Gary Taubes is one of the best resources for exploring the science behind the ideas that are implicit in this site. He is a science writer who has reviewed the lexicon and has offered much clarity on the pathways to obesity and modern illness. His key book is Good Calories Bad Calories. Here is a review that will give you a sense of the case he makes.
“This is, hands down, one of the best and most important books ever written about nutrition. Gary Taubes is skeptical and inquiring. He does not settle for mainstream answers, and he has a knack for detecting crap ‘science’ and debunking it in a no holds barred way. The amount of research and investigation he has done for this book is staggering, so only pick up this book if you are interested in learning the truth about the history and motivations of modern American nutritionism. If you want to remain naïve and have your traditional nutrition beliefs confirmed, skip this book and go read Understanding Nutrition, 12th Edition by Eleanor Noss Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes.
The book is organized into three parts. Part one chronicles the beginnings and development of the fat-cholesterol hypothesis, which says that dietary fat (mainly saturated fat) is responsible for today’s nutritional diseases (e.g. obesity, diabetes, heart disease), that fat increases cholesterol, and that consistently elevated cholesterol levels lead to heart disease. The traditional argument is that a high-fat diet needs to be replaced with a high-carboyhydrate diet, based on whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, a diet that will ensure health, vitality, and long life. Taubes demonstrates the unquestionably political motivations of this new paradigm and how politics ended up trumping science in order to establish this new dogma.
Part two outlines a second approach to the question of modern nutritional diseases: the carbohydrate hypothesis. Taubes details how, prior to the 20th century, most people ate diets higher in fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates, and how they understood that one should consume more carbohydrates if he or she wanted to gain weight. This knowledge was simply common sense to people. He reveals the rare occurrence of modern nutritional diseases among populations that consume a low-carbohydrate diet. Morever, Taubes explains, scientifically, the effect carbohydrates have on insulin, triglycerides, cholesterol, and diabetes. He even proposes that the high-carb diet may be implicated in the etiology of dementia (and other brain diseases) and cancer.
Part three addresses obesity and weight regulation. Taubes argues that, contrary to prevailing opinion, it is not excess calories and a sedentary lifestyle that lead to overweightness and obesity. Instead, it is the quality of the calories – their macronutrient origin – that is crucial. He says that the typical recommendation to lose weight – eat less and exercise more – is basically intellectual nonsense: the less we eat, the lower our metabolic rate, and the less fat we metabolize; the more we exercise, the hungrier we get, and the more we eat. The diet advocated by the FDA, USDA, NAS, and myriads of other ‘professional’ organizations actually leads to a semi-starvation lifestyle, where people are constantly hungry. He illustrates how carbohydrates affect fat metabolism, insulin production, and hunger/satiety.
As one Amazon reviewer noted, the nutritional establishment has not offered any serious or substantial rebuttal to this book. Instead, the establishment does what it always does: it tells people to avoid ‘pseudo-science’ and to trust the ‘experts’ – i.e. the FDA, USDA, NAS, et. al. The people who will probably find this book the most annoying are the sports nutritionists and exercise physiologists, because it flies in the face of their multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, just last night at work I was talking with a colleague who is an exercise science major in college, and he was complaining about gaining weight, so I told him to go the low-carb route. He said that I was wrong, that we need a significant amount of carbohydrates to stay healthy – especially athletes – and that I was uninformed about this subject. I just chuckled and walked away.
Nevertheless, the people who will probably find this book the most troubling are average Americans who struggle with food, weight, and all the pressures surrounding this subject. On the one hand, they know that the traditional approach to losing weight – counting calories, cutting fat, bulking up the carbs, daily exercise, facing hunger – is cumbersome, bland, and, if they were to tell the truth, ineffective. The modern method of eating has taken the joy, simplicity, and naturalness out of eating. The result is that people are obsessed with food, weight, and image, they do not know where to turn, and many people (at one time, even myself) become depressed and helpless over the current food situation. On the other hand, Americans are wary of books such as Taubes’ because they hear the denunciations of the FDA, they know there are charlatans out there peddling fad diets that are unsafe yet beckon our trust, and they are not sure who or what to believe. Because most Americans do not have the knowledge to sift through these kinds of issues and receive no help from their primary care physicians (who have also bought into American nutritionism), this book could actually do them harm. Taubes’ vision of healthy eating can only become a reality when those in-the-know take time, skill, and compassion to help others know what the real deal is, why it is so, and how to put these principles into daily practice for life.”
In this short video he makes the case for how it is the modern diet that has caused the modern diseases – that include heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimers. For they are unknown in any society that does not share our diet.
Then after the fold I have posted the first part of a 7 part video where Taubes uses a lecture – with excellent slides – to take us through his main thesis.
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