Good Calories Bad Calories Review – the Low Carb Diet it is

I recently had the privilege to read the best book about diet and nutrition I have come across to date, and believe me, I have read enough these books to be in a position to form an opinion on this matter. Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, which took him 5 years to write, is a wonderful addition to the published literature on this bewildering industry. It is well researched and the information provided is supported by plenty of references and citations. Good Calories, Bad Calories almost provides you with a much-needed set of reading glasses to bring focus to all of the confusing public health debates and the jumble that is the diet industry.

In Good Calories, Bad Calories Gary tells the story of how public nutrition guidelines and the current scientific positions on diet and nutrition evolved. Of how strong and dominant personalities can influence the scientific community to accept unproven theories as facts. As this story progresses it also becomes clear how many of the diets we know today came into existence. It becomes clear for example when fat and salt were identified as major problems as well as why and when the so-called Mediterranean Diet became popular. Of course the book in essence considers the long standing debate raging between proponents of the low-fat calorie restricted diet and the carbohydrate restricted (low carb) diet.

In an attempt to provide a complete view of the debate, Gary describes the scientific evidence supporting both the restriction of fats (as well as calories) and the restriction of carbohydrates as a solution to the obesity crisis. What is also interesting is Gary’s holistic take on this matter. Not only is weight management important, but so are all of the other health related results of a particular diet. It does appear that many clinical trials and studies were very selective in interpreting the results of their studies, and that there are plenty of evidence to suggest that the introduction of refined carbs into a diet increases the incidence of many of the so-called diseases of civilization such as insulin resistance, type 2 Diabetes, cancer and so forth.

The low fat diet was originally recommended to improve heart health even though it now appears virtually no scientific evidence supported this way of eating at the time. Statistics suggest that it is quite probable that as the popularity of the low fat diet grew and more products were manufactured to support the low-fat lifestyle, the incidences and severity of the diseases of civilization increased. Not only were most of the participants in low fat diet trials not losing weight (when they did, they typically regained all the weight lost soon after completion of the program), but they were also getting sick. Gary also suggests that evidence from the clinical trials indicate that many of these diseases are just different and more progressive manifestations of the same underlying disease, namely inflammation and damage to the metabolism caused by chronically elevated insulin levels.

Many of the nutritional principles held dear today evolved as authorities attempted to patch up problems caused by a basically unhealthy diet prescribed to the general population in the form of the well known Food Pyramid published by the US Department of Agriculture. Gary continues to explain how explain how the low-fat hypothesis developed a momentum of its own and how many parties and business corporations with vested interests to this day continue to promote its basic principles. It is also shocking to note who actually sponsors the research at many of the leading US research centers. How can any institution really provide objective research results when their very existence depends on the fact that the results of their research support the causes of their sponsors?

Gary also highlights the impact of peer pressure in the scientific community and how the few scientists that dared to question the prevailing views were effectively ostracized from the community. The continuing evolution of specialist areas in scientific research is both a blessing in disguise and a problem. Since scientists focused on other fields (such as endocrinology) do not fear ridicule by pursuing and publishing findings that contradict the conventional wisdom held by those in the nutritional community, they contribute to keeping the debates alive. Sadly though, exactly because of this specialization, major breakthroughs are often overlooked as the findings are made in studies with different objectives. The impact of such findings on the field of diet and nutrition could be immense, should such ideas be further explored for application in the field of diet and nutrition.

It is plain as day that the advice given to all of us over the last few decades is resulting in greater obesity and health problems rather than less. Nobody wants to be obese. Most overweight people really try hard to lose weight, and even harder to keep their families healthy. Yet virtually no improvement in the health and obesity levels of the average western family is evident despite the best efforts of so many people to adhere to guidelines provided by doctors and health authorities. It is remarkable that, even though the average fat consumption today is almost 10% less that it was a few decades ago, more and more people are suffering from chronically high insulin levels, metabolic imbalances, weight problems, and other related diseases. It is high time someone asked why the current guidelines on diet and nutrition do not deliver results.

It is not hard to find supporting evidence that many people at times really do try to change their diets for the better. Low fat products have become so popular that it can sometimes even be difficult to find the more natural alternatives. Just have a look next time you are walking down the yogurt isle of your local grocery shop. Most of the products are low fat and very often contain added sugar to make it taste better! Of course, the low level of satiety and hormonal imbalances that accompanies the low fat diet makes it impossible for people to maintain the weight they lost, and so they start the cycle of yo-yo dieting.

The one area I disagree with Gary Taubes on is exercise. He is of the opinion that people typically become inactive as result of an incorrect diet and states his view that exercise burn too few calories to contribute to weight loss. While there is an element of truth in that, I also believe that we do not yet fully understand the role of an active lifestyle on so many systems in our bodies, including our hormones and mental state. Exercise by itself may not result in weight loss, but it is a major contributor to weight loss and management as part of a holistic plan.

Gary does put forward a very convincing argument that refined carbs and sugar are in all probability responsible not only for the current obesity epidemic, but also for a large number of the previously discussed diseases of civilization, including many cancers, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and heart disease just to mention a few. What I love most about the book though, is that he keeps the door wide open. All he is asking for is for scientists to re-evaluate the questions they are asking when planning their research.

Make no mistake, Good Calories, Bad Calories is not everyone’s cup of tea. A big part of Gary’s argument is that many of the messages coming out of the scientific studies are simplified to the extent that they no longer represent the truth. To overcome this problem he explains the results and findings of decades of research in considerable detail. As you can imagine, it is a book densely packed with facts which makes it a rather difficult read. If you are looking for a diet book that will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to lose weight and the recipes to boot, you may want to try another book.

But, if you really want to understand the issues behind all the debates (and even the characters behind the different arguments) raging about diet and nutrition, Good Calories, Bad Calories is the book for you. As for myself, I am now more convinced than ever that a low carb way of life is the way to go. Obesity is not caused by the quantity of calories you eat so much as the quality of calories. The jury is still out (also according to Gary Taubes) on the quantity and type of carbs that is needed for a healthy diet, but it is quite clear that refined carbs (e.g. white rice, flour and pasta) and sugar should be avoided at all costs

If you want to read some more of Gary Taube’s work, have a look at this article What if it has all been a big fat lie which Gary wrote in 2002.

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