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Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Diseaseby Gary Taubes
Synopses & Reviews
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. Thereare 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 diseaseall 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. Sugarssucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specificallyare 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, Alzheimers 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 make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.
8. We get fat because of an imbalancea disequilibriumin the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.
9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.
10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.
Good Calories, Bad Calories is a tour de force of scientific investigation–certain to redefine the ongoing debate about the foods we eat and their effects on our health.
"Taubes's eye-opening challenge to widely accepted ideas on nutrition and weight loss is as provocative as was his 2001 New York Times Magazine article, 'What if It's All a Big Fat Lie?' Taubes (Bad Science), a writer for Science magazine, begins by showing how public health data has been misinterpreted to mark dietary fat and cholesterol as the primary causes of coronary heart disease. Deeper examination, he says, shows that heart disease and other 'diseases of civilization' appear to result from increased consumption of refined carbohydrates: sugar, white flour and white rice. When researcher John Yudkin announced these results in the 1950s, however, he was drowned out by the conventional wisdom. Taubes cites clinical evidence showing that elevated triglyceride levels, rather than high total cholesterol, are associated with increased risk of heart disease — but measuring triglycerides is more difficult than measuring cholesterol. Taubes says that the current U.S. obesity 'epidemic' actually consists of a very small increase in the average body mass index. Taube's arguments are lucid and well supported by lengthy notes and bibliography. His call for dietary 'advice that is based on rigorous science, not century-old preconceptions about the penalties of gluttony and sloth' is bound to be echoed loudly by many readers. Illus." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In 2002, science journalist Gary Taubes published an article entitled 'What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?' He argued that reputable scientists were coming around to the idea, advanced by diet gurus like Dr. Robert Atkins, that carbohydrates, not fat, are the ultimate dietary villain. If so, he wrote, 'the ongoing epidemic of obesity in America and elsewhere is not, as we are constantly told, due... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) simply to a collective lack of will power and a failure to exercise. Rather it occurred ... because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did.' The article helped revive the low-carb craze. Bread vanished from restaurant tables, and 'dieters' began ordering steaks with a side of bacon. Many lost weight and became believers, but many did not, and the conventional wisdom on how to lose weight shifted only slightly. In 'Good Calories, Bad Calories,' Taubes tries to bury the idea that a low-fat diet promotes weight loss and better health. Obesity is caused, he argues, not by the quantity of calories you eat but by the quality. Carbohydrates, particularly refined ones like white bread and pasta, raise insulin levels, promoting the storage of fat. Taubes is a relentless researcher, shining a light on flaws in the scientific literature. For example, he charges that when scientists figured out how to measure cholesterol in the blood, they became 'fixated on the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries as the cause of heart disease, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.' He also reveals how charismatic personalities can force the acceptance of unproven theories. For instance, nutritionist Jean Mayer persuaded Americans that exercise leads to weight loss when in fact, writes Taubes, exercising may increase hunger and calorie intake. According to a 2000 review of the medical literature, 'some studies imply that physical activity might inhibit weight gain ... some that it might accelerate weight gain; and some that it has no effect whatsoever.' Yet the latest government dietary guidelines, released in 2005, recommend 60 to 90 minutes a day of moderately intense exercise and a low-calorie diet to achieve weight loss. Once again, Taubes shows, conventional wisdom wins out. 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' goes a long way toward breaking the link between obesity, gluttony and sloth by demonstrating that genes, hormones and chemistry play as much of a role in weight gain as behavior does. Taubes' tales of lame science and flawed laboratory tests are at times brilliant and enlightening. But they can also become repetitive and wearying. In the end, the most compelling case Taubes builds is one against stark dietary advice of any kind; nothing simple can capture the complex reasons for the epidemic rise in obesity. H.L. Mencken once said, 'There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.' Taubes cites this quote in his book; he, and all of us, would do well to remember it. Jane Black writes about food for The Washington Post." Reviewed by Jane Black, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Gary Taubes, author of Bad Science and Nobel Dreams, is a correspondent for Science magazine. The only print journalist to have won three Science in Society Journalism awards, given by the National Association of Science Writers, he has contributed articles to The Best American Science Writing 2002 and The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000 and 2003. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.
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