I’ve finally finished reading Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. Quite the read. Worthy of a slow, considered reading.
Taubes, a journalist with a penchant for writing about public health, nutrition, and diet, spent five years researching the book. It is an exhaustive look at disparate research across time and disciplines and it is a highly useful and sane synthesis of the same.
If you want to understand the research on which our ‘best dietary’ recommendations, those which are touted as in the best interests of public health, are based, read Taubes. If you are about nutrition, weight loss counseling, or dietary health, Good Calories Bad Calories best be on your reading list.
In the Epilogue of the book, Taubes states
As I emerge from this research…certain conclusions seem inescapable to me, based on the existing knowledge.
These conclusions he lists as:
- Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not the cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.
- The problem in the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis — the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
- 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.
- Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization.
- Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior.
- 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.
- Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance — a disequilibrium — 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.
- 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.
- By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.
- By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.