Rating: 5/5

Book cover

Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).

This book is required reading. If you care at all about your health, if you are diabetic or obese, if you just need to decide what to make for dinner, you absolutely owe it to yourself to read this book. It requires some effort, but anything worthwhile does. This is a dense, 500-page tome that explores the history of our scientific understanding (and misunderstanding) of nutrition, obesity, and disease. Taubes explores in detail the various scientific studies, the conclusions they drew, and the mistakes made. His main point is that the “fat is evil” hypothesis is erroneous. The cause of obesity and the diseases that go with it are the refined, easily digestible carbohydrates we consume in such huge quantities.

The book consists of three primary divisions: The first explores the fat-cholesterol hypothesis, where it started, the studies that surround it, and how it became institutionalized in the national food guides we have today. He shows how the studies done were fundamentally flawed and he highlights the erroneous assumptions the researchers made and conclusions jumped to. The second part looks the carbohydrate hypothesis and what those studies say. The final part looks at what we currently know about obesity and the regulation of weight and how this supports further exploration of the carbohydrate hypothesis and rejection of the fat-cholesterol one.

This final part is the meat of his argument and appears to form the bulk of the (much shorter) book he just published, which I will be reviewing shortly. I’ve seen lots of doctors and nutritionists over the year as I’ve attempted to get my weight under control. Not a single one has ever been able or willing to explain to me how metabolism works. They just kept feeding me the conventional metaphors and euphemisms. Taubes’s book was a revelation to me. It suddenly all made sense. Even if all you read is this final third of the book, it is worth every minute of your time.

Here are his ten main conclusions, from the epilogue:

  1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.
  2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostatis… . The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
  3. Sugars—sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates.
  4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. …
  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. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger.
  7. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance…in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this balance.
  8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated—either chronically or after a meal—we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel.
  9. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.
  10. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.

This is a topic I am happy to discuss one-on-one. I am having great success on a carb-restricted diet personally, but I am not prepared to make any public statement yet (perhaps next year). If you want to know more specific information on what I’m doing, don’t hesitate to contact me directly.