In his new book “The Case Against Sugar,” Gary Taubes makes the case that the prevalence of sugar in our diet may play a key role in diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Taubes discusses his book Jan. 6 at Town Hall Seattle.

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‘The Case Against Sugar’

by Gary Taubes

Knopf, 365 pp., $26.95

The suspicion that refined sugar, the kind we spoon into our coffee or whip into our holiday-cookie dough, might be hazardous to our health is nothing new. William Dufty’s “Sugar Blues” (published in 1975 and reprinted many times since then) vilified the dietary use of refined sugar, associating it with several chronic diseases. The classic must have touched a nerve, for many readers were reported to have thrown out all sugar-laden items in their pantry.

Decades of medical and scientific research on this controversial ingredient have led to the publication of another new title: “The Case against Sugar” by award-winning journalist Gary Taubes (“Why We Get Fat”). This book concentrates on the role refined sugar plays in our diet, the weight gain that it engenders and the health havoc it wreaks.

To be sure, sugar is everywhere, often buried under a list of ingredients. Bread, yogurt, tomato sauce and crackers all contain sugar. So do cigarettes, because of the use of this sweetener in curing tobacco to reduce its bitterness. “If this were a criminal case, ‘The Case Against Sugar’ would be the argument for the prosecution,” Taubes writes.

Author appearance

Gary Taubes

The author of “The Case Against Sugar” will appear at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6, at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Ave. Tickets are $5 at townhallseattle.org and at the door. Information: 206-652-4255.

Is sugar really the culprit, or could it be our lifestyle? The Western lifestyle frequently takes the blame for obesity — eating more than is necessary and not exercising enough — as well as consuming a high-fat diet, which has been implicated in certain medical conditions.

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Taubes considers sugar to be a worse evil when compared to the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and saturated fat. As an example, he cites the case of the Inuit of Alaska. Long accustomed to a diet high in fat and protein, the Inuit, when introduced to sugar, began developing diabetes, which previously was nonexistent among its population. Similar stories can be found among Native American tribes.

Still, Taubes notices an attempt on the part of health professionals to shift the blame onto saturated fat rather than sugar. Historically, sugar has managed to get off the hook. Considered a drug in earlier times, it escaped sanction from religious authorities simply because its ingestion didn’t show a visible change in a person’s behavior.

Why is sugar, a pleasurable food element we seem to crave, so bad for us? The two types of sugar we commonly encounter are processed sugar (sucrose) and its cousin, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener derived from corn. Both refined carbohydrates and processed sugar of either kind overburden our system, causing resistance to insulin, an important hormone that helps regulate the level of sugar in our blood stream.

Ailments that have been associated with this condition are diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Although no foolproof test exists, Taubes insists that if sugar were absent in our diet, we’d see far less occurrence of these related diseases.

In his campaign against this food additive, Taubes sifts through centuries’ worth of data pertinent to the subject. Practically everything one wants to know about sugar — its history, its geography, the addiction it causes — is here.

In the end, each of us is confronted with a choice. Continue consuming sugar at our current level and suffer the ill effects. Or reduce, if not eliminate, it from our diet, thereby improving our odds of living a long, healthy life.