(As taken from www.garytaubes.com/biography) Gary Taubes is an award-winning science and health journalist, and co-founder of the non-profit Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI.org). He is the author of Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It (Knopf, 2011) and Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease (Knopf, 2007). Taubes is the recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research, and has won numerous other awards for his journalism. These include the International Health Reporting Award from the Pan American Health Organization and the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Journalism Award, which he won in 1996, 1999 and 2001. (He is the only print journalist to win this award three times.) Taubes graduated from Harvard College in 1977 with an S.B. degree in applied physics, and received an M.S. degree in engineering from Stanford University (1978) and in journalism from Columbia University (1981).
PRIMAL GUY: Did you make any changes to your diet as you were researching Good Calories, Bad Calories?
GARY TAUBES: I had started applying the principles when I was doing the research for the original science story. I had actually done the Atkins diet in an experiment and lost weight effortlessly. Then I had fallen off of it like many people do, but when I started the New York Times Magazine article I sort of decided to go back to restricting carbohydrates. When I was done with GCBC and understood what the data actually showed, I had come to trust my own judgment more than I trust the establishments. So I am kind of stuck with living by it now, and it works, which certainly makes it easier. I feel I can eat as much as I want and not gain weight, so long as I am not eating carbohydrates. My weight stays stable regardless of how much I eat. And when I have to go without eating, I’m not particularly hungry. It was about 4:00 pm before I got around to having lunch today. I had to run downtown before our interview and that put off lunch for a few hours. That would have never happened prior to my research and embracing this way of eating. Now I find it relatively easy to skip meals, even go a day without eating. And I think I know why that’s true, because my body is working correctly, or as least as I understand it.
PRIMAL GUY: And that is another point I try to make to people, and I tell them if they don’t believe the concept, or if it is too foreign to them, just run a simple experiment. One day, eat highly processed carbs. Eat nothing but bagels, sugary yogurt, pasta, bread, other bread items, which for most people is their typical diet. Almost all of them come back and go, “I literally can eat all day.” I can eat until the time I went to bed no problem and I was still hungry. I then tell them, the next day eat healthy fats and nothing but protein, and try to stuff yourself. Try the same technique that you did with the highly processed carbs, and they are shocked. After the first meal they eat, they stuff themselves and they find they are not hungry until 3:00, 4:00, or 5:00 in the afternoon. I find this gives them a good baseline to understand how their body processes the different nutrients, and especially highly process carbohydrates. It is so simple.
PRIMAL GUY: What would you say during your research over the years would be the one food item that does the most damage to Americans’ health?
GARY TAUBES: Sugar…a combination of glucose and fructose that’s in both sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. This doesn’t mean that you will necessarily lose significant weight by getting sugar out of your diet, or become metabolically healthy merely by doing that, but it seems to be the substance that causes the most problems to begin with. There’s compelling evidence (to me, anyway) that it is the likely dietary cause of insulin resistance.
PRIMAL GUY: I tell people it is a two-fold addiction, physical and mental, when it comes to sugar.
GARY TAUBES: I am not sure that the addiction is in the brain directly, so much as it is the brain responding to the effect these sugars have in the body.
PRIMAL GUY: Not to the hormones?
GARY TAUBES: Well, one of the interesting issues here is that the thing that separates sugar from white flour is the fructose in the sugar. The fructose makes it sweet or sweeter. As I understand it, fructose does not get into the brain; it does not cross the blood-brain barrier.
PRIMAL GUY: Yeah, that is how I understand it too.
GARY TAUBES: If that’s the case, what’s prompting the addiction? There’s only one group that did significant research on this, at Princeton University.
PRIMAL GUY: That was in research with rats, correct?
GARY TAUBES: Yes, and when I asked them about this, it was like they never thought of it. It never crossed their minds. So I don’t have any answer. With other drugs of addiction, we got the molecules, cocaine, nicotine and whatever getting into the brain and directly stimulating dopamine receptors. But if this isn’t happening with fructose, what’s causing the addiction? Is it creating metabolic conditions in the body that could induce a physiological craving, and the brain is responding to that? I don’t think you need a lot of scientific research here to establish that it’s working as some kind of drug, though. You just need children. I see how sugar affects my children and think, how can this possibly be good for them? I remember one post-Halloween binge with my then three-year-old—four small pieces of candy—and he ran around the house naked for 20 minutes before collapsing in a tantrum when told it was time to go to bed. I turned to my wife and said, if we had given him cocaine his behavior probably would not have been any weirder, or any more extreme. And yet somehow because it is sugar, it is fine.
PRIMAL GUY: I think I remember acting just like that as a kid wired on sugar. I remember one time my sister and me running around the backyard naked like wild animals, high as a kite on Kool-Aid and cookies.
PRIMAL GUY: One thing I hear quite often—not only from parents, but what I have read in articles and research—is how over and over they say sugar does not affect the mood or energy level of children. It doesn’t make them hyper or erratic. And I’m thinking, okay, I have been around thousands of children and families over my life and every time they give them sugar they lose their mind. It is like a switch is turned on with sugar.
PRIMAL GUY: Have you run across any research on the relationship between sugar and child hyperactivity?
GARY TAUBES: I have, and you know, it is kind of classic bad science—not the research, but the point I just made about my son. It’s why you don’t want to depend on anecdotal observations. It is quite possible that my kid would act just as bazaar on days that he does not have sugar, and I’m not paying attention to those days. It is possible. And the only way to know for sure is to do an experiment—a randomized controlled trial. I believe that I only get a 20-minute tantrum from my sons’ post-sugar ingestion. And we have to spell rather than say the names of foods with sugar, because we are afraid that if my youngest, for instance, even hears a word like “lollipop,” or “popsicle,” then we are going to have this sudden demand for that food and that will provoke a tantrum and a 20-minute altercation. But again, there are studies out there from the 1980s that purport to demonstrate that this is a misconception. That the interpretation is that I am deluded and have been fooled by this anecdotal observation. And it could be true. I should probably spend more time reading those studies. But just from observing my children, I’m pretty convinced that sugar acts like a drug. The addiction doesn’t appear to be identical to other addictions in its actions, but whatever it is, it’s a powerful phenomenon. I also don’t really need a body of scientific research to tell me whether or not I was addicted to sugar. And I am pretty confident that I don’t need one to tell you my son is. If that is an unscientific attitude then I apologize.
PRIMAL GUY: I think what has happened is the medical community thinks it is easier to diagnose them with ADHD and prescribe drugs.
GARY TAUBES: Possibly.
PRIMAL GUY: It is easier just to give him or her a pill that completely zones them out instead of actually cutting out their sugar intake.
GARY TAUBES: Well I don’t know if that is true or not, I mean probably in some cases when that is the reason behind it. Here’s an obvious question or experiment to do: take kids who are diagnosed with ADHD and get them off sugar entirely and, okay, maybe refined carbs too, and see if the ADHD goes away. The question is how to do this as a controlled trial, but I’d love to see it done.
PRIMAL GUY: That would be interesting.
GARY TAUBES: I don’t know, I mean I have always wanted to do that experiment in my family. Let’s give them no sugar for a week, and see if their mood swings are less severe. Then we can put them back on sugar and see what happens. Is a week long enough? And ideally the person making the decision about the mood swings is unaware of whether the kids are on a sugar week or a no-sugar week. Ideally, the kids would be videotaped for the period of the experiment—all interactions—and then some independent observer would judge. But it’s even more complicated than that. I might change how I react to the kids based on whether it’s a sugar week or not, so ideally I can’t even know, nor could my wife, so we react to the children in what medical researchers call a “blinded” fashion. And then, well, maybe the week they’re on sugar happens to coincide with a bad week in school or a bug going around, so they respond poorly that week, but it’s not because of the sugar. So that’s why you need a lot of kids and a random assignment, to try to control for these external factors. The more you think about the doing these experiments right, the harder they become.
PRIMAL GUY: It is incredible that the medical community has not tried something like this. Because it is a pretty straightforward experiment. Instead we want to fund the effects of alcohol on the decision-making abilities of prostitutes in China. I remember reading something like that not too long ago. It just makes you wonder what the hell we are doing with our research dollars anymore.
PRIMAL GUY: If you could give anyone one piece of advice on how to lose weight, what would it be?
GARY TAUBES: Well, get rid of the sugar, refined carbs and the easily digestible carbs in the diet. And replace it with mostly fat and some protein.
PRIMAL GUY: Eating fat is the hard part for them to understand. I have clients fight me tooth and nail about consuming more fat in their diet because they have been brainwashed it is bad for you.
GARY TAUBES: But not only that, it’s the heart disease thing. I mean, can you really eat butter and put cream in your coffee and not get heart disease. And that is the hardest struggle, the hardest battle to get over.
PRIMAL GUY: I notice that when you explain the research to people they kind of glaze over. When I give them my personal experience, it sinks in a little better even though the personal experience directly reflects the research that I just explained to them.
(Screaming from children and door slams downstairs)
PRIMAL GUY: (Chuckling) It must be the sugar.
PRIMAL GUY: Well, on that note, I better let you get down there and make sure the house isn’t on fire. I want to thank you for the interview and had a great time chatting with you.
GARY TAUBES: You are welcome and good luck with your projects.
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