Is Sugar Toxic? Gary Taubes’ Lab Reports

Topics: High Cholesterol, Obesity and Weight Loss, Wellness and Health

Gary Taubes blew the top off the New York Times readership with his carefully researched “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?” about fat and heart disease in 2002 (translation: it’s the type of fat that matters, not total fat).Sugar through your life (

He’s doing it again with “Is Sugar Toxic? (translation: yes, it’s poisoning you now).

Now he posts his state-of-the-art lipid lab results (which I also order for patients) to prove his minimal heart disease risk. He eats primarily meat and eggs.

Any of my patients would be proud: (except one thing: the CO2 of 19, which is probably because he’s often ketotic, and has to blow off CO2 to normalize his blood pH).

Three questions:

a. What is  the effect of sustained ketosis on heart disease risk?.

Ketosis mimics starvation, pushing the body to burn fats rather than carbs (because there are no carbs!) for fuel. Fatty acids and ketones result.

Ketogenic diets work in about 50% of kids with specific seizure conditions.  They reduce appetite but are difficult to sustain (Atkins is a modified ketogenic diet).  In a small study in kids, there were worrisome cardiac changes: I don’t know of adult cardiac data.

b. What are the other heart disease risk factors? Smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and pre-diabetes, sedentariness, family history of early heart disease, high waist-to-hip ratio.

Let’s assume these are not a problem for Mr. Taubes. But not so for everyone else. Some of these have to do with food, and some not. Even if sugar is the problem.  And it might be.

c. Is it practical?

To eat without most carbs and sugar, especially fructose, is virtually impossible in the U.S. and even more so abroad.

But Taubes’ idea that “we all respond to the carbohydrate/insulin effect differently”, and for weight loss “getting rid of all the grains and much or most of the fruit, and then eating more of whatever foods they happen to eat or like that provide protein and fat” deserve exploration.

People with celiac disease learn to cook, to read labels, to avoid gluten, because it’s toxic to them.  Will we see the same for obesity, heart disease and sugar? Let’s hope so.

  • Hi John,
    One note about that study in children you quoted. That’s a ketogenic diet for epilepsy, which means its about 95 percent fat — in effect, it’s eggnog without the alcohol for every meal of the day. I’m not sure it’s particularly relevant to the kind of diet most carb-restricted individuals are eating, which have significantly less fat — 60 to 75 percent — more protein and, yes, even more carbs.


  • Thanks, Gary: actually, the classic ketogenic diet is about 80% fat, and 20% carbs/protein (see Eric Kosoff and the Medscape summary though many kids are on about 60%.

    On the other hand, sugar glycosylates proteins, and that leads to increased risk of vascular disease and cancer, and I do think too much added sugar can be toxic: not as sure about fructose in apples, for example.