Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cherry Picking: Part 3 of Chronic Toxicity: Debating Gary Taubes' The Case Against Sugar

For those unaware, I have been debating with my mother on this blog recently about the evil slow effects of sugar addiction leading to metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Gary Taubes' new book The Case Against Sugar makes a thorough case for cutting out all processed variations of sugar from one's diet right now in much the same vein as stopping smoking cigarettes, but of course some people have to bring up other things like meat and dairy products, other people such as my mother. We first started this debate here and continued it here. For a nice summary of Taubes' points, you can now turn to The New York Times' recent interview with Taubes, where he points out:

"To understand the case against sugar, using a criminal justice metaphor, you have to understand the crimes committed: epidemics of diabetes and obesity worldwide. Wherever and whenever a population transitions from its traditional diet to a Western diet and lifestyle, we see dramatic increases in obesity, and diabetes goes from being a relatively rare disorder to a common one. One in 11 Americans now has diabetes. In some populations, one in three or four adults have diabetes. Stunning numbers.

So why sugar? Well, for starters, recent increases in sugar consumption are always at the scene of the crime on a population-wide level when these epidemics occur. And sugar is also at the scene of the crime biologically, and it’s got the mechanism necessary. But the evidence is not definitive; what I’m arguing is still a minority viewpoint."

At any rate, my mother recently wrote back, and here is her email:

Dear Son,

It is not fair to bring up crab cakes as they are a great favorite of mine when we are at the beach. Of course you can have an occasional one when you are on vacation. However, moderation in general doesn't work well when it comes to healthy eating. So eat a plant based diet all the rest of the time- see Plant Strong- an excellent book to read.

If we are cherry picking research studies, I ask you to look at the research known as the Adventist Health Studies. The Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda California practice healthy lifestyles, but differ in how much meat they eat. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Gary Fraser, said "Not eating meat is clearly important because it seems to have an impact on heart disease and cancer" (quoted in The Blue Zones--another book you should read).

And since dairy is liquid meat, it also is not good for you. Plus dairy cows lead a miserable life in the large dairy farms. I want you to look at plant-based diets because heart disease is the largest killer of American men and women.

Since this is a film blog, please watch Forks over Knives. It could save your life.

Love, mom

Dear mother,

I appreciate your interest in me eating less meat and dairy products, but I still wonder--as long as I have knocked out most processed foods with sugar from my diet (except for the occasional glass of V-8, which I just drank while enjoying some colby cheese), I find getting rid of dairy products to be even more difficult than ever. My problem is I'm not hugely fond of most vegetables. When I was younger, I tended to have an instinctual dislike of green food. Ideally, we can agree on some level that as long as someone cuts out the sugar and the meat, only shop along the edges of the grocery store (away from processed foods), and mostly stick to vegetables and fruits (but no fruit juice), then one would do fine. 

I have largely cut out sugar from my diet over the past 2 weeks, and I've lost 5 pounds, and plan to lose more (and I wasn't that heavy to begin with). I feel better, and I don't fully know why (although Taubes has many more examples and studies in The Case Against Sugar, so I wasn't just "cherry picking" one). Deleting sugar from my diet just feels right, and I enjoy reading an entire book that confirms my hunch, even if all of the medical evidence has not arrived yet.

Yours ever devotedly (and always tending to get the last word),


Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear Son: Part 2 of Chronic Toxicity: Debating Gary Taubes' The Case Against Sugar

Gary Taubes' new book The Case Against Sugar gives me a feeling of intestinal control in an increasingly deranged world. Looking for a way to avoid metabolic syndrome, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, and cancer? Taubes recommends that you cut out all variations of sugar in your diet (by the by, the image here is from a Time cover in 1950 cheerfully depicting the way Coca-Cola was taking over the world at that time). In my last post, I started a debate with my mother, who has very strong opinions about diet, but does not agree with Mr. Taubes. Here is her reply:

Dear son,

I am pleased that you are interested in a healthy diet. Unfortunately I do not consider Gary Taubes to be a good guide. Looking over the last 25 years or so I find that I have found some authors that have been very helpful in my quest for a healthy life.

The first was Dr. Dean Ornish whose book in 1990 on reversing heart disease with a vegetarian diet showed that blockages in coronary arteries could be reversed. My husband, a doctor, and I decided to go mostly vegetarian and liked the change. The 2nd author was David Kessler whose book The End Of Overeating (2009) was a fascinating look at America's appetite for foods loaded with sugar, salt, and fat.

The most recent authors are part of the plant based diet crew-doctors Garth Davis, Joel Fuhrman, Caldwell B. Esselstyn. The research is found in The China Study. Like Dr Ornish, Dr Esselstyn has excellent angiograms in his book showing the outcomes of a plant based diet on coronary arteries.

From a personal perspective I find the most telling argument for a vegetarian/vegan diet is the refusal to kill animals for a piece of meat on my plate. Sugar is overdone in processed food for sure, but it is not the evil that Taubes says.

love from your 74 year old mother who is still jogging, and medicine free.

My reply to her reply:

Thanks, mother, for your good points about the advantages of going vegetarian. I tried that once for a couple months, and felt so depleted, empty, and energy-less that I returned happily to mostly eating seafood when I can, in part due to the influence of the seafoodetarian named Mr. Flood in Joseph Mitchell's collection of essays Up in the Old Hotel (1993 edition). 

I imagine that I very well may have blockages in my coronary arteries as a result, but you have not yet really replied to Taubes' basic point about how people are incorrect in their assumption that eating fat makes you fat. Taubes likes to point to various tribes who abruptly had their diet changed from some local fat-filled food to a much more Americanized diet, after which they became surprisingly diabetic and obese. For instance, take Taubes' discussion of what happened to the people of Tokelau, an island nation in the South Pacific.  As he writes, "through the mid-1960s, . . . the Tokelauans had subsisted on a diet of coconut, fish, pork (fed on coconuts and fish), a starchy melon called breadfruit, and another starchy root vegetable known as pulaka. The diet had among the highest fat concentrations in the world at the time--more than 50 percent of the calories consumed came from fat, and most of that was saturated fat from the coconuts" (233). And yet, with this diet, the Tokelauans ate very little refined sugar. They tended to be thin, and their health was largely good.

After the Tokelauans switched over to a more Americanized diet with less fat but far more sugar (and with more physical activity), again in Taubes' words, "diabetes prevalance shot upward. . . . Hypertension, heart disease, and gout also increased significantly . . . Both men and women gained, on average, between twenty and thirty pounds. Children, too, got fatter" (234).

Taubes blames the dramatic change in the Tokelauans on their Americanized diet, specifically on the amount of sugar that they were taking in. I could quote from many other passages in Taubes' book, but thus far you haven't really explained why Taubes is not a good guide. Why can't I eat dairy products as much as I like? What's wrong with the occasional crab cake? What do you think?

Respectfully, your son,


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Chronic Toxicity: Debating Gary Taubes' The Case Against Sugar

I thought I would debate the toxicity of eating or drinking sugar with my mother in an email exchange:

Dear mother,

In the midst of so many arguments about our on-going nearly religious dietary differences, I just now enjoyed Gary Taubes' new book entitled The Case Against Sugar, a highly readable argument that seeks to diagnose the massive health damage caused by our civilization's sugar intake. Taubes provides the reader with an entire history of our culture's sugar addiction, from a period when dessert and chocolate bars did not exist all the way to today's hyper-saturated world of high fructose corn syrup and all of the other mysterious terms that tend to end with -ose that food companies sneak into their products. I've written about this toxicity of sugar before in relation to the movie Fed Up, but Taubes goes much further in his claims, relating chronic long-term sugar consumption to not only diabetes and obesity, but also to metabolic syndrome, hypertension, gout, heart disease, dementia, and cancer. Furthermore, Taubes' castigation of the big sugar's evil advertising with its bogus scientists and expert lobbyists reads exactly like Allan Brandt's book The Cigarette Century (2009) in the way that it shows that an industry will cheerfully propagandize people into poisoning themselves in the name of profits (which also brings to mind ExxonMobil's willingness to help permanently damage the planet's atmosphere again for short-term gain).

After a youth of heavy-duty sugar addiction in which I would routinely eat half a box of King Vitamin cereal after school, I did largely quit eating sugar about 3 years ago, and I lost weight and felt better about myself, but more recently, I have allowed various exceptions in that diet (Haagen dasz vanilla bean ice cream, for instance) to interfere with that resolve. Quitting sugar really makes one aware of one's addiction. It sensitizes you to the taste of sugar, and, at one point, I compared a visit to a Krispy Kreme donut shop to an alcoholic falling off the wagon (after eating two donuts, I felt sick to my stomach). Basically, Taubes' book firmed up my wavering resolve to loathe sugar again. So, having quit the stuff recently, I feel better again, but Taubes raises some key questions, such as:

1) How little sugar can one eat? He compares the question to how few cigarettes should one smoke, and says that the question is impossible to answer exactly.

2) Given that an extreme aversion to sugar obliges one to quit indulging in most processed foods or drinks, couldn't one say that one's diet has already markedly improved for that reason?

But what I like most about Taubes' book is the way he argues that while others may focus on a whole range of dietary evils such as carbohydrates, fats, meat, oils, or just plain over-eating as being responsible for the ever increasing amounts of sickly obese people in the world, Taubes keeps his focus solely on sugar. He uses many examples to expose how we tend to view diet in terms of equivalencies. For instances, take the phrase calories in, calories out. If someone eats or drinks too many calories, than that will automatically be reflected in weight gain, but Taubes writes that that kind of thinking greatly oversimplifies the complex hormonal reactions that take place when we eat or drink stuff. We also tend to think that if we eat fat, then that automatically translates to weight gain, but Taubes comes up with several examples of other cultures where the natives would eat ridiculously fatty foods and yet still stay thin, that is, until their diet becomes Americanized.

But then, that's when you would say that Taubes has been funded by the meat industry.

So, what do you think? How is Taubes wrong?



(Mother said that she will reply with a much more "balanced" case later today.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Film Doctor's 7 Most Disliked Films That He Saw in 2016

[Note: I tried more than ever to not see bad films, so I ended up skipping most of the major releases of the year. Also given that I watched a lot of movies on Blu-ray, I did very much enjoy Love and Friendship, Keanu, The Big Short, Tangerine, Carol, Formation, Anomalisa, One-Eyed Jacks, and Nocturnal Animals (not to mention two excellent books about film criticism--A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism and Owen Gleiberman's Movie Freak), but, as in any year, some cruddier films still appeared before my eyes, much as I sought to avoid them.]

7) The Neon Demon

As much as I did enjoy its moody colorful bloody excesses, Nicolas Winding Refn's newest exercise in sharing his obsessions is still a deeply, deeply silly movie.

6) High-Rise 

Ben Wheatley's dystopian study of a large apartment building gone bad left me wondering things: how did he get Jeremy Irons involved? Does the world outside of the high-rise also follow the same post-apocalyptic decline? Has post-apocalyptic destruction become passe? Do the cliches of the post-apocalyptic somehow become cool if it's done with 1970s style?

5) Knight of Cups

I tend to like the idea of Terrence Malick's uncompromising vision more than I like sitting through his recent films. Once one knows that the movie stars usually had no idea what to do from scene to scene in Knight of Cups, I felt sorry for them and their attempts (as well as Malick's) at futzing around for transcendence, even if it means throwing Natalie Portman in the ocean or watching Brian Dennehy glower and emote as a completely under-written grumpy dad figure. Knight of Cups confirms one's abiding love for a screenplay. 

4) The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos' pseudo-Kafka-esque parable about the way society favors the marrieds over the singletons left me actively angry at its evil treatment of Rachel Weisz, its unwelcome capacity to make Lea Seydoux dull, and Colin Farrell's dreary portrait of a blinkered pudgy Everyman. I could tell that these many great actors believed in Lanthimos' randomly vicious script, because it means something deep, I am sure.

3) Macbeth

Justin Kurzel's adaptation of Shakespeare's play also left me with an overwhelming impression of bamboozled movie stars. Lady Macbeth does not benefit any from not being able to rub her hands as she sleepwalks in front of a doctor, as William spells out in his script. In this movie, Marion Cotillard looks wistfully and tearfully off at nothing as she recites lines in a chapel by herself in a way that makes no sense. In this fashion, a radical "reinterpretation" of a play views like pretty people emoting as they recite Shakespeare's greatest hits.

2) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Just, plain, awful.

1) Suicide Squad

Oh, the great promise of its first trailer, and the crushing resounding thud of its release. Margot Robbie is well cast as Harley Quinn, but what possible interest would her character have in such a painful Joker? What were those motor oil and black eyeball magic monsters and why should we care if the Squad can kill them?  Why does Cara Delevingne writhe around amidst all of that bloopy blue CGI lighting in the distance? I was too depressed to write about it.