I’ve read ~ 300 pages of Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes this week. So far this book is blowing my mind.

To quote an amazon reviewer “The research level is staggering and evidence so overwhelming that portions of the book are downright infuriating”.

Taubes presents a historical overview of obesity research that is squashing the dogma that dietary fat contributes to heart disease, that overeating makes you fat and that exercise will make an obese person loss weight. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg he’s melting.

Anyone else staggering under the weight of this book? What do you think? Are you overweight and changing what you eat because of Taubes book?

15 Comments

posted November 7th, 2008 at 11:20 am

Interesting. I shouldn’t comment, as I haven’t read the book, only the summary on the Powell’s website, but I initially think “eek! It’s Atkin’s!”. Does he talk about the low rate of heart disease in Greece and Asia, prior to the introduction of a Western diet? I am guessing that his Bad calorie foods are pretty rare in many Asian cultures, with the big exception of an abundance of white rice, but I know that traditional mediterranean food seems to contain an abundance of carbohydrates and they have historically had the lowest heart disease rates in the world.

So, has it changed the way you’re eating?

This book isn’t a diet book- its a historical review of research done on obesity over the last 100 years. So far, its kept a European/North American focus.

Additionally- it isn’t just about the food. It’s about the physiological processes of metabolism in “normal” people vs obese people.

I think it is changing the way I eat- more on that later ;)

–McAuliflower

- Sara
posted November 7th, 2008 at 11:39 am

I think that there is now a stigma attached to talking about carbs because of the top-end of fad diets (although lose 10 pounds in a week by not eating fad diets don’t seem to affect the low cal crowd in the same way). A researcher I know (who is firmly of the belief that simple carbs and processed food are the primary issue for obesity) says he’s getting very frustrated with what he calls scientific prejudice against any findings that don’t fit in with fat is bad/carbs are good mentality.

Taubes is brave to try to buck it – it’ll be interesting to see how seriously it is taken.

Exactly.

thanks for commenting Sylvia.

–McAuliflower

posted November 7th, 2008 at 4:10 pm

This smells like trendy horseshit to me.

Now Chloe- what did you think of the book? Citing research as far back as the 1850′s is anything but trendy…

–McAuliflower

- Chloe
posted November 8th, 2008 at 8:07 am

My scientist partner read that book over the summer and became positively evangelical about it for a while. It’s still in my reading queue, but the fact that the book makes use of such a significant amount of research encourages me to take it seriously. So many other diet/obesity books are based on nothing but a crock of hooey. The problem is getting the public to respond to unpopular findings – the “eating fat makes you fat” maxim is so entrenched in people’s minds that it will be difficult to turn the tide, good science notwithstanding.

Thanks for commenting Cookworm.
I too am on the verge of becoming evangelical too. My first light bulb moment- Taubes’ straightening out our causation vs correlation thinking with this point: overeating doesn’t make one obese; one overeats because they are obese. That in itself is such a turn on the everyday conventional thinking that we are imbued with. I literally had to stop and reread it again and again.

This book is a lot to go through. The preface alone is substantial- but well worth the read to get the story of President Eisenhower’s plight with cholesterol readings. I’ve been finding that skipping around to further chapters is working well for reading it- you can pick and choose to satisfy a particular person in your household who is adamant that you start reading it.

–McAuliflower

posted November 8th, 2008 at 9:30 am

You’ve sold me. I need some new food reading and read an article he wrote a few years ago for the NEw York Times Magazine (I think.)

Okay, I went and found the article. Here’s the link for anyone wanting a taste: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F04E2D61F3EF934A35754C0A9649C8B63&sec=health

Thanks for the heads up!

Thanks Natty

I just found that article too. I’m putting a link to it up above.

–McAuliflower

posted November 8th, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Hi McAuliflower (writing you here as my blogger alter ego!),
This sounds interesting! Does the author talk about how cultures that have diets high in refined carbs, especially white rice in Asian cuisines and pasta in Italy, escape our trap of obesity and heart disease? Is it simply the scale on which we eat them, or the does the sugar factor perhaps play a greater role? I’d be interested to hear about that. Michael Pollan comes to similar conclusions, stating that the Western, refined-carb diet is leading to an epidemic of “inflamitory” diseases.

posted November 10th, 2008 at 5:10 am

Regarding cultures that consume high carb diets and escape heart disease, the Kitava Study is an interesting case(http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2007/06/living-on-isolated-island-of-kitava.html). Here is an isolated group consuming 69 percent carbohydrates and 21 percent fats and no one gets fat and no one develops heart disease or suffers strokes. In addition, 80 percent are smokers and they have low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides. How do we explain this? Simple. Kitavans do not have access to industrial foods consisting of refined sugars, omega 6 vegetable oils, and grains such as wheat and corn.

For those who haven’t read Taubes’ book, I suggest you read this recently published article by Harry Maurer http://publishing.yudu.com/Library/Atd89/NewsmaxMagazineNovem/resources/56.htm

posted November 10th, 2008 at 8:51 am

I haven’t read this book, but I’ve come across many articles dealing with this subject, and decided a while ago that saturated fat is not the enemy. I think I even expressed surprise a few months back, when in one of your recipes, you switched out the butter for canola oil! There’s a dietitian who posts on Apt. Therapy as ‘ilovebutter,’ and I asked her to email me more info about saturated vs. polyunsaturated fat. Here’s a brief quote; I would be happy to email you the rest, along with her dissertation, if you’d like:
“Butter is better than other oils or fake spreads because:
- it doesn’t oxidize while cooking
- it doesn’t cause LDL to oxidize, therefore preventing it from depositing into arterial plaques
- it doesn’t have omega 6, so it doesn’t worsen the omega 3:6 balance
- grass-fed butter has some omega 3, which helps the omega3:6 balance
- grass-fed butter has CLA, which may protect against cancer and heart disease
- it’s a natural food that needs minimal processing
- it tastes better

Polyunsaturated vegetables oils are evil because:
- they are prone to oxidation, causing LDL to oxidize and be deposited into arterial plaques
- they are killing Americans by overloading them with omega 6
- they need lots of processing (so, are less natural of a food)

Of course these are just my view points, there are many dietitians out there who will disagree. But that’s the thing with science, we’ve only explored the tip of the ice berg. I think its foolish to be making decisions based on that tip. Instead, I think we need to look to our genetic roots and follow that eating pattern — it’s what we were designed for.

Also, I would like to mention that doctors commonly don’t have a lot of nutrition knowledge – they only receive about 30 hours of nutrition in medical school; this is less than 1 undergraduate course (45 hrs). Having a doctor give out nutrition information is about as appropriate as a nutritionist offering surgical advice. (Even less so – at least I had 120 hours of anatomy + physiology!) I don’t mean to bash doctors – they do know a lot of things, but nutrition is not one of them. They tend to pass along common thinking. Just keep that in mind.”

- Sarah
posted November 11th, 2008 at 5:48 am

Thanks for sharing, this is really interesting to read!

Elin

- Elin
posted November 18th, 2008 at 8:45 am

Hi McAuliflower,

I also am in the middle of this book and am not at all surprised by the results of the research. I happen to be an Atkins devotee and so none of the findings are really news to me but it’s nice to read about the studies backing up the science. I still find it hard to eliminate all the unhealthy carbs (I love to bake!) but I definitely eat a lot less than I used to. None of my doctors ever recommend anything but low fat – until they see my before and after lab reports! Then they tell me to keep it up. It’s amazing how the food industry can keep the masses believing lies so that they can make huge profits off of it – not caring who dies from their junk!

- Susan
posted November 22nd, 2008 at 4:09 pm

My honey read the book after he got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It absolutely changed the way he eats, and not only has he lost over 50 pounds, his blood glucose levels are down to normal. Take from that what you will. :)

posted November 23rd, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Picked up the book for my husband who had gotten bad news at the doctor’s the week before. Now, we had been having weight issues forever, and diabetes was just around the corner.

I’m still struggling with the simplicity of it, and we are both somewhat pissed off that the actual science seems to go in the opposite direction from conventional wisdom. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but seems to me that a lot of big business, medical, agricultural and diet, would be lost if the general population would eat only protein.

So… We’ve been having only meat, cheese and nuts for the past couple of weeks and we feel fantastic. We’re also melting. I guess that at some point we’ll reintegrate a little bit og carbs in our diets, but the book seems to say that it may not even be necessary for optimal health! Consider my mind completely blown!

- Isabelle
posted December 11th, 2008 at 7:34 am

Hey, I have read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and I agree that it is mind-blowing! It’s a cliche to say but it is a life-changing book. The rigor of the analysis is astounding and I think it really puts to shame all the nutritionists and diet gurus who really have not done their homework but offer us different twists on the orthodox theory where red meat, butter, etc. and cholesterol and saturated fats in general are noxious substances. Even Dr Andrew Weil, a person I respect enormously, jumped on the bandwagon and published a low-fat guide to optimal nutrition. I was pleased to see that he had the intellectual honesty and courage to come out and endorse Taubes’ book on Larry King. Yes, a really great book, if a somewhat dense read.

- John
posted December 16th, 2008 at 4:09 am

I agree!. I discovered this important tome in July ’08 and sat for two straight days and read the entire thing. I inhaled it. I teach biochemistry and am a parent in charge of feeding kids and I couldn’t put it down. The first copy was from the library and I have since purchased it and have made copious notes all throughout it and at the back. I have dozens of page references for myself. When I finished, my diet changed and I have expunged table sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup, HFCS, from ever passing my lips again. I don’t fear quality fats. I eat them liberally. I feel great. I’m never ravenous anymore and my vicious sweet-tooth is gone. I had struggled forever with every technique to rid myself of cravings, until this book came along. I am a bit annoyed that I didn’t discover it the instant it was published in Oct 2007, and instead was delayed seven months until I got my hands on it. I have read every review and all the comments I can find and I have found, online, lectures of Taubes’s and listened to the several hours of every one of those. I can’t praise this book enough for the epiphanies and startling revelations it has forced upon me. I am thrilled that Taubes researched for many years and then published this book. I have recommended it to everyone I know and it is the Christmas gift for many on my list this year, most notably my physician-sister.
Just a side note. As a chemist, I have had to take several courses in physical chemistry, which included thermodynamics. I won’t bore you, but after reading Taubes (who has an undergraduate degree in Physics), I had so many light bulbs turning on that I was nearly blinded. Just to let you know, all dietary calories are non created equally and no laws of thermodynamics were harmed in that statement or in the book!!!

posted December 16th, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I finished the book a week ago and it is great!

A couple of interesting points, Taubes spends a bit of time talking about how glucose fires up cancer cells and how indigenous groups didn’t have cancer per se until switching to a Western-style diet, but most comments about the book only refer to the weight-loss portion.

When he addressed how going from a 800 calorie diet to 1200, whether you added carbs or fat/protein make a huge difference in feelings of hunger, I could easily relate. I tried the Rotation Diet (600/900 60% fat/protein then a 1200 balanced diet with 40 % fat/protein) back in the 80s. I didn’t really mind the 600/900 part, but hated the 1200, because I couldn’t stay on it due to hunger.

I have always felt better on a low-carb diet, and now that I know that the balanced diet and fiber in your diet are just unproven theories, it makes staying on a low-carb diet so much easier. It was the switching to more carbs in prior diets that have been my downfall.

There are issues with low-carb diets. I’m both sensitive to arachidonic acid and lactose intolerant, which makes a low-carb diet a bit more challenging. After reading Potatoes Not Prozac, I’ve found having a small carb a couple of hours after the evening meal helps control my serotonin levels, helping me stay on a low carb diet. It would be great if there was more research on why some fall off the low-carb diet. Taubes is quite correct, the research on diet is so badly designed as to be scary. Who knows what will happen if proper research is conducted.

Unlike Laurie Lentz-Marino, I’m not into technical stuff, but I couldn’t put the book down either. As my family either dies from heart disease or diabetes, this is a matter of life or death for me.

I feel that Taubes has freed me from the tyranny of bad science.

- Sue Richart

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