Monday August 07, 2017

August 7, 2017 Full Episode Transcript

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The Current Transcript for August 7, 2017

Host: Megan Williams

STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE

Listen to the full episode

Prologue

[Music: Theme]

[Sound: Whale Pulses]

MEGAN WILLIAMS: The call of the female right whale. Sadly, it's something being heard less and less in the world's oceans, including here in Canada. North Atlantic right whales are dying at an alarming rate. In fact, there are so few left that the scientists trying to solve the crisis actually know the whales that are dying by name. That's where we're starting today, with the fight to save the right whales, then, a crisis in the human population across the western world. And Gary Taubes believes he knows the culprit.

SOUNDCLIP

[Sound: Water]

VOICE 1: The problem is something is committing that crime. There is something out there in our environment that's driving us to be obese and diabetic and it's not just so we're lazy and we eat too much and we can say “No”.

MW: Hold this sugar because it's got a hold on us. Gary Taubes makes the case against the sweet stuff, in about a half an hour from now. I am Megan Williams And this is the summer edition of The Current.

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What can be done to save the right whales and what will it mean if we don't?

Guests: Tonya Wimmer, Barbara Cartwright

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Canada is and will take every possible measure to ensure that we're doing what the world expects of us and what Canadians expect of us to protect this species. But anybody who thinks that it's not extremely serious is very mistaken.

MW: That was Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominique Leblanc speaking last week about the North Atlantic right whale. His message is that Ottawa will do everything it can to save the species. The endangered whales are dying in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence in unprecedented numbers, at least 10 this summer, which is a massive blow to a population hovering around 500 in total worldwide. Moira Brown is right whale research scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute and with the New England Aquarium in Boston. She has studied right whales for 30 years and she knew some of the dead whales by name.

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[Sound: Whale pulses]

MOIRA BROWN:The 33 year old male is known as Glacier because of a of a white scar on his back. This is a whale that was born in 1984. There has been frequent sightings of this whale. I've seen it myself. One of the females, Starbird. This is a female that has been seen in almost all the habitat areas; Cape Cod, Bay of Fundy, Massachusetts Bay, southern New England. She's actually named Starbird because part of her right tail is missing. 26 year old male. That's one named Peanut because he has a scar the shape of a peanut on the front of his head. And what's special about peanut is that that's one of the whales that we had sample for genetic profiling in past years. And we actually know that Peanut is a father. With only 500 right whales left, we are still saving this species, trying to recover the species from the risk of extinction, one whale at a time.

[Sound: Whales pulses]

MW: Today we're asking what killed these whales and what can be done about it, and what it could mean for a species whose existence is so precarious. Tonya Wimmer is the director of the Marine Animal Response Society. She's in our Halifax studio. Hello.

TONYA WIMMER: Hello there.

MW: Why has it been like for you this summer, as you've seen whale after whale die?

TONYA WIMMER: Yes. I think it's… I mean we've been doing this for almost 20 years but I think this has been one of the hardest Summers, just purely in terms of how much has been going on and especially you know given it was this particular species.

MW: Can you tell me a little bit about the North Atlantic whale and what it looks like? How it lives?

TONYA WIMMER: Yes. They really magnificent animals in that they're very different from a lot of the other - what we call the Baleen whales that live in our oceans so those are the ones with sort of that hairy fringe that filter feed. They're very different when you think of humpbacks or blue whales or whatnot. Their bodies are physically very different. They're much rounder. They're an extremely heavy, very strong animal, weight you know up to about 50 to 70 tons. So, they're a very sort of short stout animal about 50 feet but there is such a powerful round black animal. They're beautiful, with no fin on their back, very strange [unintelligible] to sort of surface on the top of their heads and this parts of the side of their face. So, very beautiful animal. They live along the eastern seaboard of Canada the US between the southern reaches of the US of Florida and Georgia all the way up into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A lot of them move between a whole area every year.

MW: Right. You were at the autopsies of a number of these whales. It's a process that's called a necropsy. What did the necropsies show about how the whales died?

TONYA WIMMER: Well, we very luckily I think, in some regards. Out of sort of the original six that we'd been dealing with we were able to bring five into shore. And we were able to do six necropsies out of the eight and I was at five of them. They are very difficult process in the sense that these are very large animals, and so it takes a lot to be able to do this, the necropsy. Out of the six of the animals we were able to determine for three of them that they had some sort of signs of blunt trauma meaning they had been struck by something fairly large and that was before they had died. The pathologists were able to determine that. And one of them have we could term a chronic entanglement. Meaning it had ropes basically wrapped around part of its body for a period of time. One of the animals was too far gone. We weren't able to get them ashore right away so you know being out in the heat and the way that these animals are structured means that they decompose fairly quickly even offloading, and then the last animal we're actually just waiting for some of those preliminary results.

MW: Now this is a spike in the number of deaths of the whales. Is there something that's going on; a behavior, a change in human behavior, fishing, shipping for example that could be causing these deaths?

TONYA WIMMER: Well, I think I mean for this species in particular it's not unheard of, sadly, that the causes of death are being struck by vessels or entangled in fishing gear. These are the main two causes of death for this entire species. So, it's not unusual for those to be the causes of death per se, sadly. That's kind of a reality we live with. But in this particular area, this year, it was something quite unusual we had had three deaths actually in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2015. Only one of them was able to be sort of examined in detail we lost the other two. But this year was something very different, in the sense that there's probably a lot of a combination of a lot of things that happen all at the same time, in terms that there were a lot more whales that seemed in the area, a little bit earlier than maybe even that they normally had been there, at least that we knew about. And then, there was an increase in the quota for snow crabs. So we had what we've been told are either more people on the water, or more gear, or a combination of both. So it just seemed to be sort of this very bad coincidence of things that happened all at the same time. And not that it's like I said not that this is not. These are issues that we would normally be dealing with just not necessarily to this scale.

MW: Now given the enormity of these animals, the size of them. I'm imagining that the procedure the, necropsy would not be easy to do. Can you take me through what that looks like, the kind of equipment you use? I mean how do you do what essentially is a post-mortem on something that size?

TONYA WIMMER: Yeah. It's I mean it's very different than obviously when we can pick up a dolphin or a small whale and bring it into a laboratory setting. The procedure itself is very much identical; just you're dealing with an animal that's 50 feet instead of less than 10 feet. The biggest thing, really, was is enabling you know to get the animal brought ashore, which luckily Fisheries and Oceans Canada helped us out and made sure that those animals got there. But then actually doing it is quite an interesting thing to see. I mean it's very sad but it's also very intriguing that you've got this very large animal and you know we're not able to do it without having a vast number of people that are involved. Not only experts but also people who can just be there to help us physically move things and cut into this animal. The other really critical thing is having an excavator. One of the most critical members of our team actually is being able to have the excavator and the wonderful people, and amazingly talented people, who can operate these big heavy machines - because these animals are just so big and their blubber itself that nice beautiful warm layer that they have around them that keeps them warm in a cold ocean on these animals, it's about almost a foot thick and so, physically, you look at the animal from the outside and then you make your way inside, is generally how it works and the vets are looking for different signs of things. But then you physically have to open the animal and that… I mean if you had to do that without equipment, it would take you weeks because you would just get so exhausted doing it.

MW: Wow. And I imagine an excavator actually gets inside the whale?

MW: But conservationists say if the government wants to protect the whales it has to move fast. Barbara Cartwright is the CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She's in our Ottawa studio. Hello.

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Good morning.

MW: Good morning. We just heard Dominique Leblanc say the government will do what it takes to save the right whale. What do you make of what he said?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Well, we certainly applaud the government for taking action, for being engaged in the issue, for pulling up the snow crab fishery and asking for voluntary slowdowns. But we don't think it goes far enough in the immediate, which is that we would like to see Cabinet invoke the emergency measures or the ability to make an emergency order, under the species at risk act, and create a mandatory slowdown to 10 knots for all ships coming through the area, until the whales begin their migration back down south. They're only in our waters for a short period of time. And we're seeing a great impact on them right now and so we need to put into place, as the minister says, all of available measures.

MW: Right now what legislation protects these endangered whales now in Canada?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: It's called the Species at Risk Act, and it was enacted in 2003.

MW: Okay and how does it compare to other jurisdictions like the US?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Well, it's certainly, unfortunately, relies more on voluntary measures than it does on mandatory measures. And so, in comparison to the US, that has more teeth shall we say. For example right now down in the U.S. just off the coast of Nantucket they've identified four right whales that are in the area, which is unusual. And so they've instituted a longer slow down period for ships coming through the area and they are able to act more quickly. So, we would call on our government to do the same thing and again look at this idea of the emergency order.

MW: Okay and I'm wondering what role can the fishing and shipping industries play here to help save the whales.

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Well, certainly the shipping companies need to show leadership in making this happen. If we're only willing to protect species when it's easy and simple for us, then really our commitment to species protection is fairly meaningless, because we'll only do it when it benefits us. And so this will be a challenge for the shipping industry. We have seen them step up in the Bay of Fundy. We've seen shipping lanes moved and so I'm confident that if they put their minds to it, they can work with the government to put in a mandatory slow down immediately until the whales leave the area.

MW: Okay. What do you say to the concern that some of the measures taken could have an economic impact on the fishing and shipping industries?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: I think the great thing is that we've done this before. So we can look down into the Bay of Fundy. We can look all the way down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States where they do put in mandatory slowdowns. And our economy is still moving along and thriving and it's not like we don't know what to do. This is the time for the precautionary principle. We don't have all the scientific evidence in yet as to why the whales are in the Gulf in a higher amount or a higher number. And so we need to know that they are endangered. There's only 500 of them. This is the time to be acting with the precautionary principle and ensure that everybody works together and to make sure the environment is as safe for the right whales as possible.

MW: Okay. I'd like to play you a clip from someone who's working on a project to help the right whales. Michael Lane is a lobster man in Massachusetts. He and his colleagues have created a weaker rope that seems to be easier for the whales to escape from. Have a listen.

SOUNDCLIP

MICHAEL LANE: If the whale gets caught up in the [unintelligible] lines, it should … Every 40 feet there is a breakaway and the Whale is about 40 feet long and about 40 feet around. So the whales, they called hogtie what goes through its mouth and gets wrapped around its flipper. It should be able… It will have enough… It's got enough strength and force on its tail to part that line. Which would hopefully cause it to you know disentangle itself and swim free of the ropes. Just figured we get to do something and step up to the plate and hopefully resolve this problem. I have loved the whales. I mean they're majestic creatures. I would never want to harm one.

MW: So what do you think of this solution?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Well it's certainly one. As Tonya was saying earlier, right Whales typically suffer from either ship strikes or entanglements. And I think that's a great piece of the work that the fishermen are doing, not only are the fishermen in the United States looking for ways that their gear won't hurt whales. We also see that in the Bay of Fundy and so this is a really great example of creating a place of coexistence between endangered species and humans. We see it in the Bay of Fundy, where you have industry fishing and shipping, coming together to ensure that endangered, critically endangered species can live in the same waters, and up until recently with growing numbers and thriving. And so, we do need to create fishing gear that doesn't entrap the whales or entangle the whales especially for chronic entanglements where the animals suffer very, very painful long slow deaths. And so I applaud the lobster fishermen for looking into that.

MW: Can you describe to me how what that painful slow death looks like? I mean what happens to the whales when they get entangled?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: It depends on where they are entangled. If they're entangled in their balian and around their mouths they can starve to death. If they're entangled in other places, on their fins for example, they can get very deep lesions in their in their skin then they're open to infection and then they again die a painful death slowly and waste away. And so it's an awful way to go and certainly a concern for humane societies and SPCA is for the animal’s welfare.

MW: Yeah I understand if they get the rope caught in their mouth they can actually starve to death. Is that right?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Yeah absolutely. They can't eat properly.

MW: Now you were part of the efforts to save the right whales in the Bay of Fundy. Can you tell me about that?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Well, I was fortunate enough to sit on the right will recovery plan, when it was being drafted back in the mid-2000s. I was also fortunate enough to support the Campobello Whale Rescue Team that Tanya referred to that Joe Howlett was a member of. Back again in the 2000s and had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing them actually in action rescuing the right whale in the Bay of Fundy back around 2007 it was an amazing thing to watch the skill and so I echo what Tanya said about reinstating the ability to rescue. We have one of the hot most highly skilled rescue teams in the world. And making sure that they're safe of course is important, but getting them back out there and letting them do what they do is very important.

MW: Now we asked the ministry of the environment for comment about the species at risk act, which you mentioned earlier. Here is part of the statement that sent us. It said: “While the government is focusing on implementing the species at risk act in its current form, it's open to hearing suggestions on how it could be strengthened.” So if you had to make suggestions what would they be to the government?

BARBARA CARTWRIGHT: Well, first just using the actual Species at Risk Act that's there. So for example, the right whale recovery plan, for almost 10 years now, has identified the need for greater research in the Gulf to identify whether there's critical habitat in that area. And yet we still are saying we're data deficient on what's happening and we're caught off guard by this. So obviously, the research needs to be done, completed and we need to move forward and updating the recovery plan. Otherwise, we likely wouldn't be in the position we're in now. And then, using it when it's important so the emergency orders section of the Species at Risk Act has only been used twice, since it was enacted back in 2003. And here is a perfect opportunity to do that again. And yet, for some reason, it's not coming up and I'm not seeing evidence that they're going to be enacting it immediately so that we can protect the whales that are here. Well, yes I certainly support them figuring out what to do when they come back in the summer because they will be back next summer.

MW: Okay. Thank you very much. You're very welcome. Thank you. Barbara Cartwright is the CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She was in Ottawa. The CBC News is next, then, the trouble with the sweet stuff. Author Gary Taubes makes the case for thinking of sugar as the new tobacco. He explains why, after the news. I am Megan Williams and you're listening to the summer edition of The Current.

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ENCORE | Is sugar killing us? Author Gary Taubes makes his caseGuest

Guest: Gary Taubes

MW: Hello. I'm Meghan Williams and you're listening to the summer edition of The Current.

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MW: Well, if you've been trying to cut down on sugar then you know just how hard it is to avoid this stuff. A study published by Ontario researchers, this January, shows just how thoroughly sweetened our food has become. It looked at more than 40000 products on Canadian supermarket shelves and it found that more than two thirds of them contained added sugar, including baby foods and products marketed as healthy choices. It may go by different names on the label from glucose and fructose to fruit juice concentrate. But no matter what the manufacturer calls it. Science writer Gary Taubes says we should be avoiding it at all costs. He calls sugar the new tobacco. It's backed by powerful lobbies. It's everywhere in our lives and it's killing us. Gary Taubes argues we need to dramatically change our relationship to sugar. He makes that argument forcefully in his latest book The Case Against Sugar. Anna Maria Tremonti spoke with Gary Taubes in January. Here's a reprise of their conversation.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello.

GARY TAUBES: Hi.

AMT: Stop eating sugar. It's a tall order.

GARY TAUBES: Yes, it is. And the argument I'm making is, I'm trying to give people the rationale why into sort of reset how we think of this kind of vitally, major element of our diet.

AMT: And so why sugar and not other junk foods?

GARY TAUBES: Well, because the idea is that beginning in the late 19th century, we've had these tremendous epidemics of obesity and diabetes. You could actually start seeing them begin in the second half, in the 1860s, 1870s, and we wanted to know what the cause is. That's what I wanted to know when I did this book. You could see it everywhere. First Nations people in Canada who 50 years ago had vanishingly small rates of diabetes and now one in every two adults in some populations are diabetic. So you want to pinpoint it. And the easiest thing to do is say it’s junk food and then you have to define it’s junk food. But the scientific perspective that you would take is to—if you have an epidemic you want to identify the cause. And in this case, the prime suspect happens to be sugar. It could be trans fats, it could be you know you could name your chemicals in the ground water. But the prime suspect happens to be sugar and it was always sugar. So what I try to do is explain in this book why a book like mine in 2017 is even necessary.

AMT: Let's just clarify what you mean by sugar. All sugars naturally occurring?

GARY TAUBES: By sugar, I mean—and this is one of the reasons we got here is because major influential figures in this debate going back 60, 70, 80 years didn't know what they meant when they said sugar. So sugar, sucrose—the white stuff we put on our coffee or sprinkle on our cereal or that's coated on our cereal—is half a molecule of glucose bonded to a molecule of fructose and the fructose is what makes it sweet and the fructose is what differentiates it from other starches, from white flour. High fructose corn syrup is 55 per cent fructose and 45 per cent glucose. So these roughly 50-50 mixtures are high fructose. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration calls them caloric sweeteners. And we often refer to them as added sugars or refined sugars. But one of the arguments is a dose makes the poison. That's true of everything and the same sugars—fructose, glucose, sucrose—can be found in fruits and they can be found in vegetables but in much smaller doses.

AMT: And also honey, fruit juice concentrate.

GARY TAUBES: Honey too is a—

AMT: So when we see that, that's added sugar.

GARY TAUBES: Well yeah and it's not refined sugar. And one of the interesting things about sugar itself is it was so useful. Honey’s use has always been limited for whatever reason. It's got a distinct taste. Most people won't put it in coffee. You can’t put it in cold beverages because of its viscous, you know, form. So for whatever reason, the per capita consumption of honey has always stayed very low historically. It hasn't changed much in a hundred years in the US. Whereas sugar consumption, 200 years ago we were consuming maybe five pounds per capita. That's the equivalent of the sugar in a can of Coca-Cola every six days, a 12-ounce can. And by 1999, the food industry was making 155 pounds of sugar value—about 30-fold increase.

AMT: And that's what we consume. What do we consume today?

GARY TAUBES: Well again, the number, it's very hard to tell what we consume. What we can tell you is what the food industry—with accuracy—is what the food industry makes available and it peaked in 1999. It's down to, I think, around 130 pounds per capita in the US.

AMT: A hundred and thirty pounds of sugar per capita.

GARY TAUBES: Yeah.

AMT: That’s a lot of sugar.

GARY TAUBES: That’s a lot of sugar.

AMT: Okay. So how can you isolate sugar is the primary cause behind the increase in diabetes?

GARY TAUBES: Well again, one way to do it is just to look at different populations. So the general observation is that you have—you know populations when they go through what's called a nutrition transition, when they go from eating whatever their traditional diet was and that could be you know a First Nations diet of caribou or an Inuit diet or a Maasai diet in Africa where it's meat, milk or an agrarian diet or a Southeast Asian diet, where it's high carb and they begin trading with the West and they get westernized and then you get these manifestations of obesity and diabetes. And one way I do in the book is you can go around from nation to nation—because I can't really blame it on meat because the Native Americans in the First Nations people ate a lot of meat and they had no diabetes. You could kind of go through that, that game ruling plays out and what you’re left with is whenever this crime is committed—and I often think of it in my head in legal terms and it's a very distinctive crime, these obesity and diabetes—sugar is always at the scene of the crime.

AMT: There are many public health officials and advocates, health advocates, who say it's a matter of calories in, calories out and the causes of obesity or diabetes is overeating. It's our sedentary lives. Are they all wrong?

GARY TAUBES: Yeah. I would say yes. And you know this is—I talk about this in the book—and I talk about the history of this idea and it's in all my books and I think it's almost incomprehensibly naive. It dates to the science of 1900, back when the only thing people can measure about foods, nutritionists could measure was their vitamin and mineral content and the energy they contain.

AMT: So that’s the calories in, calories out is naïve. So you're saying it's more complex. Does it have to do with insulin? What does it have to do with?

GARY TAUBES: I’m saying it's a biological issue not a physics issue. It's not an accounting issue. Just like everything else in your body, the amount of fat on your body is exceedingly well-regulated. We evolved. We didn't just evolve to be able to spill excess calories into our fat tissue. And in the 1960s, researchers discovered you know they had a new tool available—which a woman named Rosalyn Yalow won the Nobel Prize for—something they could measure hormones in the bloodstream. And you could see not just how hormones regulate fat accumulation, but you could see how foods affect hormonal status. So when you eat carbohydrates and you eat sugar, that raises this hormone insulin which works to make you store calories as fat. That's one of the many things it does. And sugar in particular, that fructose molecule I mentioned, happens to metabolize in the liver and there's a lot of evidence. Again, it's a scene of the crime thing. There's a lot of evidence saying that a condition called insulin resistance begins in the liver and insulin resistance is the fundamental defect in the common form of diabetes known as type 2.

AMT: You know not everyone agrees with you. I'd like you to listen to a clip of Yoni Freedhoff. He is a Canadian weight loss expert, a family doctor and assistant professor of medicine at University of Ottawa. This is what he had to say about your argument about sugar.

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There are lots of reasons why we struggle with our high rates of non-communicable diseases that are diet-related. And I think broadly speaking, the reason that we are doing so is we are eating way more and more specifically. We're eating more in the way of ultra-processed foods and the way we socialize with food at every single turn is different as well. Pointing it to just sugar within the picture that I just described, I think is oversimplifying things and not helpful ultimately. Telling people not to have sugar, well, that's not going to necessarily happen. And until we change the way our food culture works, I think that focusing on a single nutrient will just lead us to an era of low sugar ultra-processed foods which likely won't get us very far.

AMT: Gary Taubes, how do you respond to that?

GARY TAUBES: I could agree with Yoni, but then we'd both be wrong. You know again, one of the things I do in my book is I [unintelligible] populations. I mean they’re in the literature. If you go looking, you could find populations going back difference into Native American tribe, the Sioux, on a reservation 1928 with explosive levels of obesity and none of this sort of ultra-processed, packaged food that Yoni—whom I like and respect—is talking about. And we want to explain obesity and diabetes in those populations too. Another famous example of a Native American tribe that has been studied by the NIH for 60 years and had diabetes explode among them in the 1960s was the Pima.

AMT: And that's right when they have processed sugar, processed foods with sugar introduced.

GARY TAUBES: Right after World War II, during World War II, they get acculturated because of the war. The men get drafted into the army. The women go to work in munitions factories. And so I think Yoni would say if we always ate the way we did in the 1960s, we'd be fine.

AMT: Right. But they went to work in munitions factories. But talk to me about the food. So they were eating processed food with sugar in it.

GARY TAUBES: Yeah.

AMT: Okay.

GARY TAUBES: As they do, they get acculturated and you know the Coca-Colas. So indeed there's junk food, but it's the way we would have wanted Americans or Canadians to eat today. So again, Yoni and I have different viewpoints about how you do science. But what I'm doing is saying you can find—but you can isolate the nutrient and might not be one nutrient, maybe it's sugar and something else, but it certainly seems to be that sugar would be your prime suspect in the argument I'm making. So Yoni wants to—he sees patients, he wants to help them become leaner and healthier. I want to identify the cause of the epidemics. These epidemics are tragic and to have the kind of attitude where it's sort of you know we can’t tell—would you ever tell people not to smoke cigarettes?

AMT: Okay. But you're not just saying you want to identify it. You are actually arguing that the industry has masked it. You are saying that nutritionists have been complicit with the industry in masking the role of sugar.

GARY TAUBES: Right.

AMT: So let me ask you. You write the sugar industry suppressed research into links between sugar and diabetes and obesity. What did they do?

GARY TAUBES: They didn't suppress—actually, I don't think I wrote that. They didn't suppress. What they did is back, beginning in the 1960s and seventies when doctors were saying look, they don't want to get fat, don't put sugar in your coffee. Use, you know, saccharin instead. And then a few very influential nutritionists started arguing that sugar was the most likely cause of heart disease and diabetes. The sugar industry played simply paid the very equally influential nutritionists to believe that fat was the cause, to write papers arguing that fat was the cause. And so in 1976, ’77 when the food and drug administration had to make a decision about whether sugar was generally recognized as safe, they had these documents that had been prepared by, led by this very famous Harvard nutritionist that the sugar industry had paid for, saying it's not sugar, it's fat. So what I've been saying—the reason I say nutritionists are to blame—is because they gave the sugar industry the arguments they needed to defend themselves. This idea that a calorie is a calorie and obesity is an energy balance disorder means purely that all calories are equal. It doesn't matter. There's no such thing as a fattening food. So when people like me come along and say there is a fattening food. There's a pathogenic food and it's sugar because of the influence it has on these hormones and physiological states. The response is what the nutritionists have said all these years which is hey, a calorie is a calorie. Don't blame sugar. If you're getting fatter, cut back on broccoli and exercise more.

AMT: You know it's interesting. I was reading—you wrote a piece in the New York Times on the weekend and I was looking at the people who responded. There was this glee at saying oh, look at this. Somebody who—one person says the science is all wrong, how come we're going to believe you and not climate change? You're not saying the science is wrong. You're saying the science was never looked at properly.

GARY TAUBES: Well yeah. I mean I got into this. I'm a huge fan. I'm a science geek. That's what I do. I love science. I was mentored by some of the great scientists in the world in the 1980s when I was doing my first investigations. The problem is in some fields, the research community doesn't really understand how to do science. And in fields where you’re looking at chronic diseases—public health and medicine, where there's a lot of pressure to get an answer fast—people tend to jump to conclusions. And then once they jump to conclusions, instead of trying to rigorously test those conclusions, they try to defend the conclusions. And we've been doing that for 50 years and my book is saying it's time to stop doing it. We've got this crisis on our hands. So I'm going to tell people this was the prime suspect all along and I would wish you would start you know testing your assumptions instead of insisting they're true.

AMT: You say that it has killed more people prematurely than cigarettes.

GARY TAUBES: It’s actually an easy argument to make. And the reason is pretty simple. The great technological innovation in the late 19th century was something called flue-curing tobacco and what flue-curing tobacco does is it increases the sugar content of the tobacco leaves from about two per cent to 20 per cent. So when the first American blended cigarette came in in 1913, Camel cigarettes, it was blended primarily between two tobaccos: one that was flue-cured so that it had this high sugar content, and the other was a chewing tobacco that had been marinated in what's called a sugar sauce. And it had high sugar content and a high nicotine content. And now you had tobacco that could be drawn easily into the lungs without spurring a cough reflex and that could bring the nicotine and the carcinogens deep into the lungs and the same thing is true of American tobaccos. So the lung cancer epidemic that followed the explosive success of American blended cigarettes was in part largely due to the sugar content of the leaves of the tobacco. So that's not a sugar industry issue. That's a tobacco issue. But the point is we wouldn't have nearly the deaths from lung cancer and heart disease that tobacco has caused if it wasn't for sugar.

AMT: In a perfect world, what should we eat then?

GARY TAUBES: Everybody's different. One of the arguments I've been making is that we tend to give public health guidelines for everyone. So you know the Ethiopian marathoner who has emigrated, come to the US and Canada and runs 30 miles a day and weighs 110 pounds naturally, gets the same diet advice as somebody who's you know been predisposed to become morbidly obese and diabetic. And I believe and my work has led me to believe over the years that for people predisposed to gain weight, for the obese and diabetic, if they want to become as healthy as possible, they have to cut back not just sugar, but sugar and refined grains and maybe all carbohydrates and replace it with fat. And that's the kind of diet that’s in effect the Atkins diet and for 60 years, the medical community has been saying that's quackery. And the reason I came to fame or infamy in the United States is I did a series of investigations for the journal Science and then cover stories for the Times Magazine, starting without any bias, concluding that in fact if you look at the biology instead of these other sort of naive assumptions, this should be the way we should be thinking about it.

AMT: So again, even the sugars and carbs like bread, like certain vegetables are also culprits.

GARY TAUBES: Until the 1960s when we got this idea that was never confirmed, that dietary fat caused heart disease, the conventional wisdom was carbs made you fat.

AMT: Right. And that has been debunked now that you know dietary, the fat.

GARY TAUBES: It’s slowly crumbling. Let's put it that way. If you look at what people say in defense of that hypothesis today compared to 30 years ago, they're clearly like slowly giving up the ground and leaving that battle behind.

AMT: But you know that's the problem isn't it? So you know people were told by authorities stay away from these fats. And now you're arguing stay away from the sugars. What’s a thinking person with a really busy life supposed to do?

GARY TAUBES: It's confusing. And when Yoni Freedhoff says we've seen the single nutrient idea fail, he's saying because of Taubes’ work, refuting the idea that salt causes high blood pressure and dietary fat causes heart disease. The problem is if you think of it again as a crime—and so the crime is obesity and diabetes—this was not the common human condition. First we wanted to blame fat. The problem is something is committing that crime. There is something out there in our environment that's driving us to be obese and diabetic and it's not just that we're lazy and we eat too much and we can’t say no. That's naive and it's unjustified and it insults obese and diabetic people everywhere. So the question is what is it in the environment? I wish it was simple. I wish people didn't have to listen to a nutritionist. I mean a journalist. Excuse me. That was a Freudian slip. I do wish that there was a simple way to do it and when I write my books, one of the things I say in the beginning of the books is read my books. Think about what I'm saying. Think critically about it. And the difference is you can experiment. So that's the thing. It’s easy. Change your diet. See if it helps. If it doesn't, try something else.

AMT: Gary Taubes, thanks for coming in.

GARY TAUBES: Thank you.

MW: That was Gary Taubes the author of The Case Against Sugar and a conversation with Anna Maria Tremonti recorded last January, in Toronto. Now if you've tried to go sugar free in your own diet let us know how that's been for you. Tweet us @TheCurrentCBC, find us on Facebook to comment or e-mail us through our website site cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the Contact link. Now Gary Taubes describes what he sees as the food industry's efforts to downplay the effects of sugar over the years. But there was once a time when sugary drinks were marketed as a way to keep slim. Back in 1961 actress Connie Clausen delivered this pitch for Coca-Cola telling ladies everywhere that Coke can keep you thin.

SOUNDCLIP

Well, that is enough for today. Now for a lively lift, ice cold Coca-Cola. There's no waist line worry with Coke, you know. Actually this individual size bottle has no more calories than half a grapefruit. Mmmm, another thing, the cold crisp taste of coke is so satisfying. It keeps me from eating something else that might really add those pounds. Coke is a natural [unintelligible] blending of pure food flavors. I guess that is why everyone likes the refreshing new feeling you get, only from not too sweet Coca-Cola. And no wonder, lively lifted Coca-Cola provide a welcome bit of quick energy between meal, [unintelligible] a pleasant pause in a busy day. And remember Coke is low in calories too.

MW: Actress Connie Clausen back in 1961. That's our program for today. Stay tuned to Radio 1 for a new episode of Love Me this week. A widow confronts her grief by dating her worst match. And remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It lets you browse through past episodes of our show and start listening and just a few seconds. It's free from the App Store or Google Play. Nina Simone will sing us out today with a live version of I want a little sugar in my bowl. I am Megan Williams. Thanks for listening to the summer edition of The Current.

SOUNDCLIP

[Song: I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl by Nina Simone]

I want a little sugar

In my bowl

I want a little sweetness

Down in my soul

I could stand some lovin'

Oh so bad

I feel so helpless and I feel so sad

I want a little steam

On my clothes

Maybe I can fix things up

So they'll go

What’s the matter Daddy

Come on, save my soul

Drop a little sugar in my bowl

I ain't foolin'

Drop some sugar in my bowl

You been acting strangely

I've been told

Soothe me

I want some sugar in my bowl

I want some steam

On my clothes

Maybe I can fix things up so they'll go

What’s the matter Daddy

Come on, save my soul

Drop some sugar in my bowl

I ain't foolin'

Drop some sugar hmmm

In my bowl

Sugar in my bowl

Yeah yeah yeah

Some sweetness down in my soul

You been acting strangely

I've been told

Move me Daddy

I want some sugar in my bowl

I want some steam on my clothes

Maybe I can fix things up

So they'll go

What’s the matter Daddy

Come on, save my soul

Drop a little sugar in my bowl

I ain't foolin'

Drop some sugar…

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