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December 2014

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Pure, White, and Deadly

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Last week I purchased four books on sugar. Motivated by all the holiday sweets around, I remembered the last book I read last year – Good Calories, Bad Calories – and thought maybe I needed a bit of a refresher on nutrition. I searched for a few books, and I decided to start here.

The book is heavily academic, and focuses mostly on the author’s own research. Although much of it describes scientific study, it isn’t hard to read. Dr. Yudkin is interested in the effects of sugar not just as a cause of diabetes (and it’s important to note my use of the word “a” and not “the”) but as a factor contributing to the increase of heart disease and many other ailments. His research runs in direct opposition of Dr. Ancel Keys, who claims that dietary fat is the cause of heart disease, not. I have to say that Dr. Yudkin’s research is, when coupled with what I read last year in Good Calories, Bad Calories, more convincing.

Dr. Yudkin’s research is especially interesting because it focuses on sugar and not all refined carbohydrates; he is not making the argument that white bread is going to cause illness. And he backs that up with research. In many studies he compares rats fed the same diets except in one group they have added sugar and in the other they have added carbohydrates; in the former the rats have adverse reactions whereas in the latter they generally do not.

I appreciate the book because Dr. Yudkin is quite clear in his arguments that sugar is not the SOLE cause of really much of anything – and even some people who the evidence would suggest should get illnesses based on their consumption of sugar won’t because of other environmental factors. It’s interesting, because the way I read the book, it seems like Dr. Yudkin’s critics want him to only make his claims if he can show sugar is the sole cause of something, or that sugar will definitely cause it. Which is ridiculous, considering smoking is definitely a cause of lung cancer, but not everyone who smokes will get lung cancer.

The book’s last chapter is sort of fascinating, because Dr. Yudkin discusses the ways in which the sugar industry – either directly or via allegedly independent nutrition councils – has tried to discredit or silence Dr. Yudkin. It’s distressing, but it reminds me a bit of when I worked at a pharmaceutical company, and they spent a lot of time trying to discredit an author of a book critical of the industry before the book even came out. When money is involved, people get really defensive.

The main reason I don’t give this book a higher rating is because I think there are others out that that do it better. The book itself is also quite old; I believe this version is from the 80s. Based on other books I’ve read it appears his theories have been supported with evidence since then, but it seems like the best bet is to read a more recent version to have a better picture of why I really need to cut as much sugar out of my diet as possible. But probably not during the holidays. That’s just asking for failure.

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