More on Taubes, Lustig and toxic sugar


As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


A quick post with a couple of links for those interested in reading more about the Taubes/Lustig “toxic sugar” debate. To hear more from Taubes, check out his answers to numerous reader questions at the NYT site. And to read David Katz’s response to Taubes/Lustig (hat tip to Yoni Freedhoff at Weighty Matters), click here. A peek at Katz’s conclusion:

As dietary guidance, the vilification of one nutrient at a time has proven as flighty as hummingbirds, propelling us from one version of humbug to another. My advice is to grasp firmly your common sense, and stay grounded.

The hummingbird stuff makes more sense if you read the whole post, but it’s generally a Pollan-esque argument rather than a research-y one. Still, it’s about where I come down. Taubes’s response to that point:

This is a common argument over the years, that reductionism in nutrition research misses the point. Michael Pollan makes this argument in “In Defense of Food.” The counter argument is that this is, indeed, a science and one way sciences make progress is by reducing problems down to their basics. This can often be misleading, and Suzanne’s point (as with Michael Pollan’s) that it has been in the past is very true.

I’ve been a strong journalistic opponent of the belief that salt causes hypertension or that dietary fat or saturated fat causes disease and in doing so I’ve attacked the bad science behind some of these reductionist arguments. But just because over the years one single nutrient after another has been singled out as harmful doesn’t mean that one single nutrient isn’t harmful. It only means that the research is poor and some of the beliefs about how research should be done in these fields are also misconceived.

3 Replies to “More on Taubes, Lustig and toxic sugar”

  1. Thank you for providing the link to David Katz’s article. I found it a surprisingly un-compelling piece of writing coming from such a distinguished author. A few comments on his article:

    “eat what tastes good, and survive. (The compass only works in a world of natural foods, alas.)”

    So, presumably, Katz is arguing that “non-natural” foods like bread and pasta fall outside the “eat what tastes good” advice. On the other hand, honey is perfectly natural. What would Katz say about a diet that included significant amounts of honey?

    With respect to sex and eating: “Fun is the means, survival is the ends.”

    However, this is only true for survival of the genes, not the individual. Longevity beyond reproductive age is not nearly as likely to be coded for in our genetic makeup (yes, I’m familiar with animal studies showing benefits accrued by having living grandparents).

    It seems to me that Katz’s argument at best is that eating sugar is fine for kids.

    “An excess of sugar- fructose or any other- is harmful. That is what “excess” means.”

    So, Katz ultimately agrees with Lustig, but fails to provide any guidance as to what level constitutes an ‘excess’.

    “Lustig seems to be tossing out the the strawberries with the soda. You find me the person who can blame obesity or diabetes on eating strawberries, and I will give up my day job and become a hula dancer. … Lustig and Taubes are propagating the ONAAT fallacy.”

    This seems a bit of a straw man. I haven’t read enough of Lustig to know one way or the other, but Taubes is not promoting fructose as the one-and-only bad nutrient.

  2. I didn’t find Katz’s piece particularly effective as a scientific argument (as I mentioned). But his overall conclusions are fairly consistent with my own thoughts.

  3. In fact Lustig’s argument does concur with Katz’s argument as well as the Michaels Pollan’s view. He states in his lecture that “it’s a volume issue”. Our liver can easily metabolize fructose, but we hit it with too many calories of the stuff too quickly, thereby generating excessive uric acid and cholesterol. He also states that nature always packs it with the antedote – fiber. It’s fair to focus on this single nutrient as it was never meant to be isolated and concentrated in almost every fiberless food we eat. Taking Pollan’s view – it’s fine when left in it’s original packaging. The same goes for juice – when left in the Orange, it’s fine.

Comments are closed.