Interview with Gary Taubes: The Case Against Sugar

I’m a huge fan of Gary Taubes’s work. As I describe in Better Than Before, my book about habit change, while on vacation in March 2012, I read Gary’s book Why We Get Fat and overnight, I changed practically everything about the way I ate.

I call this form of habit change the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt”; Gary’s ideas hit me with the force of the lightning bolt, and my habits changed effortlessly.

On September 30, 2016, Gary Taubes and I talked by phone for a few hours about his new book, The Case Against Sugar.

I asked him to do this interview because I want to highlight key points from his book. The book contains so many crucial arguments that it can be challenging for the reader to keep track of them all.

The Case Against Sugar hits the shelves on December 17, 2016, and you can pre-order it now.

I want to help other readers experience the same lightning-bolt of understanding that has so benefited me.

Click the button below to get free instant access to a PDF of our conversation. 

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD

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  • Claire

    Thank you, Gretchen, for making his PDF available. So antithetical to what I hear from conventional medical sources, but I can say after much research and personal experience, I’m a believer in the low carb, high fat way. Several years ago, when I was dealing with anxiety, I had a phone consult with a holistic nutritionist. Right after I hung up with him, I ate an egg per his recommendation, and felt almost immediately better!

  • Sarah

    Thanks for posting this. Any chance this chat will be made into a podcast??? That would be a great episode! Cheers.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m hoping we can get him in as a guest! Stay tuned.

      • Jenna Van Sickle

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s appropriate to have Gary Taubes on your podcast, unless he was going to refrain from talking about a low-carb, high-fat diet. The podcast is about habits and happiness, not about approaches to eating. His research is so specific to one approach to eating, and you have lots of podcast listeners who have no desire to eat that way. While I have great respect for you, Gretchen, and others who eat that way, I eat in a different (and equally extreme) way. I enjoy discussions about how to have eating habits that are different from society at large or how to resist eating what your partner/family is eating, but I don’t want to hear a deep discussion of the purported benefits of LCHF diets, and I don’t want to feel like someone is trying to convince me that another way of eating is better than the one that I have thoughtfully chosen. That’s just not why I come to the Happier podcast, and I think others would likely feel the same way. I love that you put your conversation with him in a blog post (which feels like completely optional reading) rather than in the podcast (which would feel like an intrusion into something that I normally really look forward to). P.S. I don’t want to complain! I just love your podcast so much that I don’t want anything to spoil it!

      • Emily

        That would be great! It’s exciting to me to see you use your blog and podcast to spread the word about the evidence for an ultra low carb diet. It’s a message I want to share with everyone I meet!

        Gary Taubes shattered my beliefs about food. It was hard to accept at first, but the science is so convincing I immediately changed the way I ate.

        The truth has been hidden for us for too long. Influencers like you are changing and saving lives.

  • I’d vote for a podcast as well!

  • theshubox

    Excellent and thought-provoking post. I am a pediatric endocrinologist so this is all right up my alley. I have been on the LOWER SUGAR / LOWER THE CARBS train for my patients for a long time now, although I would say I eat moderate carb/high-ish fat myself (I am a moderator at heart!). (But I would say I generally eat low sugar!)

    I have just one thing to correct a little – you mentioned “. My sister Elizabeth is a type 1 diabetic, and she told me, “I’ve never had an insulin response to artificial sweeteners.” But is that a thing?” . In type 1 diabetes, Elizabeth can’t make any insulin on her own! She has no working beta cells, which make insulin. So, she’s not going to have an insulin response to anything. More interesting would be if YOU put her monitor on and see if diet soda gives you any change in blood sugar. Would be harder to measure your insulin levels, you’d have to have repeated blood draws in a lab, but would be interesting to see if you have a drop in blood glucose which could indicate your body produced a bit of insulin. I suspect this study may have been done before, too.

    Again – I think the article was excellent!

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to hear that you found the interview helpful, esp given your specialty.
      What I meant for Elizabeth was, as you point out, did she need to adjust her insulin dosage based on drinking diet soda.

      • theshubox

        Got it. But it’s not a great example. Because the argument that some people make is that you release insulin when you drink diet soda and that makes your blood sugar drop, so you’re hungrier. Since Elizabeth only has the insulin that she gives herself, by definition she can’t have that response. So I guess I just wanted to clarify that you can’t use Elizabeth to look at insulin secretion responses to different foods 🙂

        • gretchenrubin

          Ah, good point. Got it.

    • My daughter is a T1D and I only WISH that when she was diagnosed at 8-months old, that someone, anyone, would have told us that lower carbs (and gluten free) would be better for her. You’d think it would be common sense, but all the doctors and endos we talked to told us to keep her on the standard american diet and just give insulin for the carbs. Granted, she *was* only 8-months old at the time so going low carb probably wouldn’t have been good for her development, but even getting her to eat gluten free now is quite the challenge 8 years later. I don’t give my kids lots of added sugars because it’s not healthy for anyone, but I think the T1D community needs to better understand the effects of carbs and added sugars on the BG. So, thank you for being on that train! We need more endos on the same one.

      • theshubox

        Well, just to clarify, I do not advise all new type 1 patients to go super low carb 🙂 I am definitely flexible and let people try their own approaches, but for little tiny ones you do have to be careful to allow them to have enough carbohydrates to allow for growth. The anabolic (growth) state you need to be during childhood is very different than where you want to be as a fully grown adult, so it’s important not use a one-sized fits all approach. I do agree that the “low fat” movement needs to GO AWAY! Especially in the diabetes world. It’s just an invitation for more sugar and carb-fillers and a roller coaster blood sugar pattern. Fat is good 🙂 I hope your daughter is doing well!!

  • Diana

    Super interesting. I changed my diet after reading your 2012 post on the topic. I am not as rigorous as you — I probably eat low carb about 85-90% of the time and I do eat berries (though not much other fruit). I basically am an abstainer who still wants to indulge from time to time, so that is what I do. Interestingly though, when I went super low carb to lose a few pounds I found it wasn’t so easy, as it was 5 years ago. Maybe it is because I am almost 50 and as Gary says, there are other hormones that play a role. Still, this is keeping my weight stable and my energy stable–and I have become at peace with the fact that I am a normal, healthy weight but not as skinny as I would like to be. That takes too much energy.

    • Teresa

      People confuse carbohydrates, they are usually talking about bread, rice, pasta etc. There is a difference between complex carbs, which we can and should eat a lot of, and simple carbs which we should avoid like the plague 99 percent of the time. Complex carbs are contained in all fruit and vegetables, those grown below ground, the root veg like carrots, parsnip, turnip, sweet potato. have more dense carb than those grown above ground such as tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions. All fruits contain carbs, the dense carb coming from grapes, pears, bananas, less dense, apples, oranges, soft fruits etc. All of the aforementioned foods are where we should get most of our carbs. Other complex carbs, the brown foods like wholegrain rice, whiolegrain bread, wholewheat pasta, sweet potato should be eaten in very small quantities even though they are good for us. We don’t do lots of physical work these days so we don’t need an abundance of carbs, but for good health we do need them. we just eat too much of them. As for simple carbs, white bread, white pasta, white rice, white potatoes,cakes, biscuits, sweets, fizzy drink? Avoid them 99 percent of the time, little treat now and again. The other key rule, always eat protein with all meals and snacks, it lowers the glycemic/sugar index of your food which is very good. Protein doesn’t have a sugar index so if you eat protein in the form of nuts, seeds, beans, cheese, lean meat, fish, it lowers your overall blood sugar with your meals. Never, ever forget your protein! I hope this helps make sense of.

      • gretchenrubin

        In WHY WE GET FAT, Taubes makes the point that all carbs raise insulin, whether complex or simple. It follows from his arguments about the effect of insulin that it’s healthier to eat a low-carb diet, which would mean skipping things like carrots, grapes, etc. And in THE CASE AGAINST SUGAR, he explains why sugar is sugar, with the effects on the body.

  • I gave up sugar in December of 2015 and love the lifestyle. I am finally in control of my eating. Despite being thin most of my life, I had sugar cravings. No longer! Since giving up sugar, my face isn’t puffy, I lost a shoe size (feet puffy), and my hands and knees no longer ache. Sugar just isn’t worth feeling like crap. Speaking of crap, now I CAN. Every day. Easily. win!

  • Such a great interview–a swift kick in the seat of the pants for me as a pre-diabetic. I’ve read Taubes’ other two books and plan to read this one. I’m passing this page on to others in an effort to spread the word!

  • llcall

    I really enjoyed the interview! It wasn’t all new to me (though I haven’t read his books specifically), but I will say that it got me closer to trying the no-sugar, low-carb diet than I ever have before. I can do anything for 3 months, right?! And I am really curious to see what impact it would have on me personally — someone who is a moderator, and perhaps on the low end, with sugar intake, and has a mostly plant-based but carb-heavy diet.

    If you do decide to go for the podcast or post more about this in the future, the biggest question I would love to see discussed is, how can I eat this way on a limited budget? Your interview prompted me to look around a bit at food ideas, but one of the key reasons we don’t eat meat is that it is so expensive. Similarly, the low-carb nut ideas seemed to lean toward some of the pricier nuts. Eggs are an inexpensive option, but I guess what I’ve read so far makes me feel like I would either have to eat eggs ALL THE TIME or this would necessarily increase our food budget, which would be difficult right now. You’ve got the wheels churning, as usual!

  • charles grashow

    Yet Dr Robert “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” Lustig says one can eat ALL the fruit one want’s to!

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/learning-to-cut-the-sugar/
    Learning to Cut the Sugar

    Q. A lot of the recipes in your book use fruit to add sweet flavors. Was this a way to limit refined sugar?

    A. Exactly. People always say to me, “What about fruit? It has sugar.” But I have nothing against fruit, because it comes with its inherent fiber, and fiber mitigates the negative effects. The way God made it, however much sugar is in a piece of fruit, there’s an equal amount of fiber to offset it.

    There’s only one notable exception: grapes. Grapes are just little bags of sugar. They don’t have enough fiber for the amount of sugar that’s in them. But I have nothing against real food, and that includes real fruit. Eat all the fruit you want. It’s only when you turn it into juice that I have a problem with it, because then it loses its fiber.

    SO – Lustig says ” Eat all the fruit you want. It’s only when you turn it into juice that I have a problem with it, because then it loses its fiber.”

    Your thoughts

    • Teresa

      He is right, fruit contains fructose which is natural fruit sugar, the only sugar we should ingest, also honey which is also fructose and wholefood. Not to be confused with high fructose corn sugar/syrup, manmade, extracted from sweetcorn, sugar beet, this detrimentalises your health because it has been removed from the whole fruit. When you extract juice from fruit it becomes toxic that’s why if you eat an apple and an orange they count as 2 fruits, if you drink 10, 20 cartons of fruit juice it only counts as 1 fruit. Sugar sap from sugarcane is extracted and turned into granulated sugar of varying colours or powder sugar, Toxic, out of context of the whole fruit. Yes sugarcane is a wholefruit and healthy when eaten in its entirety after the tough outer bark has been stripped off. I rest my case.