Richard's Reviews > Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes
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Oct 16, 2015

bookshelves: read-these-reviews-first, food, nonfiction, science, to-read-3rd
Recommended to Richard by: People that eat.

Gary Taubes, the author of Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, wrote a moderately lengthy article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on April 17, 2011, with the title “Is Sugar Toxic?” The evidence seems to be accumulating steadily that the amount of sugar that the average American consumes is profoundly unhealthy, and the article does a very good job explaining why.

I’m not sure if that article covers the same grounds as this book, but I can very briefly recap the article:

• Increasing sugar consumption is highly correlated with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and some cancers.

• Granulated “table” sugar—sucrose—consists of one molecule of glucose bound to one molecule of fructose; that pairing is easily broken, leaving one molecule of each. High-fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”) consists of roughly half each of those same two molecules, and all the evidence is that there is no caloric or metabolic difference between the two forms. Plain corn syrup, on the other hand, is effectively just glucose—no fructose.

Glucose can be metabolized by any cell in the body whereas, with few exceptions, fructose must be metabolized in the liver. Therein lies, apparently, a key difference. When the liver is presented with fructose, it preferentially metabolizes it, dramatically elevating insulin and related hormones.

• A high steady intake of fructose (either from sucrose or HFCS) means that insulin is elevated too often, leading to insulin resistance.

• Fructose is also sometimes thought of as the fruit sugar. Whole fruits still have fiber, which apparently slows down intestinal absorption so much that it doesn't overwhelm the liver the way a soda does. But fruit juices? Yeah, sorry — rip out the fiber and you’re once again sucking down nothing but sugar water with a bit of “health halo effect” vitamins.

• Insulin resistance is linked to heart disease (and other, related, disorders associated with a poor glycemic balance), and metabolic syndrome.

• A thickening waistline is the visible indicator of metabolic syndrome.

• Insulin is a growth factor in tumor production, which provides one likely explanation for why rising cancer levels have correlated strongly with the rise in sugar consumption for the past hundred and fifty years.

The video that Taubes links to, by the UCSF scientist Robert Listig, is also well worth watching, even if you don’t read the book. It presents the example that a teenage boy’s caloric intake, on average, has gone up in five years (from 1990 to 1995) a total of 275 calories per day. Where is that from? Not fat, so much — that represents only 45 calories out of the total. “In fact, it’s all in the carbohydrates.” That would be an increase of 228 calories per day. Where is that coming from?

Mostly soda. One can of Coca Cola or other soft drink is about 150 calories. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the other standardized container is the 20-ounce plastic bottle. Unless someone is addicted to the 44-ounce “Big Gulp” style. Or, especially disheartening: a “Texas-sized Big Gulp” is reported to consist of a 60-ounce Coca Cola, a Snickers bar and a bag of Doritos, all for 99¢.
Graphic comparison of sugar component of various products

Profoundly important, and profoundly depressing, since this trend doesn’t look likely to be reversed any time soon.

I hope the book goes into more detail on metabolic and biochemistry. I fondly remember the Krebs Cycle from my high school physiology class, and I really like knowing the science behind all this stuff.

For those of you just looking for the highlights, read the New York Times article, and then watch the video. If you can't be bothered to watch Robert Lustig's 90-minute long video, you could download a 52-minute interview with Lustig from KQED's Forum program: Sugar and Health .

Update : yet another way of getting the highlights in an easy-to-comprehend dish is to check out Lifehacker’s What Sugar Actually Does to Your Brain and Body. For your health’s sake, study at least one of these, and get that non-fruit fructose out of your diet.
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10/16/2015 marked as: to-read-secondary
10/16/2015 marked as: to-read-tertiary
10/16/2015 marked as: to-read-3rd

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Trevor "a “Texas-sized Big Gulp” is reported to consist of a 60-ounce Coca Cola, a Snickers bar and a bag of Doritos, all for 99¢."

Wow, an entire 'meal' for 99¢ and the only food in it worth eating is three or four peanuts.


message 2: by Helen (Helena/Nell) (last edited Feb 18, 2012 11:41AM) (new)

Helen (Helena/Nell) This is all rather alarming to poor me. I love carbohydrates. I persuade myself they are good for me and that meat isn't. But generally my body works pretty well on what I currently feed it, and although I am always a little bit fatter than I would like to be, my weight is really fine so I guess it's okay if I get along with my carbs.

But I was reminded of a diet I tried with my room-mate at uni. It was an all meat diet. You could eat as much as you wanted of any meat at all, but you had to drink 8 large glasses of water a day. I have a feeling you could also eat cheese, but I may have misremembered that bit. Anyway, my room-mate (who tended to live on baked beans) and I (who tended to live on porridge and raisins) went on the all meat diet for a week. Within two days I felt TERRIBLE. I didn't care whether or not I would lose weight, I just felt so ill. Clare kept going. At the end of the week she had lost several pounds in weight. Long before the end of the week, I had gone back to cheese toasties.

The diet seemed to work dramatically well. The constipation was not good. The body feeling was not good. But maybe it would have sorted itself out in due course.

Anyway, obviously, what one wants to know, while reading your expert dissection of the essential facts of this book (now I definitely don't need to devour it) is whether you are GOING TO TRY IT.

Are you?


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