Gary Taubes is the American author of Nobel Dreams, Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion, and Good Calories, Bad Calories, titled The Diet Delusion in the UK and Australia.
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My latest book, The Case Against Sugar, argues that sugar is the new tobacco: backed by powerful lobbies, entrenched in our lives, and making us very sick. Ask me anything about sugar and its effects on our health, diet, American’s history with sugar, and our addiction to sweets.
Ok. Signing off. Thanks for all your comments and kind words.
Hi Mr. Taubes. In the past you've indicated that you believe that artificial sweeteners are probably safer than sugar.
Have the last few years of additional research changed your opinion on this point?
I still think they're safer than sugar, not safer than water. Better research is clearly needed.
Gary, I have little to ask you, I just wanted to say that I read "Why We Get Fat" back in August 2015, and decided to change my life. I've lost 75lbs with LCHF, my health is so improved, my metabolic profile is so improved, I'm no longer considered at risk of t2 diabetes and I've gotten fit so I can pursue my dream career. You change people's lives in a way you can't possibly imagine.
So here's a question then - what is your absolute favourite food?
Hmmm.... deviled eggs, maybe. At least this morning.
And thanks for kind words.
This morning anyway.
I am a physician. Reading Good Calories Bad Calories was the the most important book I've read in my life. In fact I read it nine times. The sugar and refined carbohydrates, metabolic syndrome, insulin, obesity scenario was all spelled out there and as Cleves said caused the saccharine diseases. The anti low carbers always referred to the Kitavans, who eat high starch diets, as examples of how this didn't hold up. But what I got from The Case Against Sugar was that you really need sucrose namely fructose to initiate the metabolic syndrome. Once you have metabolic syndrome then you have become glucose intolerant and all refined carbs need to be avoided as they will raise insulin and promote further fat deposition. Societies like the Kitavans who eat very little sugar can eat a high percentage of carbohydrates and not get fat or chronic disease because they don't eat large quantities of sugar to initiate the metabolic syndrome. Have I got that right?
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You do indeed have that right. That's the argument. Although the Kitavans also didn't eat white flour, so it could be the white flour, too. Nine times!! Wow. You probably know the book better than I do at this point. Thanks.
I heard you on Joe Rogan and threw out the last of my candy and sugar I had around the house that night. I am sugar free for a month now. I am in the process of reading your book and find it fascinating, frustrating and a little scary. My family thinks I am crazy for cutting sugar. What's the simplest way to explain your findings to them to try and make them see the light? Thank you for your work. It's life changing.
Ask them if they would feel the same way if you quit smoking or drinking? (Assuming you're old enough to do either.)
Hi Gary! I'm 100% on board the "sugar is the devil" train, thanks to you, Nina Teicholz, and Dr Robert Lustig, and my family and I are loving the results after removing most added sugar from our diet. My question is, based on your research, do you have any recommendations for how parents of small children should approach holidays like Valentine's Day and Halloween where a ton of candy consumption is the social expectation? Is it better to let them binge on it for one night then take it away, or let them eat one piece a day til it's gone? Or let them eat certain types of candy but not others? (Candy is, obviously, not part of their daily diet at home.) Apologies if this was covered in one of your books, I have really limited time to read due to the aforementioned kids.
Well, we let our sons eat candy for the one day because I'm not ready to be that strict with them and my wife thinks kids should get to enjoy their childhoods. Not everything has to be about health. Do I feel like a hypocrite for letting them? I wrestle with it.
If you could meet Ancel Keys today what would you say to him?
I'd ask him if he really meant what the NYT quoted him saying in the late 1980s, that we were too obsessively focused on cholesterol.
How do you feel about the idea of completely avoiding all carbs (as promoted in /r/zerocarb)?
It's their gamble. My goal is to get people to understand the argument that those of us predisposed to get fat and/or diabetic in this world should avoid at least sugar and refined grains, if not starchy vegetables as well. After that, it's up to the individual to decide what's next
What have you recently changed your mind about that you believed for a long time?
Hmm, other than my faith in the democratic process?
Do you think we know everything there is to know about Keto?
No. We don't know the longterm effects. We can speculate because the short term effects are so beneficial for most people, but that doesn't mean were right. I had an operations systems prof in college who used to say "you pays your money, you takes your chances." That's ultimately the best we can do.
How do you feel about non organic and non grass fed beef, pork, poultry, seafood (farmed vs. non farmed) etc...Due to the difference in the type of fat these contain (e.g. omega 6 vs. omega 3, and other potential differences) is it wise to stay away or at least get the leaner option? What do you do when you can't get the "natural" option? Thanks
I think you have to be lucky to live in an area where you can get grass fed meat easily and you have to be able to afford it. For those of us who do and can, it is very obviously the better choice, if for no other reason than the documented horrors of factory farming. But many folks don't and can't, and for them I still think an animal-product rich diet is probably healthier than the alternative. (Although, i admit, clearly not for the animals.)
I've kept overall carbs fairly low since 2010 thanks to your work. But I find this significantly impacts my ability to perform intense mental work (writing and analysis) unless I add some sugar, and I read recently that you use nicotine when writing. I've tried adding salt, potassium, etc., but only sugar seems to help. Any advice or thoughts on why and what to do?
I certainly understand (as I'm chewing half a nicorette now), and I need caffeine to function well. The question is whether or not we're doing ourselves harm and what the trade-off is. You understand the trade-off, so you're making an informed decision. (I wrote my second books using d'anjou pears for the sugar rush. But I also gained 15 pounds while doing it.)
Thank you so much for all your work, I'm a huge fan of GCBC especially.
What is the best way for a person on a ketogenic diet to eat fruit, aside from infrequently? If someone wanted to indulge would it be better on its own or incorporated into something with a high fat no-sugar base? My parents finally went keto but are having a really hard time with not eating a substantial amount of fruit.
I eat fruit after a workout, because it's there and I'm assuming the carbs will be used to restock glycogen. But I'm perhaps not concerned enough with whether I'm actually in ketosis.
How often do you recommend exercising per week?
I don't. It's beyond my area of expertise (assuming I have one).
I also quit drinking (for other reasons) and they were all for that. I get they're the crabs in the pot. Hopefully one day they find their way out. Thanks.
What do you mean by "the crabs ni the pot". Sounds like a good metaphor there.
You do look a bit like Owen Wilson though...
So I gather. As an old girlfriend of mine would have said, though, back when I looked a little like Sylvester Stallone, until Owen Wilson starts looking like Brad Pitt, looking like Owen Wilson is not all that great a thing.
Well, how often do you exercise then? lol
I do HIIT about three times a week, and in between do dips (kitchen cabinets well spaced) and pull-ups on a bar on the way to my office.
In general, what factors make good science hard to practice?
From your writings, I come up with:
Large number of confounding variables
Need for a large sample size over long periods of time
Public policy implications that create a politicized environment
Large amounts of money at stake re funding for a particular position
Economics and public health have all of these features.
And irrespective of the merits, climate change does as well.
I'd have to say the difficulty in doing meaningful experiments (climate change) and lack of interest in replication, as well
Gary, GCBC saved my health. You've said that exercise to lose fat doesn't work because it increases appetite to compensate. I've read some studies that low intensity exercise increases appetite but high intensity doesn't. Do you have any new thoughts on exercise and appetite from what you may have read recently?
Once again, outside my area of expertise. I can imagine HIIT working to reduce fat accumulation by changing how we partition fuels, although it does make me hungry. The key point I'm making is that people don't become obese because they're sedentary. And so increasing expenditure isn't the cure.
I just came from a wellness conference where, of all things, Naked juices were being grandstanded. The implication here is that they are somehow healthy. I know that the sugar content of these products (Produced by PepsiCo), is among the highest of any product on the market right now.
How do we combat such insidious marketing?
We have to get people to realize that the sugar in the juices is (probably) worse than the vitamins and phytonutrients are good. That's going to take some time and effort making the kinds of arguments we've been making all along. I think we're winning, though, but it's a slow process. And industry backing of wellness conferences probably plays a role. Maybe we need Asbury to donate bullet proof coffees...
Follow on question: What can we learn from the success we've had with tobacco use reduction, to reduce sugar/carbs consumption? Tax sugary drinks, etc.
The tobacco issue had second-hand smoke to allow for regulations against smoking in public. We don't have that for refined carbs/sugar. So we're going to have to rely more on getting the message out. Although if we can establish definitively that sugar causes diabetes, I think that will help. Also LCHF diets seem so remarkably effective when people adhere, most people, that I think breaking down resistance to the fat/animal content of these diets will help them spread. After all, you don't know you're getting lung cancer until it's too late to do anything about it. OB and DB can be reversed, for some to most people, by restricting carbs.
Have you seriously considered moving into the US political arena to affect some change in these public policies?
Not me. Being political is not what I'm good at.
Hi Gary! Thank you so much for the work you do.
I recall that you've said in the past that you're not convinced that vegetables are necessary. Can you discuss that? How much do you personally eat?
I eat a lot of green vegetables because, well, my mother used to tell me to eat my vegetables (not that it did her a lot of good). But I honestly can't say they're necessary. Clearly populations thrived on this planet eating precious little-- the Native Americans of the Great Plains, the Inuit, the Masai, South Pacific Islanders, etc.
Gary - what are your thoughts on stevia as a replacement for sugar? I use in my coffee every day ... seems to be working out OK ... Thanks.
Well, I think it's probably harmless, with emphasis on the word "probably".
Gary, low carb follower here and lost a ton of weight. Do you think lobbying from sugar invested groups (coke, wheat farmers) were a major part in the governments health recommendations?
I still blame bad science more so than the lobbying, although surely the industry involvement didn't hurt because the recommendations clearly benefitted industry.
Gary, your work has meant a lot to me - your books have given me the ammo to start LCHF and start taking better care of myself. One of my vices is dry white wine (chardonnay mostly). It has been the hardest to give up. I keep the carb count low but I feel it still impedes my progress. I know I am insulin resistant. Is wine really the main saboteur at this point in changing my lifestyle (promoting insulin spikes)? How bad is alcohol with LCHF?
My understanding is that white wine has more sugar content than red, but I could be wrong. I do know people who fail on LCHF and they either refuse to give up the wine or refuse to give up their diet sodas. I'd try an experiment: give yourself two months without wine and see how it goes and how much you miss it. Ok, one month. Or try red...
Your last AMA appearance was four years ago. In February 2021, what do you think you will be talking about here?
I'm focused on one subject I think I know well and so it's the same as it was. Only with a better knowledge base, re sugar.
thoughts on how major influx of saturated fats on a ketogenic diet impacts health? specifically in regards to cholesterol. Have seen my good chol. go down and bad go up on keto adaptation. looking for advice as I love my energy/body on keto. Thanks!
I don't think we know. It's hard to imagine that a diet that reverses metabolic syndrome will do harm merely because it increases LDL-P, but that doesn't mean it doesn't. So repeating myself, better research is necessary. Until then we have to take our chances with what we think is healthiest.
On a personal level, what are some of your favorite films?
I've probably seen Casablanca 40 times. After that they merge together.
Why did Peter Attia leave NUSI?
You'll have to ask Peter that one.
Is there a movie deal in the works? Who do you want to play yourself on the big screen?
Well, my book from the early 90s on cold fusion is under option, but that's about it. Re playing myself, if only I looked like Brad Pitt it would be an easy decision to make. No luck, there.
Pancakes or waffles?
Personally? Waffles. Know Better Bread (which does not pay me in any way nor do I own stock) makes a good low-carb waffle.
Follow up question: Didn't all those populations eat a ton of organ meats? Maybe a better question is, are vegetables necessary if you can't stomach the idea of consuming eyeballs, liver, blood, etc?
Probably not all of them. But that's the problem with observational data like this. You need an intervention to establish causality.
Have you ever considered that if a large proportion of the population went low-carb, it might be unsustainable to feed everyone, since typically, low carb/keto is a bit higher on proteins and certainly much higher on fat (often of animal origin)?
Yep, and I'm not sure what to do about it. That's why in Why We Get Fat i said that that's a vitally important issue to deal with, but I'm going to focus on the question of how we have to eat to be healthy and how we have to feed our children, perhaps more important from a parent's perspective, and let other minds deal with the societal questions that arise once we get that answer right.
NUSI appears to have slowed-down (latest press release was August 2015). What up? Any new experiments on the books?
Our funding from LJAF ended in August 2016 and LJAF decided with Peter gone to try to fund nutrition proposals directly. So we've been short-staffed, to put it, mildly. We're still working to get study proposals together that can resolve these controversies and we're still hoping that LJAF will fund, but we're all working as volunteers now. We're also overseeing the two studies we still have outstanding. As such, NuSI is in a state of serious flux.
Hi Mr. Taubes. Thank you for all the efforts and tenacity you put into your work. Speaking of which:
How do you handle talking about that one topic again and again and (probably) encountering the same objections and arguments over and over? I suppose once you become the advocate of the no-sugar faction it must be difficult to escape the stigma of "Sugar-Gary".
Well, the people who tend to want to talk to me are the converts. I think I would welcome conversations with those who disagree, but they find it easier to ignore than to confront. And I understand that. I feel the same way in other areas (like arguing politics).
Eran Segal personalized nutrition. Any opinion?
He shows that the same foods have highly variable glucose effects on different people. And argues that personalized nutrition can fix obesity.
(the personalized model can predict glucose response at 0.7 vs. 0.38 prediction by carb content alone)
I have spoken with Eran about his work and think he's got some interesting results and ideas. My question is whether he should be looking at insulin rather than blood sugar and I think he agrees. The problem is there's nothing like a CGM for insulin.
Hi Mr. Taubes. I haven't read your book yet (at least, not this one). In your mind, what is a safe amount of sugar to consume daily, or is it more about added sugars?
I was on Slow-Carb/4-Hour Body for a long time and have just reintroduced a controlled amount of sweets to my life. Thank you!
It depends on whether or not you're metabolically healthy and how you respond to the sugars when you eat them. I was a smoker, so I tend to think like a former smoker. I don't want to spend my life looking forward to my next sweet -- i.e., my next reward -- the way I used to spend my life working toward my next cigarette. As such I prefer virtually no sugar or sweets. But if you can handle it and your body doesn't respond by gaining weight or becoming dyslipidemic, than that's a reasonable decision for you. There's more to life than maximizing health.
I wanted to thank you for your hard work and investigation. Why We Get Fat has been eye opening for me. I read it a few years ago, but it wasn't until this past August that I started a LCHF diet (lazy keto till February). It's been amazing. But the problem is that I would love for my mom to get on board with this, but there aren't a lot of Russian-language sources for this information, are there any translations of your book(s) available?
I do think there's a Russian translation in the works for either WWGF or The Case Against Sugar. I can't remember which. Either one, though, would help. I hope you have more luck convincing your family, though, that I've had convincing mine.
I heard you on the recent EconTalk podcast and was re-invigorated to go back to keto. However, even though you and Russ seem to be friendly, I thought he was unusually harsh regarding the science of sugar and LCHF diets. Did you think he was off base?
I don't recall. Russ is always a great interview and he has an obligation as such to challenge his subject. So I wouldn't be surprised if that's all he was doing.
Do you ever review any subreddits here to check the pulse on your writings, etc? The demographics of Reddit are a far cry from the NYT. The same goes with TV, radio, and YouTube interviews. Do you or your team have any way to gauge the effectiveness of these appearances?
Ahh, if only I had a team, I'd probably have time to do this. Occasionally I check into reddit, but I don't know enough to judge what I'm seeing.
Hi Gary, I just ordered your latest book a minute ago. I loved your podcast with Joe Rogan. He's also keen on having scientists like Dr Rhonda Patrick on his show to talk about healthier diet ( still centered on low consumption of sugar and processed food/carbohydrates). Do you feel that dietary approaches like yours and the intermittent fasting micronutrients recommended by her are our best one-two punch for preventing inflammatory based diseases ( Parkinson's, DM type 2, etc)?
I clearly do. I'm very curious about intermittent fasting, and don't know the data as well as I should. Particularly whether it will be as sustainable as LCHF or whether it will be that thing we were doing back in 2016-17 that got to tiring to keep up. Although I know people who say it's a lot easier for them than LCHF.
Do you think we will ever see prosecutions over the "low fat" myth? It is surely directly responsible for death, disease, and lower quality of life on a staggering scale.
No, but it would be nice. We've spoken to some very good lawyers about this and it's hard to imagine a case that would have a real shot.