Sugar Blues by William Dufty
Book Review

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Sugar Blues, an account by William Dufty of the devastating health effects of refined sugar, created quite a splash when it was first published in 1975. I vividly remember how energetically I avoided the book. I thought sugar was food. I desperately wanted sugar to be food! Everyone said that it was! Dufty covers the shameful promotion by the Department of Agriculture, the American Medical Association, the Harvard School of Nutrition, and others, of refined sugar as a good "source of food energy." (Sound familiar?)

Sugar Blues is framed by Dufty's own story--his sugar story, that is. He doesn't mention: ghostwriter for Billie Holiday, marriage to Gloria Swanson, popularizing macrobiotics to celebrities. Dufty's food and illness story is a familiar tale of unconscious, unwitting sugar addiction (1930's style), and the accompanying weight gain, mysterious ailments, and incapacitating migraines; and the less familiar final act of sugar withdrawal. ("I knew enough about junkies to recognize reluctantly my kinship with them.")

But most of the book is the history--a colorful, hard-hitting, snarky history--of sugar (and some other refined foodstuffs: white flour, white rice) and the devastation brought: the lengths to which people and countries will go to ensure a sugar supply; sugar's role in slavery and war; and how sugar backfires on those who consume it. All the consequences of subtle but serious malnourishment due to refined sugar and rather less subtle endocrine disruption, including but not limited to, diabetes, hypoglycemia, ulcers, physical weakness, mental illness, and addiction.

Dufty mentions a shipwreck in 1793; the marooned sailors ate and drank their cargo of sugar and rum. Five emaciated survivors were rescued--after only nine days. Nine days without food, or even without water, ought to be easily survivable. He writes, "As a steady diet, sugar is worse than nothing."

Why? Sugar is "refined." It's an extract from regular food (sugar cane, sugar beets), cooked down into a pure chemical. Regular ("real") food contains nutrients that nourish the body. Sugar contains no nutrients. Real food contains the nutrients needed to digest and assimilate the food and eliminate its waste. Sugar does not, and the body has to get those nutrients from somewhere else. Refined sugar is an antinutrient: instead of providing nutrients to the body, refined sugar drains nutrients from the body.

The effects of refined sugar are actually quite obvious, but our view is obscured because our culture has been involved with sugar for hundreds of years. We have nothing to compare it to--no control group without sugar. Without the escalation of sugar consumption over the last hundred years, we might not be able to see it at all. We're left with comparing our degenerative diseases with our considerably more hardy grandparents and our considerably more impaired children. Or, with a better-late-than-never personal experiment like Dufty's, or like mine, to see the before and after.

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