|Good Calories, Bad Calories
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In this groundbreaking book, the result of seven years of research in every science connected with the impact of nutrition on health, award-winning science writer Gary Taubes shows us that almost everything we believe about the nature of a healthy diet is wrong.
For decades we have been taught that fat is bad for us, carbohydrates better, and that the key to a healthy weight is eating less and exercising more. Yet with more and more people acting on this advice, we have seen unprecedented epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Taubes argues persuasively that the problem lies in refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, easily digested starches) and sugars–via their dramatic and longterm effects on insulin, the hormone that regulates fat accumulation–and that the key to good health is the kind of calories we take in, not the number. There are good calories, and bad ones.
These are from foods without easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars. These foods can be eaten without restraint.
Meat, fish, fowl, cheese, eggs, butter, and non-starchy vegetables.
These are from foods that stimulate excessive insulin secretion and so make us fat and increase our risk of chronic disease—all refined and easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars. The key is not how much vitamins and minerals they contain, but how quickly they are digested. (So apple juice or even green vegetable juices are not necessarily any healthier than soda.)
Bread and other baked goods, potatoes, yams, rice, pasta, cereal grains, corn, sugar (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup), ice cream, candy, soft drinks, fruit juices, bananas and other tropical fruits, and beer.
Taubes traces how the common assumption that carbohydrates are fattening was abandoned in the 1960s when fat and cholesterol were blamed for heart disease and then –wrongly–were seen as the causes of a host of other maladies, including cancer. He shows us how these unproven hypotheses were emphatically embraced by authorities in nutrition, public health, and clinical medicine, in spite of how well-conceived clinical trials have consistently refuted them. He also documents the dietary trials of carbohydrate-restriction, which consistently show that the fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.
With precise references to the most significant existing clinical studies, he convinces us that there is no compelling scientific evidence demonstrating that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease, that salt causes high blood pressure, and that fiber is a necessary part of a healthy diet. Based on the evidence that does exist, he leads us to conclude that the only healthy way to lose weight and remain lean is to eat fewer carbohydrates or to change the type of the carbohydrates we do eat, and, for some of us, perhaps to eat virtually none at all.
The 11 Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories:
1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.
2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
3. Sugars—sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.
4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.
5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.
6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.
7. Exercise does ...
- Not for the shallow orthodox mind
I'll keep it simple. If you can't be swayed by science, or have no understanding of physiology this is not the book for you. It is hard science and some good lessons in cellular physiology. As a practicing Doctor of Chiropractic I already understood the basics of the science before I read this book. I wanted to see if he would "tow the party line" or relinquish and bow to the orthodoxy; NO TOWING HERE! Though he attempts to present an objective assessment of the data and the orthodox response (or non-response) to it, he slips his incredulity out of the box on the mindless dogmatic antithetical responses to the science that the medical profession so proudly professes to embrace... was that a run-on... except when it doesn't fit their world-view. I am very impressed with the thoroughness of Mr. Taubes' research. I am also very impressed with his simplified explanations of some very deep physiological science. Some of it I was surprised to see and some of it I was surprised he could uncover. I have seen studies expunged from the literature because it did not espouse the orthodox dogma related to cholesterol. In particular a Japanese study of 20,000 individuals followed for a period of 20 years that presented the cholesterol stats revealed by the author. Even though the book took me five days to read (it takes me seven days to read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy - 1500+ pages), I wouldn't consider it an easy book. I have a background in physiology, which made it easier for me. The uneducated reader may find it a daunting task to complete, if not totally boring. I would definitely recommend this for any health-care professional who is interested in the science of fat metabolism, anthropological-based nutrition, as well as diabetes and obesity. But, be advised: leave the dogma at home....more info
- Not a diet book
I thought this was a diet book but it's not. It's a history of how the people who recommend what to eat came to their conclusions. The book is interesting and full of good information with 70 pages of sources cited. The book was a bit much for me. I could have gotten by with just an executive summary....more info
- Up is down...black is white....that's what this book does for diets.
If you presume to know what's healthy, you watch your fat intake, calories....you eat salads and rarely touch a steak then you MUST read this book. It most definitely IS NOT a Diet Book. Its science, its facts, its the TRUTH and its amazing.
I started reading online articles by Taubes about 6 years ago and eagerly awaited this book. I changed the way I viewed nutrition and "healthy" foods based on those articles as well as many, many others by many, many authors (see Mary G. Enig and Sally Fallon), and I'll never by fooled into eating tofu or rice cakes again. And cholesterol meds! I'd have to be bound and gagged before I'd take them....even if my levels were sky high.
Every new so called "study" that shows up on the evening news makes me cringe. And I often get online, go directly to the source and read the study for myself. You'd be shocked at how much they leave out or twist on the evening news. Truthfully, I have to wonder if it's all been a mistake or quite on purpose seeing that health care in the USA is now the number one industry.
I've seen a lot of reviews that claim the book is difficult to read. Yes....it's big and there is a lot of science....but I'm one of the reviewers that found it hard to put down. I hate to admit it's the only book I've read in about 3 years.
Read this book.
- Interview helps understanding of book
First, this book is an amazing work of scholarship. I discovered it through a radio interview with Gary Taubes. I found the interview extremely helpful in understanding the book and have listened to it several times.
After my triple bypass I starved on a lowfat diet for 14 years and managed to keep my weight and cholesterol down; but my HDL was always low and my triglycerides high. Two months after reading this book and cutting way down on carbs and starting to eat all the fats I had avoided for 14 years, my latest blood test showed my HDL up by 20% and triglycerides down by 50%; and waist size down 2" while losing 5 pounds. I feel noticably stronger, so I'm guessing that while I lost alot of fat around the middle I've probably put on some muscle....more info
- Good Book, Bad Book
PROS: Meticulous research. Well argued. Data rich.
* Dated data: Most of the studies Taubes cites are from before 1960. He implies that in the 1960s there was a vast conspiracy led by a few researchers with a low-fat/high carb agenda. Taubes argues that they crushed all research into the utility of low-carb diets.
* Verbose: Taubes takes a long time to make a point. The book didn't get interesting until page 250. And even then, it was tedious getting through it.
* Little mention of exercise: He rarely cites the impact exercise has on weight loss. He implies it has little impact.
* Short on concrete advice: Taubes never says this is a diet book, but after all the amazing research he did, it's a shame he didn't give more practical dieting advice. The few words in the Epilogue leave you wanting more.
WHO WOULD LOVE THIS BOOK: Those who want to know all the nitty gritty details about dieting research prior to 1960. Those who like conspiracy theories. Those who like heavy, data rich academic tomes.
CONCLUSION: I wouldn't recommend this book to most people. It's not terribly readable or practical. The argument is interesting, but not convincing since he ignores most research done after 1960. Taubes spends a lot of time talking about pre-1960 research! He mostly ignores post-1960 research when formulating his arguments by dismissing most of the post-1960 research as being funded by special interests or run by researchers with an special agenda.
MY BIAS: I admit I have the opposite bias that Taubes has: I trust post-1960 research more than pre-1960 research. He seems to believe the opposite. If you buy his argument, then you'll love this book. I didn't. ...more info
- Awful, awful, awful - never gets to the point
What a load of rubbish. I read this book in half an hour - ended up skimming it because it was so dull and because I could not make head nor tail of it. All the writer does is spew facts and data from study after study - he never sums up or gets to the point. Half the book is taken up with an afterword, an epilogue, a biography and the index!
I wish I'd seen his list of ten conclusions before I'd bought it - that would've been enough for me. The list, by the way, is on page 454! (The preceding 453 pages are gibberish).
I bought the book mainly because the reviews/accolades on the front and back cover are so good. Never again!
Do not waste your money!
- Excellent book, for the avid science/history reader.
The information in this book is Outstanding! It's almost like the light at the end of the tunnel of the lies about diet. There is only one problem! As an average reader, it is almost as if you need an abridged version to get directly to the point.
Gary presents all the facts and spares little to none of the details as to why our society has been taking "Opinions" as facts and costing our health issues!
My only wish is that for people with little time and patience for all the detail we could get to the solid fact and proof beneath all the evidence, times, names, organizations, and past issues.
I only gave this book 3 stars for that reason. Due to the length of the book and the amount of deatails. It took me way longer than I would have liked to spend to get to the juicy points. I am in no way downplaying what's presenting... only wishing it was easier to find in all the pages.
This book is a staple in the truth about our diets and why our sciences fail..... Thanks Gary....more info
- High fat/low carb diet
I liked the book because of the enormous amount of research that went into it. I like a technical read and this book is technical. In spite of that, the author made it very readable by not writting a lot of scientific terms but using common language. He follows the history of the many theory's of weight loss back to the mid 1800's and the many degrees of ideas from high fat/low carb to low fat/high carb. This is a very good well written book!...more info
- Excellent, relevant historical expose of nutritional dogma, but weak on omege-3/omega-6 issue
I consider this the best book ever on diet and health.
Taubes digs through the fascinating history and shows how big egos, bias, and politics have driven much of our conventional "wisdom" on diet and health. This book should be read by any one interested in diet and health.
The only shortcoming is that not enough attention is paid to the crucial role of excessive omega-6 fatty acids and the low levels of omege-3 fatty acids in the western diet--which drives much of chronic disease, together with high carbohydrate and high fructose diets....more info
- A serious study of food and health.
We get conflicting messages about what to eat and how to lose weight from sources that we would like to trust, like doctors and the government. This book shows that there has been some good research done on what makes us fat and sick over the last hundred or so years. But for some reason the research has not been treated as part of a science where we try to increase our understanding a bit at a time. Instead, as Taubes shows, the fight over food has been more like politics than science and we are all suffering from confusion. Taubes makes a case that when viewed scientifically the research seems to point to some clear answers that deserve more attention, specifically the problem of carbohydrates in our diet. I wish the medical community would take the issues as seriously as he does. I know that the information he provides has helped me to lose weight for the first time....more info
- Excellent Book, consider it REQUIRED READING!
This is one of THE best books on health, diet and nutrition I have ever read! It blew me away!
Gary Taubes spent 5 years researching and writing this book, and going into it he in no way anticipated the conclusions he would reach! The science out there actually reaches very different conclusions than what we are taught by the bulk of health "professionals."
Read the table of contents to know the breadth of what is covered, but amongst it is how society arrived at the "evil fat/saturated-fat/cholesterol" theory, the effects of insulin on the body, and how a calorie is not just a calorie. It's not as simple as the common truisms of "you get fat if you eat too much" and "eat less, exercise more to lose weight"!
I highly recommend this book to EVERYONE, especially anyone who is interested in health, AND anyone who is dealing with the "civilized" health problems of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. However, be forewarned, this book is dense, full of information and studies (the last 100+ pages are notes and bibliography), so it can be slow going, and it is long - about 450 pages. Not a light read, but it is very worth it!...more info
- A Great Read
Loved the book. I plan on implementing this information into my lifestyle and hoping the endometreosis will clear. Considering all the alternatives... ...more info
- Statistically conclusive Science
Finally someone just points out the facts without bias with extreme caution. He is constantly searching for good science, which most people have no idea how is executed. He simply points out the flaws of the research in the past and how it should be done in the future. He never goes into a specific diet but does implicate refined carbohydrates as primary suspects for diseases of civilization....more info
- Don't bother
This is the worst diet book I have ever read. It is more like a Master's Thesis on diets that don't work. I have read 2/3rds of it and don't know yet what he thinks does work. I do not plan to finish the book, I would be bored to death and still not know what to eat....more info
- A comprehensive review of dietary advice
This book is a product of the internet age, as the author points out: a lifetime's worth of research was accomplished in only six years. His first task is to discredit the conventional wisdom and the institutions responsible, and he does this effectively, showing how a dozen or so influential scientists can spin ambiguous test data, so that, for instance, in the case of the dietary fat-heart disease theory, national policy results. His second task is to review the entire history of obesity research, concluding that calorie-restricting diets don't work. Throughout it all, the recurring theme is the harmful effects of refined carbohydrates....more info
- "It's the insulin, stupid"
I first heard Gary Taubes interviewed on Canadian CBC radio in the Fall of 2007. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed... How could someone who was so clearly ignorant of nutrition and health be invited to appear on the venerable science show "Quirks and Quarks"? Another one of those Atkins nutcases- "Why don't they just go away!" I fumed.
Anyway, some months later I picked up a copy, mainly to show Peggy-Sue that I was still open to others' opinions (hers). I was hooked right from the opening pages. It is not a light-hearted read, but I couldn't put it down. I should add that I am a bit of a science geek, have a PhD in engineering (why is everyone surprised about that?), and a long term interest in nutrition. I have to admit that back in the 80's as a younger man I totally bought into the Pritikin low-fat diet, and until recently was a whole-grain, low fat, semi-vegetarian kind of guy.
I found Gary Taubes writing, logic and conclusions so compelling, there was only one option - undertake a personal experiment. It was pretty obvious what was needed to be done. I did consult Atkins, South Beach and a few other "diet" books for some "how-to" tips, but basically cut out sugar, bread, rice, beer (sigh) etc, and focused on fish, meat, nuts, dairy and vegetables. It was almost scary at first, taking that first sinful mouthful of roast chicken with the skin on!
Now in my mid 40's I have been experiencing a few of those problems that seem to plague men of a certain age. Weight starting to creep up, midnight trips to the bathroom, poor quality sleep, unstable blood sugar, and also rather severe reflux (GERD), for which I had begun to take prescription proton pump inhibitors. I was on the basic middle-age downhill run. Since cutting right back on sugar and starchy carbs the weight just fell off over a few months, effortlessly, with no hunger. I'm down about 20lbs and look better in a pair of speedos than any man my age has a right to *wink*. I don't even really get hungry anymore, not in the "God give me a muffin right now before I collapse" way. My reflux is gone, completely, 100% cured. No more prescription antacids. I sleep like a baby, and rarely make a nighttime trip to the bathroom. Pegs' reaction whenever I take off my shirt (OMG!) makes it all worthwhile. She claims I have the heart and circulatory system of a 25 year old.
Good Calories, Bad Calories is primarily a science book, not a diet book, and is targeted at least partly at the medical profession. Taubes is careful to frame his conclusions largely as hypotheses that require further clinical study. Those looking primarily for a low-carb diet book might want to look elsewhere. A good place to start is Living the Low Carb Life: Controlled Carbohydrate Eating for Long-Term Weight Loss by Jonny Bowden. I am also impressed with Diane Schwartzbein The Schwarzbein Principle, The Program: Losing Weight the Healthy Way. Both these books provide a good overview of the science, and are an easy read. And if you are going to "do Atkins", then fer Gawd's sake read his books!
This is a powerful read that cause me to discard some deeply-held convictions about diet and nutrition. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Congratulations to Mr Taubes for an outstanding contribution. Now, if I could only get Peggy-Sue (nee Gubermann) to cut back on the bagels, rugoleh and matzo balls, our life together would be perfect.
Dirk Manly (not real name)
- Tired of the so-called experts....to each his own
I had been eyeing this book for a while as I do try to keep an open mind about these things. So I read a friends copy. It was indeed a fascinating read...but no matter what you read....and there were alot of 5 star reviews here telling you to do this, do that....jump on the low-carb, anti bread, rice etc. bandwagon.....but the odd thing is.....look at the countries who diet is all about rice and veggies...and how HEALTHY they have been until our Fast Food joints enter the picture....and then you start to see fat all over the world. I did the Atkins plan about 5 years ago...lost 60 pounds...fairly quickly too. My body seemed to thrive on it..and contrary to what some reviews said...I was never hungry. BUT....and there always is one.....I started getting dizzy, started feeling sickly.....and ended up in the hospital....because on those extreme hard core diets like Atkins....you dont eat friut, you dont each healthy breads etc. I had a friend who had lost over 100 pounds on a low carb bragging how she hadn't had a piece of fruit or bread for over a year. And frankly I have to say...ANY diet or weight loss plan that FORBIDS a certain food...is not ever going to be ultimately healthy. My body shut down...completely...and my thyroid did as well. My doctors attributed it to being so obessesed with low carb...to eventually hurting my health. Now when I was following that regime, I was its staunchest supporter....but in restospect...after being so sick, in the hopsital and fighting a broken thyroid....I realized that the truth of the matter is that we are always looking for some fix. When the saying Everything in Moderation....is what is really the key. It took me almost two years and a weight gain of what I had lost PLUS more--to get my body healthy again, and get my thyroid working again. And one of my doctors--who also studied nutrition and was indeed a specialist...just came out and said...we have to find something that is FOR THE LONGTERM and that in his studies, those who tried to do the Atkins type diet...severe low carb...would evetually have tremendous aging issues down the road. It certainly aged me...it was not healthy. And now I eat fresh veggies, I eat chicken, fish and yes now and then red meat....but I also eat fresh fruits....any kind...I eat whole wheat bread and yes the evil potato now and then and I do eat rice too once and a while. I feel great....I have now lost over a hundred pounds...I look so much better. I do not say that one food is bad or good. Obviously I don't go walking around eating candy and cake and ice cream....but I will not forbid or banish any food from my world. I really try to watch the sugar and salt in my diet. But I will have a piece of cake or a candy bar once and a while..maybe every month or so..but the key is to NOT eat like that for most of your diet...and to get right back into healthy eating the next meal. There was some book out a few years ago by yet another author whos name escapes me, Julia Havy or something....but her gimmic was VICE BUSTING..she banned ice cream from her diet...and I watched her on some show and I thought wow-this woman is way too severe, it was her way or no way...and those types of people scare me, and are NOT healthy...they are too controlling and never open-minded which is never good. It truly is COMMON SENSE but we americans are always looking for the answer, a quick fix....I have to bust my vice and all...the fanatics out there selling health..its sad. They make money off our fears and desperation when we don't want to do the work ourselves. I have learned to eat in moderation. To exercise a half hour a day...to drink plenty of water and try (although its not always that easy) to get as much sleep as possible as SLEEP is just as important as diet in how we age and take care of ourselves. This book was interesting...but I really am tired of books that preach one regime over another....I just follow a healthy heart type diet. And to learn why I eat or reach for the so-called 'bad' foods, what emotions are playing a part in my choices. The mind is just as important as the body and most of us tend to ignore that. But I know I will never ever again go the low carb or nothing route...it was the worst thing I ever have done for my health. Or follow any plan that forbids you certain foods or tells you that you have to bust those vices or eles. Everything in moderation...and use common sense. You really dont need another book to know that. Go online...go to the American Heart Association site, or the Diabetes sight or another of the free sites out there and make your own way. Save your money, use your head. There is plenty of good free information out there for you to make up your own mind..and regain your health....more info
- absolute nonsense
There is an old saying: "If you can't do it, teach it." Taubes takes is one step further: "If you can't do it, write about it." The book is horrible science and will undoubtedly lead to the death of many people. It is the equivolent of "journalistic terrorism".
Dr. Sidney Freedman...more info
- Is there a Noble prize? Then Taubes might be a candidate.
There are too few writers today who have the skill, insight and keen eye to take on the food-industrial complex. Gary Taubes has done this. One of the most valuable aspects of the book is Taubes' meticulous unraveling of the tangles of university researchers, industry research grants and journalists who create, promote and police weak information. Carbohydrates are cheap, taste good, and come from sources that on the surface fit cultural constructions of nature (waving grain, fresh-picked corn, etc). Industry favors carbohydrates for their easy portability, ability to provide instant gratification, and their maleability. History will make the idea that humans can grow thin and righteous eating pasta and fat free fruit snacks look like the hoax that it. The reliance on powerful, exalted experts enfeebles too many academic pursuits. It takes courage to look beyond the cult of personality and nutritional pop culture that valorizes the innocent, pastoral world of starches and sugars while demonizing protein and fat. How did a loaf of bread ever become the symbol for all that is good about the Earth and nature? Taubes' book exposes the machinery of current food mythology. This book is an example of careful, diligent research and writing in the fine muckraking tradition. I read the book from cover to cover, almost in one sitting. ...more info
- Illuminates How Science Policy is Made, but is Incomplete on Dietary Understanding
The author makes a strong case that low fat diets do more harm than good with respect to heart disease, adult onset diabetes, and obesity in this absorbing book, and, in an impressive feat of general science writing, does so with minimal reliance on descriptive biochemistry and quantitative and graphical data. While this enhances the readability of the book, it ultimately prevents Mr. Taube's arguments against carbohydrates in the diet from being conclusive.
Mr. Taubes based the book on a prodigious review of the literature of the relationship between diet and overall health covering the last 200 years or so. It therefore provides an excellent illustration of how scientific knowledge evolves, how the scientific method works in an institutional context (government and industry supported, "big" science), and how science based policy is established. The main lessons on the latter, especially on how little hard evidence actually supports policy recommendations, that policies are confidently presented to the public as "truth" to get them accepted, and when established they become axiomatic and very difficult to change, deserve to be widely known. Another important aspect of this is that academic self-interest groups, whose funding and reputation depend on maintaining the conventional wisdom, arise to defend it. That is, academics and professors should be no considered no less suspect of self-serving arguments than industry or trade association scientists. The understanding Mr. Taubes brings to science policy is the most valuable aspect of his book, and is relevant to other issues, e.g., global warming.
The book is not without problems, however. Mr. Taubes adopts an unfairly critical attitude towards the pioneers of 20th century diet policy, Keys and Mayer for example. He is able to do this using hindsight, applying what has been learned in the 40+ years since Keys and Mayer promoted their ideas to discredit them. The positions of Keys and Mayer were plausible at the time they were made, based on an unbiased reading of the evidence available to them. That we now have a better picture is an overall demonstration of how science works. There is no need for dietary villains just because the process of changing the conventional wisdom does not occur as rapidly as we would like. If the current official dietary guidelines are incorrect, the scientific process will find it out in due course.
The treatment in the book of the "energy balance" (basically, intake calories - output calories = calories stored, leading to weight change) is confusing if not downright misleading. If this concept is based fundamentally on a mass or energy balance or the first law of thermodynamics, which Mr. Taubes does not deny, it must be obeyed, period. What Mr. Taubes appears to be trying to say is that weight change is function of the type of calories consumed and the "energy balance" relationship is not discriminating enough to be applied to diet management in specific situations. Rather trying to discredit the impact of the energy balance on weight change, he should have clearly explained that the input and output terms are variable depending on diet, age, genetics, and so on.
Human metabolism is incredibly sophisticated and flexible, and the attempt to broadly generalize the impact of diet is bound to fail; it would be like trying to explain day-to-day weather patterns by studying the sun. A conclusion that can be drawn from the book is that further dietary studies are highly unlikely to be conclusive, and future research on weight control should be focused on understanding the metabolic process. The dietary factors that Mr. Taubes deemphasizes, such as total caloric input and physical activity, can't be dismissed without quantitative data showing their effect is indeed negligible. Anecdotal evidence about 3000 calories per day high fat diets is not sufficient, because individuals undoubtedly can be found that consume a 3000 calories per day high carbohydrate diet without gaining weight. Also, if carbohydrates are turned (in part) to fat, and the body does not discriminate between dietary fat and synthesized fat, metabolizing fat means metabolizing carbohydrates.
The Mr. Taubes identifies "refined" carbohydrates (e.g., white flour and sucrose) as particularly harmful. However, he does not actually cite any physical evidence to support this characterization; it appears instead to be based on reported disease rates in primitive populations that get access to modern, western diets. For example, insulin levels are a key aspect of the "carbohydrate hypothesis", but the glycemic index values, which reflect the ability of a food to stimulate insulin secretion, for refined white and whole wheat flours are nearly the same, indicating that "refinement" by itself is not a problem. Also, the reliability of epidemiological data obtained from primitive populations is not discussed, but is probably suspect due to a lack of historical medical records. Mr Taube's arguments in this respect are have no better foundation than those of Keys.
Overall, 3 stars for the dietary argument, 4 stars for its exploration of science-based policy.
- A Life-Changing Experience of Einsteinian weight but on a personal level
There are books that inform. There are books that educate. There are books that prescribe. Some books inspire. This is one of those.
In the accumulation of wisdom the most useful tool is an overarching explanation of a serious matter whether it is Warren Buffet explaining the core principles of successful investing or Albert Einstein giving us the key to understanding the universe.
Mr. Taubes has drawn together many threads of knowledge of human metabolism into a coherent explanation of how modern diet impacts us. I have, so far, bought three copies for relatives and friends.
By necessity, in order to influence the bastions of conventional wisdom, it is academic in tone and dry in its delivery. But those that read it with an open mind will gain immeasurably from the experience.
And the four star rating? A bit more editing could have made the information more easily digestible.
- Best Diet / Health Book Ever!
This is without a doubt the best book I've ever read on the subject of diet and health. It should be read by everyone concerned about his or her health. ...more info
- Most life-changing book I've ever read
From the anecdotal evidence of one (myself) I've long believed that low carb diets were the way to go, after discovering the original Protein Power book by the Drs. Eades in 1997 and losing 80 pounds on it over the next 14 months. I loved the PP book as it did present actual science, rather than the more overhyped sales pitch of Atkins. I felt better on it, and all my blood lipids and other health indicators improved too. But all the overwhelming "conventional dietary wisdom" blasting me from all sides eventually eroded my confidence in the low carb plan and after maintaining my weight loss for 2 1/2 years I fell back to the dark side, and ended up regaining all the weight I had lost plus the proverbial "and then some".
In the intervening few years I've made half-hearted attempts to go back to low carb, but it took Taubes to finally give me the kick in the seat of the pants I needed to make a whole-hearted commitment. I bought this book, without having heard anything about the controversy surrounding it, because it popped up on one of my amazon "recommended" lists. Little did I know it would change my world forever!
As others have said this is a dense and challenging read. It's not for everyone, but it was absolutely for me. The closet nerd in me loves being absolutely overwhelmed with relentless facts and figures. To those who say there was too much of that in this book I can only say, "Bring on more!" and despite the book's size I could happily have read one twice as long.
Other reviewers have given wonderful reviews of the actual facts presented by Taubes. I won't repeat them all, and can't give details anyway as I have lent the book to my son. The basic premise, as mentioned many times, is that the "low fat" dogma proposed as the healthiest way of eating for many years now, is predicated on totally flawed and biased data pushed hard by a strong-willed personality, and that it is sugars and refined carbs that are the more likely villains in the onward march of the "diseases of civilization".
Once again I can return to low carb eating without having to feel I need to be defensive about it to all and sundry, though *most* folks still take me to task for eating this way. How I wish they could all read this book. But because of Taubes I am now back on a journey to good health. I still have 45 pounds to go just to get back the low I had reached in 1998, but now I have the conviction that I have the tools and the absolute knowledge, both intellectual knowledge as well as mere "gut" knowledge, to get there and surpass there, and *continue* to eat this way life-long.
As a last point, as others have said, this is *not* a diet. If it convinces you to go low carb there are other books that will tell you how to actually go about it. My personal recommendation is the "Protein Power Lifestyle Plan" by the Drs. Eades - possibly because their own stress on the science of why low carb works appeals also to my inner nerd.
And as for preparing my food, the second most life-changing book I have read is "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon - the best cookbook ever. I don't agree with Fallon on many points - far too much sugar and white flour allowed in various recipes, and I don't feel that chocolate (dark bittersweet), caffeine or wine are inherently evil. But she made me look at *all* food with a new eye. These days I'm preparing everything from scratch. I can't even buy bottled salad dressing and condiments anymore after reading the labels.
So go out now and read Taubes for the WHY, then read Eades and Fallon for the HOW. ...more info
- A healthy helping of good nutritional advice
Have you ever wondered what drives the health industry in touting what is correct to eat for a good healthy lifestyle? Have you ever wondered why common knowledge tells us that fat is bad, carbohydrates are good, and that to have a healthy weight you should eat less and exercise more? In Good Calories, Bad Calories, author Gary Taubes tried to give answers to these questions, as well as showing how this advice may not be right.
The book is divided into three parts:
--Part one, The Fat-Cholesterol Hypothesis, looks at the effects of reducing fat, as well as the role the rise of awareness of cholesterol and heart disease has played on diet in the last few decades.
--Part Two, The Carbohydrate Hypotheses, shows readers how the Western diet slowly moved from one with more meat and fat in the late nineteenth century to one with more of an emphasis on breads and other carbohydrates. In this section, the author discusses the rise of refined carbohydrate use in meals, and how those are causing problems with both a rise in diabetes and obesity.
--Part Three: Obesity and the Regulation of Weight, talks about hunger, different diets, and how they work or don't with a person's metabolism to help them lose weight or to hinder weight loss.
As a layperson, I had a hard time with this book because author Gary Taubes gives his readers a lot of (sometimes it felt like too much) information on food, on nutrition, on different health concerns such as heart disease, diabetes, and the rise in obesity. His background as a science writer shows with the completeness of the information given. I did find that the information given aimed at a lower glycemic diet with its higher protein and less refined carbohydrates very interesting, as well as the fact that diets promoting such eating habits were not new in the sixties when Dr. Atkins first started promoting his diet.
I believe this would be an excellent book for anyone interested in finding out more about the various diet trends and advice given through the past decades.
Armchair Interviews agrees....more info
- A must-read for anyone interested in their health and longevity.
Finally a clear, well-documented account of this nation's delusion about
fat and carbohydrates that has made us the obese, disease ridden country
that we have become. Because of the erroneous obsession of Ancel Keys and
his supporters we have been lied to by the entire medical profession and
have sacrificed the health of a whole generation. How easily we are duped
when the results of so many studies are selectively distorted and
dissenting opinion is squelched. This is the same technique the neocons
used to get us into the Iraq war.
Fat is good for you and especially saturated fat. Cholesterol below 200
results in cancer and hemorrhagic stroke. READ THIS BOOK....more info
- I KNOW GARY TAUBES IS RIGHT
I am the author of a new book entitled GENOCIDE;HOW YOUR DOCTOR'S DIETARY IGNORANCE WILL KILL YOU. I am a family physician with over ten years experience introducing a low carbohydrate, more fat, more cholesterol, more protein diet into my patient's lives. Through this dietary approach I have cured type 2 diabetics, treated people with high blood pressure with little or no need for meds, seen tons of weight lost and the list goes on and on. I have also read Taubes' book and I know Taubes' is correct.
Unfortunately most physicians will never read this book and if they do they will dismiss it as an opinion, not based in fact. This book examines actual dietary clinical trials and reveals the contradictory results of those trials. For some reason, the scientific method is not followed in dietary clinical trials. The scientific method should be: I have an idea (theory, supposition, opinion, hypothesis whatever you want to call it), I perform an experiment to either prove or disprove my idea; if I prove my theory-great-look how smart I am. But if the results do not prove my idea, I am supposed to re-evaluate my initial idea, not call the experiment flawed or the results inconclusive.
The reason the dietary clinical trials appear contradictory is because the researchers in these trials start off with a conclusion--not an idea-- perform an experiment, and when the results of the experiment do not support what the researchers already 'think' they know; they now call the experimental design flawed or the results inconclusive, which is generally not the case.
I have literally treated thousands upon thousands of my patients with low carb diets over the last decade. I love when the labs come back with higher HDLs, lower triglycerides and normal blood sugars. I love teasing my patients and ask if they are eating more fat and cholesterol. When they say yes, I ask them "Well, if you are eating more fat and cholesterol, then why did your fat level drop and why did your HDL rise, and why did you lose weight?" I always get a smile back, because my patients know what I am getting at. And what I'm getting at is the fact--and I mean FACT, that low cholesterol, low fat diets DO NOT WORK to any degree to help people stay off or reduce their medications.
This book should be required reading in all medical and undergraduate colleges. If physicians actually understood the correct way to tell their patients to eat--many disease processes would become extinct--instead of the human race.
Allow me to end my post with the three biggest dietary myths in America;
MYTH # 1
Eating fat makes us fat. FALSE. The truth is that eating fat does not make us fat, unless we're eating too many carbohydrates along with that fat.
Eating cholesterol containing foods causes heart disease. FALSE. There has never been any study which has shown, convincingly, that eating cholesterol containing foods causes heart disease; and we can thank Mr. Taubes awesome book on underscoring this fact.
Probably the biggest dietary myth out there is that the calorie actually means something in human nutrition. FALSE. The calorie means nothing in human nutrition.
Genocide: How Your Doctor's Dietary Ignorance Will Kill You!!!!...more info
- Both the big picture and the little details
A book this detailed and controversial is difficult to review without writing another book in the process. Since many reviews have already covered much of the content and conclusions, I'll try to say things that aren't already in the list of 156 reviews so far (that I recall). (...which is not easy.)
This book is a review of science. That the science happens to be about nutrition is primary only if that is your actual interest. People interested in the nature of science and its process, politics and pitfalls, should find this fascinating even if they never gave a thought to why fat seems so much easier to gain than to lose (particularly in the larger amounts), or to why the "diseases of civilization" (diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer, schizophrenia, cancer, etc.) are skyrocketing.
There are several critically important topics in nutrition and related areas that could have been added to this, but I suspect a 2000 page book would have been difficult to sell. It's obvious he had to choose a focus and a linear path through a gigantic topic.
As part of the fact that it is a science review and not a novel or diet book, there are a few important considerations.
1. It is a review of science; it is not science itself except in the form of intelligent inquiry and review; it is not "research". Taubes is not a formal researcher, though he is science-trained and specializes in investigating and writing about science. In short, this is OLD research, not NEW research: it's just that it's research many people probably either don't know about or learned about rather differently.
2. Aside from a small 'final conclusions' bit, there isn't really anything to argue about in terms of 'disagreeing with Taubes' in this; rather, people would have to argue with the actual research reviewed. Readers could complain about what is included or excluded ('too much' some say, 'not enough' say others), that's about it. Even if one disagrees with Taubes's overview-conclusions, the degree of careful detail combined with the linear-layout and the courage to present a truly alternative view on highly politicized issues (some of his ideas left me stunned, they were so new to me!), is worthy of respect.
3. This book is just slightly like a nutritional version of 'Forbidden Science' (about Archeology), and I translate the point of it rather like this: "For those formally educated, here's the stuff you probably didn't learn, or didn't learn in this way for sure, and of what you did learn, here's a new look at some of the assumed cornerstones of belief-system edifices. And for those not formally educated, here's a trail through history and science to start with: here's what's accepted then and now, and here's an alternative path to consider." What readers want to do with all that is entirely up to them. The most important thing is getting the information into the larger world to be at least considered and brought to light finally or differently in some cases; what part of all this turns out to be right, or wrong, or misunderstood, or differently understood, in the end is less the issue here than just finally beginning some kind of dialogue on these important points.
4. I doubt the Final Answer[tm] of nutrition is yet at hand, and so I'm sure there must be plenty of areas to further explore and in the end, it might not all agree with the general framework Taubes ended up with (or, it might--I don't know). It's a review of so many different studies and related areas, that it is highly unlikely any single work could be perfect or perfectly complete on all that -- it would have to be 10x its length, at least, and be written from a century in the future. The important thing is that the book became available at all, because it is the first thing courageous enough to "question authority" to this degree, detailed enough to provide a jumping-off point for legitimate medical people to re-evaluate some old ideas on their own, and yet readable enough to provide an entry gateway to at least a small portion of the layman public.
5. This is an educational book, but it is not entry-level except for very good readers with some understanding of basic science. This is no dumbed-down textbook; this actually requires some decent cognitive skills. I found it fascinating, but although I can read about 800 pages in a day if I have all the daylight hours, it took me a full week to wade through it in long evenings after work. (This might have gone faster, did I not have to keep stopping to rant and rave to a friend about things in the content!) If you are not a strong reader, I do not recommend it unless you have a year to work on it.
6. The book is very dense in information, and this is its strong point and its purpose. That means if you're not into the topics of science or nutrition etc., it's either going to put you to sleep or fry your brain. I loved it: the world has more than enough simple diet books for laymen. What we really needed was a book that combined science detail with readability, and science history with the commercial present, for an understanding of how we got to where we are, and what that means to science, to nutrition, to health, and to our future, both as individuals and as a species.
7. On the problem side, the publisher's presentation makes this seem like a "diet book". This is not a paint-by-number eating plan. If you want a book about what to eat and when and how to count it, there are many, but this isn't one of those. It's also not a "pleasant afternoon reading," unless you're a fairly serious intellectual. That is sure to disappoint many who are unlikely to be willing to get through it. (Some people are simply better with other forms of learning than dense text, and this really IS "dense text".) It is a good thing this book is not exactly for the masses, though, since I think if we could take all this information and distill it into sound-bytes that the public would easily understand, there might be lynch mobs arriving at some health agency doorways.
I feel that nobody in the field of medicine could write this book: they'd be ruined for the degree of questioning the party line/ status quo, and if they were researchers they wouldn't get funding from any of the all-pervasive sources (generally, the food industries killing us and the pharmaceutical industries not-curing but eternally-treating us), and the problem is, a person educated in that system is highly unlikely to break out of the mold to find this road to begin with, unless they are really exceptionally independent thinkers. Gary's position as a science writer, and the years he put into studying this, combined with him having no major vested interests in the conclusions (such as some of the more consumer-book authors of lowcarb diet plans), is the perfect combination. It's too 'heavy' to ever make him much money I bet (too small an audience), nowhere near worth the hours and years he put into it, but I hope that he doesn't regret the work, because I'm sure many people are genuinely grateful for the book -- I am.
I'm from a family of huge women. Women who basically diet constantly for 20, 30, 40 years and they're still fat. I was fairly athletic until my mid-20s, when two years of a very intense, work+school+commute, sleep deprived, high stress, not eating daily except mega-carbs right before sleep, resulted in a massive rapid weight gain. Later when traditional dieting didn't work at all for me, I simply gave up, not willing to be neurotic daily about something my family made seem unsolvable. (OK, I nearly shot myself over it in all honesty, but once I got over myself, I moved on.)
About 15 years later (now huge), I was hospitalized for untreated asthma infections. While there I had a heart-rate reaction to days of steroids plus pain and a situation, and that got me assigned a cardiologist (though I had no heart condition). When I got out of the hospital and visited him, he wrote me a prescription to the Protein Power Life Plan book by the Drs. Eades.
Helluva drug: I've kept off over 125lbs for 18 months now, and medical symptoms (acid reflux, complexion problems, severe asthma, allergies, unexplained rashes, chronic exhaustion, brain-fog, bloating, etc.) all vanished within weeks of making an effort to ditch most carbs and increase protein and fat and add some supplements (no exercise involved).
In fairness, this can't all be attributed to lowcarb, because getting off gluten (solely by accident to begin) is a good chunk of the symptom resolution. I am exercising more now that I can finally move enough to do some of it. (I can mow my lawn, weed it, rake it, shovel soil for the garden. As of September 18 2006 when I went on lowcarb, I couldn't even stand for 60 seconds without screaming back pain, couldn't walk around a store. The changes in my life are radical.)
But my respect for Taubes's book is not because of my experience; rather, it's because he finally gave me a way to help my brain's intellectual understanding connect with my body's experiential reality. I really needed to understand some of this which seemed very confusing as it contradicted all the tenets of "pop science". I am no expert on anything, and I was cynical about "lowcarb" at first, but the results have been good enough to change my life, and my future, and make me seriously interested in the subject. I may never be thin, but at least I've learned enough to head off destruction.
Reading about why poor science, social good-ol-boys and political peer pressure has resulted in the train wreck of modern nutrition/healthcare, realizing that nearly 20 years of my life were basically trashed as a result of believing the government's advice, made me a little homicidal for awhile, but I recovered. Now, I'd just like to see some decent, intelligent dialogue and research happening thanks to this guy's gutsy exploration and road map to another view. I'm guessing not too much will happen and he'll have to get old and die before the larger world recognizes just how important this book is (was) at this time.
If you are interested in these subjects and you read very well, this book is the boss. No matter what you believe or don't about nutrition, this book is worth a read.
- Very dry and tedious read
I was so looking forward to this book, but when I started reading it, I couldn't pay attention. It's a very dry and scientific read. Way Way too much info. I wish he had focused more on the facts than a bunch of flowery scientific mumbo jumbo. Despite all the rave reviews, I would not recommend this book. ...more info
- Good Calories Bad Calories an eye opener
I found the information in this book more than complete and for someone in the fitness industry a wonderful resource.
Well Done Dr. Taubes!...more info
- Not a Diet Book, But Points The Way
I bought this book last January and read it twice. I'd read The Omnivore's Dilemma the year
before and together, these two amazing books created a paradigm shift in my thinking. It's
now seven months later. I've lost 41 pounds and am still loosing every week. I didn't need a
diet, just common sense. I'm a woman who has been obese most of her life and tried every
diet out there. After reading this book, I said to myself, I'll try it. It was my last resort. I decided
that if this didn't work, I just be fat. I refused to starve myself anymore on all the diets out there.
I'm 58 . Here's are the results after seven months. Eating this way I'm never voraciously hungry.
I don't think about food all the time. And miracle of miracles, I can actually tell when I'm full.
I haven't exercised once. I'm still just over two hundred pounds, but am beginning to feel like I have
the ability to exercise, which I didn't before. I went to my doctor after eating this way -- few carbs,
lots of meat, fish, poultry, butter, cream, good fats, salads, some fruits (mostly berries) and vegetables -- and my cholesterol had dropped almost into the normal range. (290 to 210.) My triglicerides which
were off the scale had dropped to normal. My doctor was thrilled and told me to go home and keep eating low fat, high carb. She doesn't get it and I didn't bother explaining it to her. But, next time I go -- in November -- I'll bring her this book and give it to her. I would think my experience would go a long way toward getting her to read it. Finally, I've found something that makes sense to my life. I couldn't have
done it without Pollan's and Taube's wonderful research. ...more info
- Food Bible
The reading is a bit dry, but the information is invaluable! Everyone should have a copy on their coffee tables, this is a must have. Exceptionally revealing and informative. Gary covers everything from old studies that were brushed aside or covered up, to our modern obesity epidemic and how it all happened....more info
- This I know to be True
I have been in the fitness industry for over 20 years and what Taubes says I have found to be true time and time again. Each person I have wrote a diet for and or personal trained is and has been overweight and or over fat due to starch. I have never met a carnivor, green vejetable eater who is fat or unhealthy. I myself did the anabolic (simular to the adkins) diet 12 years ago and was in the best shape of my life and did little cardio. Years earlier I did a "fat free" diet and did excess cardio and lost a lot of muscle. This book is spot on. All my clients who are diabetic or pre-diabetic ALL have one thing in common. Love of starch. I wanted to write a book 13 years ago on this and was too lazy to do the research. Anyone who says anything negative about this book has little if any experience in the industry and or has never done the Adkin's diet. Most people think the Adkins is bacon and eggs and cheese. It is not. It is full of vejetables and low glycemic carbs, fish and all the foods that feed one's lean body NOT one's fat body. I am telling you, his book is spot on. Everything he says I have found to be true in all my experience in 20 years of helping people loose fat. ...more info
It is unfortunate that Taubes limits his viewpoint to out-dated research and focuses narrowly on a few food items, such as processed sugar and white rice, as the source of obesity and related health problems. This view is as narrow and incomplete as the research he derides. Taubes is correct in suggesting that there are powerful political forces at work in connection with research. Take for instance the United Dairymen and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association - both spend millions of dollars lobbying researchers so that we may continue to believe the completely false notion that cow's milk (which contains casein - a protein linked to various diseases, yes, including some forms of cancer) is healthy for us. Likewise, we have been taught that we need to eat meat for our protein, when the reality is that a diet rich in meat and dairy provides too much protein and is linked to osteporosis and digestive disease. I recommend reading The China Study to get the rest of the story. Taubes certainly doesn't tell it here which I'm sure big businesses, like those I've mentioned above, very much appreciate....more info
- Loses me with with his "facts"
This book lost me in serveral areas. In the beginning, Taubes talks about cholesterol and sites examples where having a high cholesterol did not evolve into heart disease. What he misses here is that he only looked at total cholesterol in the beginning of his book. Anyone who knows anything about nutrition knows that it is ratios that count, not totals.
Secondly, he loses me when he says that fibre does not help with weight as he recounts studies that show that. What he doesn't tell you about the studies is that the fibre was not increased that much. When you compare the fibre increase in studies to what we should really be eating for fibre it is a nothing increase and therefore, of course would show no benefit.
After reading it and finding his errors, I don't believe anything he says. I would like a real doctor to talk to me...hello Dr. Ornish...more info
- Very informative
Unbelievably rich with convincing information about the evils of carbohydrates. It is a bit think with scientific jargon but learning it is quick. As a self-proclaimed "foodie," I found some of the information about carbs depressing but I'm so glad I read this while I'm still young and can make adjustments to my diet. ...more info
- Question the Underlying Assumptions
We all believe that we are adept at thinking critically, but how often do we really question our underlying assumptions? I heard Gary Taubes interviewed on NPR and thought that although he made several good points, he was basically an "Atkins Diet wacko." I started this book believing that I would quickly spot the obvious holes in his logic. After reading about 50 pages I realized that I agreed with virtually everything he had written. I searched the web to see if anyone had done a reasoned rebuttal. Everything I found fell into one of two categories: condescending--"I'm sure he means well, but he is just plain wrong"--with no documentation or evidence to back up their assertions; OR vitriolic--anger spewing, personal attacks that, once again, didn't offer any evidence that Gary Taubes was wrong.
Scientific history is replete with examples of the conventional wisdom being just plain wrong. Is it so astonishing that we could go so far astray for 60 years? After reading this book I believe that is the case.
Some people have complained that it was difficult to wade through all the information on the diet studies. I agree that it was densely packed with information and slow going in parts. I also understand why the author had to provide the level of documentation that he did: I, for one, wouldn't have accepted that my beloved COMPLEX carbohydrate grains could be a problem without all of the detail provided.
This is not a diet book, but it can point to a different definition of what constitutes a healthy diet. As Gary Taubes points out, the research still needs to be done....more info
- Good Calories.. Bad Calories
This book is an outstanding review of how we have come to believe low fat must be the sine qua non of a healthy diet. Taubes shows that the clinical evidence for this is non-existant and, in fact, the clinical evidence shows that the diet generally considered healthy, that is, a low fat, high carbohydrate diet rich in processed wheat and other processed foods is responsible for many deseases of present-day life, including diabetes and cardiovascular deseases and possibly cancer.
Taubes gleaned this information by carefully reviewing the tests that have been carried out and especially reviewing the conclusions drawn from them. In those cases where the evidence did not support the conventional wisdom (i.e. that fat is bad.) the tests were simply ignored. For instance, there was one important study involving some ninty thousand nurses. In this study the nurses were given check-ups periodically and any deseases or deaths were noted. They were also asked to keep track of their diets but not to modify them. It was expected that those that ate a fattier diet would have more breast cancers but the results showed that those who ate more fat had fewer breast cancers. This DATA was dismissed since it did not fit the preconcieved theory which said that fat should cause more cancers.
The book is full of such examples. I think it should be mandatory reading for every physician, especially cardiologists.
John R. Sellars, Ph.D. ...more info
- Challanging Conventional Wisdom; 'What's a healthy diet?'
The author states the strong possebility that much of what we've become to believe is wrong about a healthy diet. Much of the conventional wisdom cannot be scientifically/empirically proved. For example, obesity is not necessarily caused by eating too much or that exercise is a means of preventing obesity. Traub is a true empirist. He challanges almost every hypothesis on 'what is a healthy diet?' with the best chapter being 'THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY'; the nonsese of 'a calorie is a calorie' and that the laws of thermodynamics is founded in the misinterpretation of the thermodynamic law, and not the law itself.
ENERGY BALANCE = CALORIE IN - CALORIE OUT; we simply do not understand cause and effect of the energy balance (left/right side of the equation) and the three variables in the energy balance equation - energy storage, energy intake, and energy expenditure.
The book is not written for the casual 'healthy diet' reader. Reading about the countless research outcomes in the history of diet research made my head spin. Taub researched in detail about scientist analyses on diets, hunger, sugar, fiber, insulin, cholestrin etc some hundreds years back in findings. While reading the book I was longing for the Epilogue getting some 'clear' answers ... I was disappointed by the lack of results. This is certainly not Taub's fault. I concluded that we simply got no idea about what exactly constitutes a 'healthy diet' - maybe this lesson alone was worth reading the book....more info
- Paradigm Shift
Reading this remarkable book has caused a paradigm shift in the way that I look at diet and health. This book is dense to read, but at the same time it doesn't tell you what to believe, but rather what all of the evidence is that lead the author to present his case.
In the first part of the book I was shocked and angered. Sometimes I had to put it down because I was so disappointed in the behavior of various researchers and government entities as portrayed in the book. I feel that the book was slanted in its writing style, but not in an overhanded way. It is hard not to be slanted when the main characters of the books seem to have such obvious flaws when it comes to objectivity.
The book settles in, however, in the second part, as the author navigates not only what is postulated about human diet, nutrition, and especially metabolism, but what scientific experiments led us to these theories.
In doing so, he also presents a case. That high-carb diets are bad for many people. That refined grains and especially sugar are the causes of many diseases that we have blamed on fat, and that there is no real evidence out there implicating fat as bad for you. And finally, that the obese are not really to blame for their condition, at least from the standpoint of having some sort of personality flaw that causes them to eat too much.
Why is this? Taubes presents a very compelling case that it is not how much you eat that affects how fat you are, but rather what you eat. Someone isn't fat because they are gluttonous and lazy; they are fat because they are eating the wrong types of food for their genotype. Moreover, if they try to go on a low calorie diet, they will most certainly fail, but if instead they permanently reduce the number of carbs in their diet and remove sugars and refined grains completely, they will almost certainly loose weight.
Until I see a thorough rebuttal of this book, I will begin implementing its ideas into my life. I feel like I have been slowly poisoning myself with sugar, a substance that after reading this book seems just as deadly as cigarettes. Where is the "the surgeon general has warned that sugar consumption can be bad for your health" sticker on candy bars and ice cream bins? When it comes to diet and the science of human health, our leaders have failed us....more info
- Great Book
Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage)This book is amazing. Applies critical thinking and the scientific process to shatter myths about food. Certainly has changed the way I look at my food choices. I recommend this read for anyone interested in eating healthy based on scientific fact rather than myths, hype, and misleading marketing....more info
- great book!
My son, a phys ed major and personal trainer, took this book back to school with him, leaving my 82-yr-old father, a retired chiropractor and nutrition expert, heartbroken. So I bought it for my father's birthday, and he says it's one of the best he's ever read....more info
- Good Calories, Bad Calories and Cereal Killer
This review offers a comparison of Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom of Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, and Alan Watson's Cereal Killer: The Unintended Consequences of the Low Fat Diet. The primary thesis of both books is that the established health advice of the last few decades--avoid fats in favor of carbohydrates--is wrong. Both cite ample evidence that we should depend on diets that are relatively higher in fats, and relatively lower in carbohydrates, especially the highly refined carbohydrates including sugars. Both single out a particular sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, for special avoidance. Both question the value of today's preoccupation with cholesterol. Both authors have spent years researching the topic, and while their positions are congruent, there are a number of interesting differences.
Gary Taubes, in Good Calories, Bad Calories, traces the historical development of the recommended low fat diet and the carbohydrate-heavy food pyramid. Rather than lambasting the process by which our nutrition advice went so awry, he dispassionately traces, in incredible depth, the medical studies, people, organizations, and events that led to this situation. In so doing, he built credibility with me. Considering the well-documented sequence of events and influences, it became convincing that the organizations we respect for guidance actually got it quite wrong. However, I found the convoluted and voluminous detail to be excruciating; the book goes 453 pages before it provides us with Taubes' well-reasoned conclusions. But, it was certainly worth the effort to read, and it provided me with new information. For example, a) weight gain or loss is not determined primarily by total calorie intake vs. calorie expenditure, or b) while the glycemic index is widely respected as an indicator of the metabolic impact of carbohydrates, fructose does not register on that scale.
I think of Alan Watson's very inviting and easy-to-read 144-page Cereal Killer as a handbook. Both authors address a gamut of health issues, but Watson centers on cardiovascular health while Taubes spends more time on weight gain and obesity. Watson's style is brief and to the point. His succinct review of fats, a complex subject, seems exceptionally understandable. Bulleted lists are presented in place of paragraphs of prose. Each chapter ends with a friendly "More to Explore..." section that provides helpful suggestions for further reading. A sprinkling of photos--of the Watson family, cows, and such--give it a pleasant and homespun quality. Cereal Killer goes beyond the narrow focus on carbohydrates vs. fats, to other related topics, such as grass-fed beef, and lard, but it left me wondering whether these topics were as well-supported by clinical studies as the fundamental carbohydrate vs. fat issue. Throughout, this book is a model of clarity and conciseness while presenting valuable information about which the author is passionate.
One of Gary Taubes' excellent New York Times articles was titled: "Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?" I have to conclude that we may not, and that these books provide important challenges to the conventional health wisdom that can help bring us closer to that knowledge. I highly recommend reading both and keeping them within easy reach on your bookshelf.
- Meticulously thorough and highly insightful
Anything I could possibly say about this book has probably already been said, so I will keep it simple: this book is amazingly thorough and detailed in its analysis of the past 150 years of obesity research. If you take the time to actually read the book, every chapter, especially the last four chapters, you will find the book highly insightful.
This book has also given me a jumping-off point for reading countless other books and articles on the subject, such as William Banting's Letter on Corpulence, A. W. Pennington's journal articles, Herman Taller's Calories Don't Count, or Atkins's New Diet Revolution.
My experience has mirrored the claims in the book. Over the last three months, I have lost 20+ pounds very easily, all with no exercise and no feeling of hunger, just by eating more meat, cheese, nuts, and less breads, pasta, sweets. The whole time, my only exercise was reading (this book, and a few others). I should also note that my full time work requires little or no labor....more info
- Right on the mark
Gary Taubes's research matches what my body has told me. I tried the Rotation Diet back in the '80s and was successful. I didn't mind being on the 600/900 60% protein/fat portion, but absolutely hated the 1200 portion (low-fat ratio), because I was always hungry on it. I've tried the Protein Power diet and liked it, but had problems with arachidonic acid and could never really balance out the carbs effectively. After reading Good Calories, Bad Calories, I'm giving the low-card diet another go with the knowledge I gained from Potatoes Not Prozac about controlling serotonin levels. My thanks to Gary Taubes for explaining why my body has reacted the way it has. The book is very thorough and absolutely informative.
A small note about his comments on cancer. A few years ago, a NIH researcher mentioned that Marin County, California had one of the highest cancer rates in the county. I asked about pesticides. She said that the workers, who actually worked in the areas being sprayed, did not have the high cancer rate; it was the wealthy homeowners and so far they didn't have an actual cause. I suspect that Gary Taubes has found it with the low-fat diet increasing insulin in the blood and revving up the cancer cells.
Enjoy and do buy the book, your life will never be the same....more info
- remarkable results in men, not so much for the ladies
Read the whole book, loved it. Not overweight myself or high cholesterol, but I am interested in the food I eat. The nation is getting heavier becasue of the quality and quantity of the food we eat. Refined white flour and sugar have to be bad for you, his research seems right on. High Fructose Corn Syrup is a big factor in type 2 diabetes, don't you agree? I recommended cutting out carbs to 3 friends- all male, slightly heavy and their weight dropped and cholesterol went from the 220's to the 180's. Great amateur-science results. For the women, recommended it to 2 women and weight didn't change at all over the same time period of 2-4 weeks. I wonder what the difference is. ...more info
- Great in depth journalism on nutritional politics
This book is not a health/nutritional book per se, but more like journalistic muckracking. If you are looking for dietary advice, this is not exactly the right book because you have to wade through a lot of historical and sociological material to find the nutritional gems of indirect advice.
The title is a bit misleading. Due to its in-depth journalistic investigative nature, I would title this "The Politics of Nutritional Advice." Taubes goes into great detail, leaving no nutritional stone unturned, as he covers the history of the anti-fat crusade and dispels the myths of dietary cholesterol causing blood cholesterol.
At the end of this book you will realize that obesity is not due to excess caloric intake and/nor a deficiency in exercise. Carbs are much more to blame because they (unlike fat) affect insulin release, the main hormone involved in fat storage. Gaining weight (or not) has much more to do with a symphony of hormones than calories.
You will also learn that there is a great deal of politics involved in determining which nutritional theories get funded (as is the case with just about any science). As he states on p. 51-52: "Scientists were believed to be free of conflicts if their only source of funding was a federal agency, but all nutritionists knew that if their research failed to support the government position on a particular subject, the funding would go instead to someone who did."
Taubes didn't go into the benefits of the Omega 3s, which are proven to be highly beneficial in weight reduction. While he uses the example of the traditional Eskimos as being cancer-free, he overlooked the causes: 1) They were 100% raw fooders and 2) they ate a great deal of omega 3 fatty acids (which fish are high in).
- Good Calorie Bad Calorie by Gary Taubes
I am an R.N. with a passion for nutrition and found this book to be in accord with my thoughts and personal findings when dealing with nutrition. It will make you question the ethics of our medical community and government. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand in great detail the workings of the body and the impacts of refined flours, sugars and high glucose foods. Reclaim your health!!!...more info
- Scientific "Truth" Is Messy
What I found most fascinating in this very thick and technical book was how the personalities wielding the "science" made the difference in where we, as a nation, ended-up today. It was almost "riveting" to read about how one scientist could get a huge audience with a weak theory and no evidence, while another scientist with a decent theory and plenty of evidence couldn't get anyone of any prominence to even comment. It made me wonder about a lot of what we take for scientific "truth" today. Hanging on to your pet theory to reduce cognitive dissonance is, I'm sure, as popular today in all science as it was shown by Taubes to be in the last hundred plus years of nutrition science.
What I thought about, but wasn't mentioned in the book, was that carbs have a long shelf life, good for an era when the Soviets were pointing nukes at us (and we were convinced that they might just push the button). Another thought that occurred to me that helped explain the cascade of ideas toward the "low fat" chasm is that lots of people, not just vegetarians, think it's sort of gross to eat animals. So not only did we have supposed "scientists" with their pet theories, we also had a lot of people that "wanted to believe" because it made them feel safer or less like a beast. We are where we are. We can only hope that more people accept the research Taubes presented, and act accordingly.
- Important Book, But Not the Whole Story
As is noted in other reviews, this is not a diet book. Rather, it is a review of the science and history behind high-carb vs. low-carb diets. Taubes' book is an important contribution to this literature, but it is not without its flaws.
Taubes makes a compelling case for why high-carb diets high in sugar, bread, rice, etc. may have contributed to a host of diseases of civilization (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.) and progressively worsening national obesity rates. He explains how high-carb diets heighten insulin, which may be the real driver of weight gain. This is familiar territory that is well covered in other books, but Taubes makes a decent contribution.
But Taubes over-reaches in several areas. First, while Taubes makes the usual case that insulin is a major contributor to both hunger and increased body fat, and that elevated insulin blocks fat loss, he overstates the importance of carbohydrates as the sole contributor to insulin production. First, while Taubes notes the existence of anticipatory insulin secretion, even before anything is eaten (called the cephalic response), he fails to note that this insulin secretion will drive fat storage regardless of the macro nutrients that are actually eaten. Insulin is also triggered by smelling or even thinking about food, the latter of which is probably the reason I often get hungry when reading diet books (grin).
Moreover, while carbohydrates elevate insulin more than the other macronutrients, they are far from the sole contributor. Protein, an important component of any low-carb diet, generates about 60% of the insulin production of carbs on a gram for gram basis. Most meat, which has little or no carbohydrate content, nevertheless generates a very significant insulin response. While protein also spurs an increase in glucagon (normally thought of as a fat-reducing hormone), in this case glucagon is merely helping to break the protein down into glucose, which is necessary before insulin can do its thing. For more about insulin production, Google "Insulin Index" to see the true insulin production associated with different types of food.
These analyses show that just about every food heightens insulin, and the differences between foods are not quite as large as most low-carb practitioners would expect. To truly reduce insulin production, you must do more than just change the macro-nutrient balance, you must also reduce the amount of food consumed. In other words, you not only need to reduce carbohydrates, you must also control calories.
This leads us to Taubes' second over-reach, the claim that calories don't matter. Taubes does a good job outlining the poor track record of low-fat, calorie-controlled diets and also why they fail, namely that elevated insulin levels on these diets are blocking fat loss and, in fact, contributing to fat storage. A lot of bodily wreckage occurs as a result of the battle between heightened insulin and calorie constriction, including a drop in metabolism, obsession with food, depression, and loss of sexual appetite, to name a few, all of which suggest we are doing something wrong. Not surprisingly, insulin usually wins these battles in the end.
But the failure of calorie control on a low-fat, high carb diet does not mean that it will also necessarily fail on a low-carb diet. Once the barrier of heightened insulin is removed, calorie restriction may once again become a viable option. Taubes himself illustrates this when he cites the success of studies that restricted both carbohydrates and calories simultaneously (such as Ohlson's). Taubes points out that hunger was lessened on low-carb calorie-restricted diets, so the two approaches complement one another, but that does not make calorie restriction irrelevant or unimportant. Even Atkins accepted the need to control calorie intake, though he did not highlight this very clearly.
A similar case can be made for exercise, probably the third over-reach in this book. Taubes makes a point of indicating how little evidence there is that exercise helps with fat loss in the long run. But it is worth noting that the evidence that Taubes cites is all in the context of a high-carb, "balanced" diet. This is a repeat of the error made with calorie control. The failure of exercise on a high-carb diet does not mean that it will also fail once elevated insulin levels are removed during a low-carb diet. But Taubes doesn't explore the impact of exercise in a low-carb environment. He also doesn't differentiate between weight training and aerobic exercise. Weight training in particular seems to also have a number of beneficial hormonal side effects that influence fat loss, especially for men.
The limits of low-carb diets as a stand-alone strategy become more clear when you look at who is experiencing the greatest success on low carb diets, namely those who are the most obese. Stories of people losing 50-100 pounds on Atkins are common enough, but the underlying reality is that those people had 50-100 pounds to lose, and usually much more. What is notable about this group is that overall they often have the worst dietary habits to begin with, so any improvement in their diet is relatively easy to make and will result in dramatic weight loss. This more or less fits the description of the patients that Pennington, Donaldson, and Atkins himself treated with their low carb approach. What is notable, in my observation, is that many of these people achieve major weight loss on their way from obese to merely overweight, but they often plateau well short of their ideal weight if they rely on low-carb diets alone.
In short, it seems that the closer you get to your ideal weight, the more you may need to do. Dietary composition is one tool, and probably the most important, but it probably must also be supplemented by calorie control and exercise to achieve optimal body fat and fitness.
Taubes' book is a very interesting and important contribution to the literature, but it is merely a step along our journey to understanding obesity and health. In fairness to Taubes, he does not argue that he has all the answers, merely that the prevailing wisdom deserves some serious questioning. In this, Taubes is absolutely right. Our knowledge of these matters should be driven by science, not faith-based assumptions, which too often is the case....more info
- The Truth Is Out There!
This book reads like a good detective story or a courtroom drama because the author has done his homework thoroughly. If you have any interest in health issues, you owe it to yourself and your family to read this fascinating report on the current western diet and its consequences.
Taubes spent five years gathering research concerning the effects of food consumption of different populations as well as individual case studies. These give us a totally different picture of what actually happens in our body when we eat the 'healthy diet' that is most frequently being advocated today. Where does he get his information? His bibliography is over 100 pages. He is not espousing an opinion, just the facts from the scientists themselves. The conclusions are so startling that the question begs to be answered, why isn't this information more widely disseminated? The author sheds some light on that, too. He is not merely expressing an opinion, but he tracks down studies done and how the results were then reported. Who said what and why?
This is not written as a motivational book on eating wisely for better health, but because the facts are so blatant, that's exactly what the end result turns out to be. It can be a little tedious sifting through the facts (case and research studies), but the implications are so paradigm shifting that I can't seem to put it down....more info
- A book that changed my life
If you have ever tried to lose weight or just eat healthy, you must read this book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. This book changed my thinking about food, health, nutrition and exercise. I didn't realize how much of what doctors said that I just believed. I didn't realize that what they recommend is based on little proven evidence. Or how much contradictory evidence is just ignored.
This isn't a diet book. It's a book about the history of nutritional advice. Our understanding of food and obesity, how it's come about and how it's changed over the past century. I'll be writing more in future posts but here's what I've definitely taken away:
1. A calorie is not a calorie. A lot of other factors matter like what kind of calorie, what kind of person, metabolism, exercise, external environmental factors, ...
2. Calories in does not always equal calories out. Or we are not measuring all the calories in and out correctly.
3. Dietary fat does not make you fat. Fat is not necessarily better or worse than protein or carbs. It's not necessarily equal either!
4. Many of our current doctors are 100% convinced of what they know and not really willing to consider radical shifts in thinking. Like they continue to recommend eating less calories and exercising to lose weight when it's obviously not working for many people. (Do you really lack the will power?)
I definitely recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories. You can read a good excerpt written by the author, Gary Taubes, on ABC News....more info
- Big Fat Omissions (published in Washington Post)
Big Fat Omissions: Science, logic sorely lacking in pro-Atkins article
By Vance Lehmkuhl
Back in 2002, when The New York Times was still the most respectable American newspaper imaginable, its magazine section ran a piece by Gary Taubes with the headline "What if it's All a Big Fat Lie?" and people around the nation, journalists, scientists, and the everyday public alike, rushed to reconsider their notions of fat and nutrition. In the ensuing year, the Times has seen its credibility torpedoed by twin scandals of bogus reporting, but so far Taubes' 7,700-word pro-Atkins essay - illustrated by a cut of butter-slathered steak - has largely escaped close scrutiny. Indeed, his fat apologia has been picked up by the mainstream press as the operating story, and newstudies, even when inconclusive or negative toward Atkins, are being spun as further proof of the new paradigm.
In "Big Fat Lie," Taubes gleefully trashed decades of nutrition advice from various experts to prove that "Atkins was right all along." Robert Atkins, who died in March of a slip on the ice, was of course the most famous proponent of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, author of the best-selling "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution." The fact that Gary Taubes, an Atkins devotee, was assigned by the Times to write a seemingly objective analysis of the good doctor's theories is just one of many questions raised by "Big Fat Lie."
A close look finds Taubes misquoting, misrepresenting, equivocating and running logical loop-the-loops to persuade us that Atkins had the answer, before finally revealing that he's on the diet himself and doesn't really care whether it shortens his life. Doubtless most readers are unaware of the CNN report in which scientists quoted by Taubes backed away from the concepts attributed to them. And few probably saw the Washington Post article citing all the peer-reviewed scientific studies that directly contradict Taubes' "low-fat diets don't work" mantra.
Even on its face, "Big Fat Lie" isn't what it appears. Taubes, the daring iconoclast, "exposes" the fact that fat can be good for you and that low-carb diets can cause weight loss, then tries to put these together to form an endorsement of the healthfulness of Atkins' program. But wait: Nutritionists never said NO fat was healthy; and it's not whether they cause temporary weight loss that concerns people about Atkins-style diets - it's whether they're harmful to your overall, long-term health. In other words, Taubes' great achievement in 7,700 words is to knock down two obvious "straw man" arguments that no one ever made.
What he fails to prove, though, is their converse - that SATURATED fat is good for you, or that Atkins' diet ISN'T dangerous over the long term - exactly where the argument has been all along. So he slams the establishment for vilifying "fats," Taubes means "saturated fats," but when he cites positive health effects of "fats" he cites studies on monounsaturated fats.
Similarly, when he warns of the dangers of "high carb" intake, he means sugar, corn syrup, and some starches, not the fruits, beans, and whole grains that make up such a large part of a healthful, plant-based diet. Now, it's true that the USDA Food Pyramid does probably err in presenting grains as an undifferentiated, eat-all-you-want base for our diet, but Taubes wildly overstates the effect this has had on American eating patterns. In his thinking, we've become more obese because we're eating exactly as the Food Pyramid tells us to, so the pyramid must be completely wrong. He conveniently avoids any mention of how few Americans actually eat according to the guidelines (fewer than a third, according to the Department of Health and Human Services), and ridicules the notion that our food choices may be more influenced by our ad-saturated instant-gratification culture than by the opinions of scientists.
Shortly after this piece appeared, an American Dietetic Association survey showed that most of us get our nutrition advice from commercial television. But in Taubes' world, that's irrelevant: We eat junk food because of USDA "low fat" guidelines. We guzzle soft drinks, he says, because "they are fat free and so appear intrinsically healthy." That's right: Soft drinks "appear intrinsically healthy!" Have you ever heard ANYONE make a health claim for Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Mountain Dew because they're "fat free?" It's no secret that these things are heavily branded sugar water, or that sugar makes you fat. But it's more important to be cool, to be refreshed, to obey your thirst, to get that jolt of caffeine and sugar right now.
Taubes finds it inconceivable "that the copious negative reinforcement that accompanies obesity - both socially and physically - is easily overcome by the constant bombardment of food advertising and the lure of a supersize bargain meal." In other words, being obese is so punishing that people who continue to live on fast food must be doing so because they consider it healthy. This disingenuousness underlies much of Taubes' analysis, which seeks to tie a decades-long rise in obesity to recent recommendations to lower our fat intake.
The impact of the food pyramid, which replaced the "Four Food Groups" in 1992, was apparently so great that it caused us to gain weight a full ten years before the pyramid appeared!: "The percentage of obese Americans," Taubes reports, "stayed relatively constant through the 1960's and 1970's at 13 percent to 14 percent and then shot up by 8 percentage points in the 1980's." Taubes feigns mystification at the fact that during this rise, we've been eating less fat as a percentage of calories. Yet a few sentences later he mentions that we're also eating 400 more calories every day. As it happens, we're NOT eating less fat now, we're eating slightly more - something he never finds room to mention - but we're definitely eating way more food, way more calories - you know, the thing that makes you fat? So what's the best way to avoid excess calories and still get good nutrition? Easy: Nutritious foods that are low in calories - a description that befits most unprocessed plant foods. Remember that gram for gram, fat has twice the calories that carbs do, without providing twice the vitamins.
But that's OK, because Atkins' plan is for you to get vitamins elsewhere - namely, from the Atkins Center, which sells "Atkins" brand vitamins at phenomenal prices. The "Diet-Pak," for instance, containing "a month's supply of all the nutritional support your body needs to survive and thrive during controlled carb weight loss," is on sale for $53.96 (marked down from $63.96). That word "survive" is a little jarring - the implication is, if you want to be sure this diet doesn't kill you, fork over $640 a year (assuming that sale price holds) to get the nutrients missing in your "nutrient-dense" food supply. Taubes doesn't bring any of this up, of course, but he tacitly admits that the diet is dependent on vitamin supplements to deliver adequate nutrition. In his prime example of a clinically successful Atkins-style diet, he reports that "the diet was 'lean meat, fish and fowl' supplemented by vitamins and minerals." Note that even the meat is lower-fat. This is a big fat endorsement? There are other interesting omissions in this very long article, not least the many non-vitamin-related health liabilities associated with a high-animal-protein diet (see sidebar). Nor does Taubes seem to want to discuss the charge that Atkins-style diets cause constipation. After all, what's a little discomfort here and there when you're improving your health through the power of saturated fat?
As if weak logic, straw-man arguments, and careful selection of factoids was not enough to drive his point home, Taubes apparently stooped to misrepresenting his sources and to denying the existence of data that didn't fit.
Some would be surprised that in his thorough examination of the relationship of high- or low-carb diets to heart disease, Taubes conveniently forgot to consider the peer-reviewed successes of, say, Dean Ornish, but it's much more than that: his summary of what science has found out about these issues is so skewed as to border on outright fraud.
Scripps Howard columnist Michael Fumento quotes Stanford University cardiologist Dr. John Farquhar as saying "I was greatly offended by how Gary Taubes tricked us all into coming across as supporters of the Atkins Diet. I'm sorry I ever talked to him."
And, CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen (7/8/02) spoke to three of the Harvard researchers spotlighted in Taubes' piece - the ones representing a major shift in thinking about Atkins - and heard from them that Taubes had misrepresented their positions on the matter of fats vs. carbs. They all explained that there are good fats and bad fats, and good carbs and bad carbs, making the categorical distinctions that Taubes had worked so hard to elide. And "...cheeseburgers, pork chops, butter and bacon," Cohen says, "the folks who I talked to said: 'You know what? We don't like that kind of fat. We don't think that's good for people."
One Harvard researcher Taubes cited is Walter Willett, who has long been a critic of the prevalence of starchy grains in USDA recommendations, among other things. Taubes seems to elicit phrases from Willett supporting his cheeseburger-based regimen. Yet Willett told Time Magazine (12/24/90): "The less red meat, the better. At most, it should be eaten only occasionally. And it may be maximally effective not to eat red meat at all."
Has Willett changed his viewpoint, or has he been misrepresented? If we're to believe the Washington Post, it's the latter. In "Experts Declare Story Low on Saturated Facts" (8/27/02), Sally Squires spoke to Willett regarding Taubes' remarkable advice to "eat lard straight out of the can" to "reduce your risk of heart disease."
Willett recalled speaking to Taubes about lard, but stressed that "I don't think that lard is part of a healthy diet." Instead, he told Squires, the idea is to "'replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats,' such as those found in fish, nuts, olives and avocados." After explaining at some length why those fats, unlike lard, have a positive impact on your cholesterol, Willett added: "And I have gone over this a number of times with Gary, but he barely mentioned it in the article."
That's not the only discrepancy Squires found in Taubes' reporting. As the author contends throughout "Big Fat Lie" that low-fat diets have proven to be "dismal failures," Squires found dozens of peer-reviewed studies that proved exactly the opposite and asked Taubes why he ignored these reams of data - especially when they came from his own sources. A researcher named Arne Astrup, for instance, whom Taubes interviewed for a half-hour, said he provided Taubes with "all the evidence suggesting that low-fat diets are the best documented diets and was extremely surprised to see that he didn't use any of that information in his article."
Taubes' excuses for these omissions - ranging from an opinion that one prominent scientist "didn't strike me as a scientist," to an assessment that another didn't cause quite enough weight loss, to his own "gut feeling" that the head of one peer-reviewed study "made the data up," to a breezy dismissal of the entire science of epidemiology - come off as comically bogus. Squires may have been giving Taubes a taste of his own selective-quote medicine, especially by concluding her article with his quote "I know, I sound like if somebody finds something I believe in, then I don't question it."
Well, yeah, that's just it. Taubes launches his "Big Fat Lie" broadside by explicitly linking the conventional, low-fat wisdom to religious zealotry. In his introductory paragraphs, he stresses this is something "we've been told with almost religious certainty ... and we have come to believe with almost religious certainty." But after a careful examination of the article's construction and its history (at least according to the other people involved in it), it becomes clear that Taubes, an Atkins disciple, is projecting his own zealotry onto those he disagrees with.
While some manipulations in his writing seem very carefully calculated - e.g., waiting until the next-to-last paragraph to include three major bombshells (that he is on the diet himself, that overconsumption of saturated fat can indeed shorten lifespan, and that "Atkins had suffered with heart troubles of his own") - it would seem that Taubes was not exactly trying to deceive his readers. Instead, he just wants us to believe as fervently as he does; his judgement of what's relevant and what's not, what's logical and what's not, is somewhat skewed by his faith in the animal-fat credo.
All in all, the article is not without some merit: It encouraged more discussion of the role of different fats, and the possibility that different levels of fat and carbs may work differently for different people. Since "Big Fat Lie" appeared, some studies have confirmed, once again, that Atkins-style diets can indeed cause weight loss, and without any short-term health effects. On the other hand, a massive Stanford University survey of low-carb trials confirmed that the key to the diet's success is simple calorie restriction rather than any "magical" metabolic process. And, in one of the "success story" studies (New England Journal of Medicine, May 2003), people on the low-carb program gained twice as much weight back after a year than did the low-fat participants, leading the Washington Post to call the "long-term benefits negligible." And in June, another New York Times writer, Jason Epstein, penned a public apology to readers for his earlier Atkins evangelizing.
Who knows? Maybe a new scientific study will indeed find the perfect combination of body type and fat/protein mix to validate Atkins' theories. On the other hand, maybe the answer will be: It worked for some people because, like Taubes, they really, truly believed it would.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a writer and political cartoonist for the Philadephia City Paper. A collection of his vegetarian cartoons is published as a book, "The Joy of Soy." Vance is featured as a speaker and entertainer at Vegetarian Summerfest....more info
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