugar industry in some of the decisions that are made in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s without actually seeing it. So it’s like feeling the influence of a planet or an exoplanet around another star ’cause you see that the star’s–
– [Pedram] Gravitational pull is tugged.
– Yeah, exactly. So as it turns out and here I just got lucky as a journalist. I was giving a lecture at a bookstore in Colorado when my last book came out and a woman came up to me who’s a very… Sort of stunningly smart dentist with an MBA who said she had read my first book and decided to investigate the sugar industry on her own. Because she was a dentist, she was stunned. She had gone to a diabetes meeting and they were talking about the problem with decayed teeth and diabetes and the speaker said we have no idea what the connection is, we have no idea what the cause is and she was so stunned by this that she decided she was gonna investigate the sugar industry and she said she had found archives from defunct sugar industry. So the sugar manufacturer had gone out of business, they’d just taken all their paperwork, their archives, given it to a local university in Colorado, she’d tracked it down, her name is Kristin Kern, she’s now at UC San Francisco doing research, and she’d found a big book that the first box she looked at was sort of top secret, classified sugar, confidential sugar industry documents and lo and behold there was this story in these documents of how the sugar industry in the ’60s and ’70s when people started saying hey, particularly this British nutritionist John Yudkin, sugar causes, looks like it causes heart disease, it causes this cluster of metabolic disorders. A lot of physicians started to believe that sugar causes diabetes and the sugar industry had to do something about it. They felt that their life blood was being attacked and–
– It was.
– It was, but probably the issue was that 99% of the nutrition community felt the problem is dietary fat. So all the sugar industry had to do was hire the people who thought it was fat, which included all the other influential nutritionist, and I mean these guys some of them had some real egos so they were very happy to bash the sugar, the people who blamed it on sugar would get bashed by the people who blamed it on fat–
– This is for diabetes mind you. We’re not even talking about heart disease, we’re talking about diabetes.
– This is heart disease and diabetes. So Yudkin, the British, he was the most influential British nutritionist. Actually his graduate work was used by… I forget if it was Monod or Jacques, but French biochemist did the basis for the work that won him the Nobel prize, this Frenchman. Yudkin is very smart, very talented, good scientist, founded the first dedicated Department of Nutrition in the U.K. and said look it’s just sugar is the prime suspect and we do all these experiments in animals and humans, we could demonstrate that sugar consumption causes virtually every one of these metabolic abnormalities that we now know of as part of metabolic syndrome. He also said clearly heart disease, the American community was beginning to think of heart disease as a cholesterol dysfunction issue. It’s sort of your LDL cholesterol or your total cholesterol is high, that’s what gives you heart disease and yet this is crazy. People with heart disease have like virtually everything you measure is disturbed. So you measure triglyceride, it’s disturbed, blood pressure, it’s disturbed, this, that. It’s clearly a whole slew of things and all of those things can be caused by sugar consumption. So the people who were arguing this fat in the U.S., primarily this University of Minnesota nutritionist named Ancel Keys, they attacked Yudkin. He attacked Yudkin. Keys had been funded by the sugar industry since the 1940s. I think he legitimately believed fat was the problem, but he also had a reason to believe sugar wasn’t. So these went back and forth and meanwhile the sugar industry orchestrated this very careful public relations plan that was documented in these documents that my colleague Kristin found. Were going to hire these people to put together this report. This report then goes to the FDA when they’re deciding whether or not sugar should be generally recognized as safe. We’re gonna take the head of the Harvard Nutrition Department was their sort of main guy. They paid him, I don’t know what the numbers are, but hundreds of thousands of dollars went to his department at Harvard and they would use this fellow Fred Stare to do their TV appearances and radio appearances and when you had this Harvard authority saying sugar’s harmless, it’s all about calories, people tended to believe it. By the 1980s, they had turned this idea that sugar is a fundamental cause of obesity and diabetes and heart disease into quackery and I had researchers tell me that if they studied it in the ’80s they would be accused of being just like Yudkin and the implication was if you wanted a viable career, you did not want to be just like Yudkin.
– [Pedram] Unbelievable.
– Yeah, it’s… It’s an amazing story. I think they’ve set back research by about a quarter of a century. So today we’re finally thinking about doing studies that should have been done in the early 1980s or late 1970s and all because of this public relations campaign.
– Science for hire, huh? That’s unbelievable. And so okay, we’re shaking off this hangover. These guys had a pretty good run at it. They convinced us through our experts that to look away and so now our eyes are back on sugar and what do we know? We know that it does cause diabetes. We know that it does cause dental caries. We’re suspecting that it’s leading to the heart disease downstream. What else? I mean what are the other kind of fallout diseases that we’re seeing with it?
– Well again, it’s funny, having written this book, I’m gonna conditionalize this a little bit. I’m arguing that it’s the prime suspect for diabetes, obesity, basically for insulin resistance and once you’re in resistance, then next steps are diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, most cancers are insulin resistant conditions and there’s a lot of evidence that the up regulation of insulin and insulin signaling and a kindred hormone called insulin-like growth factor and high levels of blood sugar basically fuel cancer growth and metastasis. So when I got into this business, I never thought I would, I was very critical and skeptical. I like to think I still am. I never thought I would say something like sugar causes cancer, but you can make an argument that sugar should be the prime dietary, I make the argument that sugar should be the prime dietary suspect. If it causes insulin resistance, it’s driving cancer growth and if we didn’t have sugar in our diets, cancer would be a much less common disease. Alzheimer’s is another disease which is very closely tied to insulin dynamics and insulin resistance. It’s very hard to make any statements whatsoever about how common Alzheimer’s would have been in other populations or older populations because both cancer and Alzheimer’s are so age related. The longer we live, the more you’re gonna get. But part of this if-then problem, if sugar causes insulin resistance, then it’s going to increase the prevalence of dementia of some kind in populations and that’s gonna be diagnosed if nothing else as Alzheimer’s.
– What about like the Okinawan population? I mean, these guys are known for their longevity and I’m assuming they’re having more traditional diets. So are we seeing this same incidents of Alzheimer’s say on Okinawan or some of these other kind of micro populations that are kind of under that lens.
– Yeah and that’s a good, I don’t know the answer to that, but it would be worthwhile. I mean, often what we’re doing is comparing, I mean that would be a natural place to look. The problem with the Okinawan diet, it too has finally become westernized. So my understanding is younger generations you’re seeing obesity manifest itself and you’ll probably see decreases, likely see decreases in longevity with that, but that would be an ideal place to look.
– So we have this addictive substance that is driving a lot of this insulin resistance if not is the major culprit in this insulin resistance. Mark Hyman speaks very passionately about how addictive it is. Is that something that you have looked at in the research as well for this book?
– I did look at the research. The first chapter of the book is called Drug or Food because I want people when I get into the history and how sugar is spread around the world and saturated the culture after culture after culture, I wanted people thinking in terms of is this a food we’re seeing spreading or a drug we’re seeing spreading ’cause many of the substances that came out of the First World became the basis of commerce as sort of oil of the 17th, 18th century were these drug foods as Sydney Mins put it. So as we’ve talked about, rum, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate–
– [Pedram] Opium a little later.
– Opium a little later. The… Very little research. Again, it’s fascinating because you weren’t supposed to care about sugar. To think that sugar was deleterious was to be a quack. So there was these arguments that sugar caused attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity, which is interesting. I would say beyond a shadow of a doubt because I’m a parent, but yet the research actually in the ’80s was pretty good and it seemed to refute that hypothesis, although I could imagine how it missed it. So you have like three groups in the world looking at the possibility that sugar is addictive. There’s a group at Princeton, which really didn’t get the biochemistry, didn’t quite understand what they were studying. There were a lot of people who studied sugar and literally didn’t know what they were studying or talking about. There’s a group in France, a French researcher who if you believe his research, he addicted rats and mice to cocaine or heroine and they would self-administer it. So they’d give themselves like a daily bolus of their drug of choice and then he would offer them sugar and they would have a certain amount of time to decide between sugar and the drug and once they decided, that was it, they were trapped. So if they decided sugar, they can no longer go back to the cocaine or the heroine and these animals shifted from a cocaine addiction to a sugar addiction in like two days. Heroine took them a little longer to decide before they locked in on sugar. So at least rats and mice we know even once addicted to these very powerful drugs prefer sugar. My feeling if you have kids, you don’t need science to tell you it’s addictive and you don’t need science to tell you it’s addictive in a different way than nicotine or caffeine or alcohol. I mean, I think they’re all slightly addictive. I think one of the problems the addiction researchers do is they try to stick it in the same box when A it’s clearly a nutrient, but I have a friend, a wonderful journalist who wrote a beautiful book called 1493 about the spread of foods and plants around the world after Columbus discovered America and the way he put it in that book, he said scientists debate amongst themselves whether sugar is an addictive substance or people just act like it is and I think it’s so clear that we act like it is that it’s some kind of technical scientific check off in check box isn’t actually necessary.
– Yeah and being addictive then it starts to open us up to a very different kind of moral conversation when we start looking at how this is put in front of children at such an early age.
– Well this is what’s so inter, I had come up, I’m a big fan of thought experiments, Gedanken experiments, kind of this physics background and I’d come up with this thought experiment where I said imagine if we discovered a drug that made people feel happy for anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour that could be given to children, infants, babies even without any serious deleterious consequences. There’s no like shaking or stuttering or respiratory issues. You can’t overdose them. You can’t kill them with it and the long-term consequences take 20, 30, 40 years to manifest. So by the time they manifest, you can’t actually tie them back to the drug use. How long would it take as soon as mothers realized that they could take a crying infant and give it a little taste of this substance and it’ll stop crying, what’s the next step? Like we give it to kids on their birthday to make them happy, we give them to kids to reward them for a good soccer game, when the kids are being pissy or we want to take them to the, we got to do some shopping and they’re gonna have to go through the supermarket with us, we’re gonna promise them some of the drug, right? And pretty soon you could imagine a scenario where it’s everywhere and no party, no celebration, no holiday, no get-together, no dinner, no manifestation of love and companionship and affection is complete without using this drug. Grandmothers, the kids are gonna get dropped at grandmother’s house. What’s a grandmother gonna do to make sure the kids are happy? Well bake them cookies, give them lemonade and hot chocolate. I mean, it’s always it becomes the way we communicate happiness and love and then when people like me come along every 10 or 20 or 50 years and say this stuff’s killing us, you’re gonna go like oh get out of here. Everyone, first of all everyone does it and second of all what is life without you telling me I’m not supposed to give my kid a birthday cake on his birthday? I mean, Christmas is coming.
– Sacrilege, can’t I put out cookies for Santa Claus? What about the candy canes? So just… My original title for this book was Stealing Christmas, the Case Against Sugar and then my editors thought and it’s true, some people didn’t get the Grinch analogy, allusion, not analogy, with the stealing Christmas, but to do what this book does is to say I want to take away all your pleasure, all your joy. What’s left? You can’t drink, you can’t smoke, we can’t shoot up. What’s left if not sugar?
– Well that’s it. You know what’s funny is if have a number, hundreds and hundreds of my students that have come off of caffeine and they at first it’s like Charlton Heston clinching with his cold hands. It’s like I won’t function without this and within a week or two, they have more energy, their mood is more stable and they are craving less sugar and you start to look at sugar and caffeine and the drugs that have fueled the American and Western empires and you start looking at our psychological way of being and our time compression and all the things that lead to this stress and this need to constantly produce and all these things. It’s like there are some ties that may be inextricably linked with our brain state and our consciousness that are basically fed by these substances. So it’s a really heavy thing. Like you’re not just saying something that is lightly taken. You are taking away someone’s addictive life line and like everything about you changes when you take away your high octane, high interest credit card in a lot of ways.
– Well this is it. I mean again, it’s your source of pleasure. In the last chapter in the book, I discuss the concept of moderation and how much is still too much and the nature, what it takes to quit if you’re gonna do it and I really think well undeniably my thoughts on it are informed on having been a smoker. So when I was a cigarette smoker stupidly in my youth, every aspect of my life was basically modulated through nicotine. So you wake up in the morning, you have a cigarette, you eat breakfast, you have a cigarette, you walk to work, you have a cigarette, you eat lunch, you have a cigarette, you have sex, you have a cigarette, you exercise–
– [Pedram] You poop.
– You have a cigarette. It’s just there is nothing you do in life. In between each course of a restaurant back in the day when you could smoke in restaurants you would have cigarettes and you can’t imagine life without it. You just can’t imagine. It is so integrated into all your both pleasant and unpleasant experiences, the way you buffer unpleasant experiences is to smoke. You have an argument with your girlfriend, you have a cigarette. You have a great time with your girlfriend, you have a cigarette. Nicotine just becomes a completely so integrated into your emotional states and then you try to quit. I tried to quit every day for 20 years. Sometimes I succeeded for a couple months, a few times I succeed for a year, finally I succeeded for 16 so far. The first three weeks are miserable. They’re hell. It’s nothing but cigarette withdrawal. All you could think about is don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke. The first three months once I got use this phenomena after failed experience, I would warn my friends that I’m probably gonna alienate them by being short tempered, cranky, angry, over responding to perceived slights. The first year is just general unhappiness and then you get to the point where you can’t imagine you ever smoked. You just can’t imagine and you can’t imagine going back to it and you can’t imagine why other people smoke and you can’t imagine how this thing had its control over your intellect, your emotions, everything you did and everything you are and I believe the same thing is true about sugar, but if you don’t get to that point, you’ll never know.
– In my experience, it happens much quicker than a year thankfully. People, you can scream for about a week or two and then things start to get better and you start to feel better.
– Well that could be sugar. Nicotine–
– No, no, nicotine’s a different demon. Yeah, absolutely. We actually have a question from studio audience, or not studio audience, our Facebook audience. Sean?
– So this one’s from Charlotte. So it’s regarding addiction. Are some people more addicted to sugar than others? Like she’s thinking about alcoholics and how they can not drink for a bit but only have one drink and then be back on the wagon. So is sugar kind of the same thing where you can only have sugar once in awhile and still be able to–
– [Pedram] Or bright lining.
– Yeah, exactly.
– So the question is are some people more, do people have more of a proclivity to sugar addiction than others? Do we even know this yet?
– Well again, this is one of these things that I think is clear from just observation. You don’t need, sometimes people think you need fancy science for everything. My wife can order dessert at the end of a meal. My wife can smoke two cigarettes a month and not be a cigarette addict, whereas I can’t. She can have dessert at the end of a meal. She’ll have two bites and push it aside and she’s done. Never think one thing about it again. I won’t order dessert. I’ll have a bite of hers and then I’m locked into the dessert like it’s a heroine needle lying on the table and I’m a heroine addict. Yeah and until I can get the waitress to take it away, I am debating whether or not to binge and so clearly people have different. It just affects us all differently. I felt the same way about alcohol when I used to when I was in college I used to bounce in Irish bars in Boston and the kids I bounced with metabolized alcohol differently than I did. They had two drinks and they wanted to party and fight all night long and I had two drinks and I wanted to go home and go to sleep. It’s just so clearly we metabolize these things differently. They have different effects on our brains and they have different effects on our level of craving. What bugs me are the people who are so they’re lean, they can eat sugar in moderation and they assume this is somehow meaningful or true of everyone and getting them to understand that it’s not is half the battle sometimes.
– Well that’s just it. I mean, what we know as our own experience of that and it’s really hard and that’s where empathy comes in. You have to understand that your experience of reality isn’t necessarily synonymous with the guy right next to you and so we know that sugar has all these issues. It might not work the same. I mean, some people look, they taste alcohol and they’re an alcoholic and they never go back. Other people drink every night and they don’t have a problem. So I think it is very case dependent. Listen, I love the tone and just the kind of really calm nature that you have and how you carry yourself with this. You’ve obviously been at this for a very long time. You’ve done a lot of research. The book is called The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes. I’m gonna put it up right here and it is thick and it’s filled with information. You’ve been doing a lot of research for a very long time so I thank you for that and yeah man, keep up the good work with what you’re doing. I really enjoy talking to you. I think that you have read a lot of books and have spent a fair amount of time critically looking at stuff and it’s nice to, a lot of people have a dog in the race and it’s hard because you’re always wondering where their agenda is gonna come in and so I’m glad you just looked at this stuff.
– Well thanks and the funny thing is you do your, one of the problems with me doing the kind of reporting I do is you do the reporting until you eventually decide what the truth is or most likely and then you become biased. So I definitely have a bias and that’s why over and over again in this book I acknowledge my bias. I say look, this is what I think is true and this should be our baseline hypothesis that we should have to refute before we move to something more complex or different entirely. It’s hard to underestimate how substandard the nutrition obesity research has been for the past century and we could do three more shows discussing the reasons why that’s true if it’s true and just needed I felt somebody had to just sort of explain, lay out what the discussion should be about, what the evidence really may or may not show. So I appreciate that it’s getting across and that the tone isn’t too shrill or too zealous.
– Well and it’s almost impossible to not develop a bias after looking at a lot of overwhelming evidence or maybe the sugar industry will start sponsoring you and you’ll change your bias. Like our friends at Harvard. No, I mean that’s really it is science has been bought in a lot of ways and so that needs to be exposed because if we’re putting it up on such a high pedestal, then true science looks at data and is unbiased and has overwhelming evidence to substantiate a position after much research and so we’re coming out of a dark time and so let’s just shake it off and move on and so now we know what we know about sugar and thanks to you and a lot of the people that have been doing this work, it’s becoming more and more clear that Christmas is gonna look different next year.
-We’ll see, we’ll see how long it takes for this message to really sink in.
– That’s it. Thank you so much. Let me know what you think. This is Dr. Pedram Shojai, The Urban Monk. Check out The Urban Monk Academy. We are doing all kinds of interesting things in the coming year, more meditation practices, some retreats. So just go onto TheUrbanMonk.com and check it out and let me know what you think and let’s talk about sugar in the chat threads. I’ll see you next time.