• Saturated fat is bad.
• High cholesterol causes heart disease.
• Salt causes high blood pressure.
• Exercise and cutting calories lead to weight loss.
• Refined carbs and sugar don’t cause major health problems.
If you listen to science writer Gary Taubes and his book Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, you will see that we actually live in a world in which all these beliefs are untrue.
He argues that most of the conventional diet wisdom that has been given to Americans in popular health writing has been wrong, and that in fact most of our health ills, including obesity, heart disease, cancer and maybe even Alzheimer’s can be blamed on people eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates.
The Truth About What We Eat
Taubes got his start writing about America’s diet and the problem with conventional dietary wisdom with a 2002 article in the New York Times Magazine called “What if it’s All Been a Big, Fat Lie?”
The article, like the book that followed last year, argues that ever since the government started telling us that the key to losing weight was eating less, people on the whole have actually gained more weight.
While medical experts were calling the Atkins Diet the worst thing you could do for your body — since conventional wisdom had it that fat was the problem — more and more people were having success with these diets, and more diet writers were coming up with successful variations on the theme.
He explains the value of low-carb diets as follows: The last decade has witnessed a renewed interest in testing carbohydrate-restricted diets as obesity levels have risen and a new generation of clinicians have come to question the prevailing wisdom on weight loss. Six independent teams of investigators set out to test low-fat semi-starvation diets of the kind recommended by the American Heart Association in randomized control trials against ‘eat as much as you
like’ Pennington-type diets, now known commonly as the Atkins Diet, after Robert Atkins and Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. Five of these trials tested the diet on obese adults, one on adolescents. Together they included considerably more than six hundred obese subjects. In every case, the weight loss after three to six months was two to three times greater on the low-carbohydrate diet — unrestricted in calories — than on the calorie-restricted, low-fat diet.
That’s a long quote, but it’s also a long book, more than 600 pages with notes and index. It’s a dense read that will often go over the average reader’s head, but the conclusion of his words is clear: instead of cutting fat and calories to lose weight, people should instead be cutting carbs and sugar.
Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, the book is interesting (to food geeks, anyway) for its tracing of how the low-fat diet came to be the most popular one advocated by health experts, and how he reached his conclusion that excess body fat, not dietary fat, is the problem, and that fat accumulation is caused by excess insulin, which is produced by eating excess carbohydrates.
If you can’t bring yourself to read the whole book, seek out a copy of January’s Ladies Home Journal, which includes a handy summary of Taubes’ findings written by the author himself. Even if it doesn’t change the way you eat, it will probably change the way you think about diet news.