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Gary Taubes: Why the Campaign to Stop America's Obesity Crisis Keeps Failing



"...the very first childhood-obesity clinic in the United States was founded in the late 1930s at Columbia University by a young German physician, Hilde Bruch. As Bruch later told it, her inspiration was simple: she arrived in New York in 1934 and was “startled” by the number of fat kids she saw—“really fat ones, not only in clinics, but on the streets and subways, and in schools.”

What makes Bruch’s story relevant to the obesity problem today is that this was New York in the worst year of the Great Depression, an era of bread lines and soup kitchens, when 6 in 10 Americans were living in poverty. The conventional wisdom these days—promoted by government, obesity researchers, physicians, and probably your personal trainer as well—is that we get fat because we have too much to eat and not enough reasons to be physically active. But then why were the PC- and Big Mac–-deprived Depression-era kids fat? How can we blame the obesity epidemic on gluttony and sloth if we easily find epidemics of obesity throughout the past century in populations that barely had food to survive and had to work hard to earn it?..."

  1. i was interested in some of your posts on a brown rice thread. i would be very interested in hearing some more of your thoughts on diet.
    incidentally, my younger brother, 53, just had a heart attack, he put off seeing doc as he thought it was acid reflux. had several stents put in the day he saw doc. he is active and in fairly good shape. he has switched to a plant based diet (forks over knives?) and has lost about a pound a day for the last 2 weeks. just diagnosed as prediabetic. now taking a simvistatin (low hdl high ldl), bp meds, plavix. no oil diet.

    2 Replies
    1. re: divadmas

      I'm really sorry to hear about your brother's health and also his diet advice/medications. CH doesn't want medical discussions here, and the best advice I can give you is to have him check out www.phlaunt.com/diabetes and also, for lay language discussion of statins, diet and heart attack prevention, maybe Michael Eades Protein Power blog... both very reliable, science based. I'm a long time diabetic who reversed long standing kidney and nerve damage and tightly controls diabetes without meds, it's been about 14 years now.

      1. re: mcf

        it was a shocker since he appears in good health and watches his diet. i don't want to go off ch main thrust but diet is such an important part of life and there is so much contradictory information out there. thank you for pointers, i am 10 year+ diabetic and need to do more myself. thanks.

    2. It's the same message as expressed in The New York Times by Gary Traubes, discussed in a previous thread:


      Except in the Newsweek article, the message is delivered with more restraint: "... sugar may have been the primary problem all along." (Traubes in Newsweek, May 14


      Sugar is the problem, either in the form of sucrose (table sugar) or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

      3 Replies
      1. re: GH1618

        Sugar from starches, fruits, additives, all are the problem. Different folks have different tolerance levels, but all tax metabolism severely.

        1. re: mcf

          That is not true. Different sugars are metabolized differently. Fructose, specifically, is the main problem, because of the way its metabolism differs from that of glucose, which is the primary fuel of the body. Fructose constitutes half of sucrose and HFCS. This was thoroughly discussed in the previous thread, so I will not belabor it here. One either accepts the theory promoted by Dr. lustig (and by Taubes), or not. I accept it.

          1. re: GH1618

            There are differences in metabolic pathways, but your pancreas doesn't care where the glucose came from, it's stressed by high carb meals and the need for a hyperinsulinemic response in a hurry after them. I don't reject Lustig's assertions about fructose, but Taubes' body of work says exactly what I've said here, and Lustig is seeing one (admittedly important) tree, but not the forest.

      2. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/0...

        Obesity fight must shift from personal blame-U.S. panel
        Report by IOM released at the Weight of the Nation conference, a three-day meeting hosted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

        1. so is focus shifting from activity to diet?

          5 Replies
          1. re: divadmas

            I hope so. Activity has a lot of of health benefits, but does not control diabetes alone. OTOH, carbohydrate restriction without activity does, immediately and even without weight loss.

            1. re: divadmas

              Some people want to focus on diet, sugars in particular. The main stream medical (and public health) approach remains multi-pronged.

              1. re: paulj

                I believe that's a false characterization, not only of Taubes' body of work, but of the mainstream approach.

                1. re: mcf

                  To quote the article: " This theory implicates specific foods—refined sugars and grains—because of their effect on the hormone insulin, which regulates fat accumulation."

                  1. re: paulj

                    Have you read Taubes' other articles or his books? His discussion is not limited to certain sugars or starches.

            2. Does Taubes give us an accurate picture of Hilde Bruch's ideas and work? Other sources talk about her focus on emotional problems related to diet, particularly anorexia. Those initial observations in NYC may have planted a seed for the later work, but I don't see evidence that she focused on sugar as Taubes does.

              Poor exercise/play options could have been just as much a problem in Depression Era NYC as in modern cities and states. I suspect Taubes is going beyond the available data in focusing on refined carbs, then and now.

              12 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                Have you *read* any of Taubes' works/books? He's an assiduous researcher who, despite your suspicions, provides gadzillion citations. Not just on nutrition, either. He's a scientist who reviews science objectively *before* arriving at conclusions.

                1. re: mcf

                  Then why does he come across as someone who is at odds with other scientists? Is he the only one not corrupted by big-bad-corporate-money? I think it is more accurate to call him a science writer than a scientist.

                  1. re: paulj

                    He is a science writer who has degrees in science, engineering, and journalism. My evaluation (as an engineer myself) is that he seems well trained for his profession, and in the articles I have read seems to have a good understanding of the methodology of science.

                    Can you give a specific example wherein he is "at odds with other scientists"?

                    1. re: GH1618

                      He has no training in the field in which he is commenting. It is like saying, as an engineer who has read scientific articles, you are qualified to comment on various articles in the field of psychology.
                      Scientists in their field will create hypothesis, test them, observe, comment, do further research.
                      Science writers create a hypothesis (preferably controversial ones, because that's what sells), cherry-pick the existing literature to substantiate what they want to say, then publish a book, do a publicity tour (after all, they've picked something controversial), and repeat for max profits.
                      BIG difference.
                      We'll see the outcome in 20 years -- maybe he's right. Most likely, he's wrong, and the ones who will suffer (if the China Study has shown anything) are the fervent proponents of his theory. And another theory will come along, from another science writer, and the whole scenario will repeat.
                      It's an industry, just like any other.

                      1. re: freia

                        Your viewpoint seems to rule out journalism generally — leave policy to specialists, with no public review. That's not the way it works in a free society. I don't understand your apparent hostility to Taubes' work. Perhaps he challenged some cherished belief of yours.

                        Anyway, the question was for paulj. What is the basis for claiming that he is "at odds" with scientists?

                        1. re: GH1618

                          LOL no, Taubes isn't the issue. My POV doesn't rule out journalism at all, but what Taubes and any science writer with a profit-driven agenda does is not journalism. The issue is when science writers, on a profit-driven basis, purposefully select controversial theories and cherry pick research to fit, create villains and conspiracies, and present all of this as the truth. Which is fine, until one sees people taking an unproven, controversial and profit-driven POV as gospel to the point of excluding any reasonable discussion of alternative POVs. Which we all have seen and continue to see on these Boards. And which is out of the boundaries of what I thought Chow/Chowhound was about. Proselytizing controversial theories under the guise of "hey, look at this neat article" is really outside of the margins, IMHO, because the intent is clearly not to have a discussion. And again, this isn't the only thread on which this happens (I believe you referred to other threads of this nature).
                          In any event, to address the OP's alleged question/observation, there are many reasons for obesity: Taubes has one POV. Authors of The China Study have another. And it should be noted that no matter what extreme one follows, the science writer has the money in the bank while the die-hard followers will bear the medical consequences of that POV many, many years down the road. We simply don't know what those consequences are. Science writers 20 years ago were purporting a certain food regime with consequences seen today. Science writers are trying to "correct" this with current food theories. Followers of high protein/low grain and low carb diets very well may see increased levels of cancer in the future (if you believe the China Study). We won't see the consequences for another 20 years. At which point another science writer will create another theory, cherry pick the data, and go on another profit-making tour. People forget is that science writing is all speculation for profit without regard for what the possible consequences are for individuals down the road. There are very few absolute truths in the field of nutrition especially when discussing "optimal" dietary compositions. Accordingly, the safest thing to do may very well be to consume all things in moderation with the exception of crap food (and we all know what that is).
                          Why are we obese? We eat too much junk, too much processed/refined foods, too few natural foods, and sit on our butts for hours in front of the TV and behind the wheel of the car. Lifestyle and food choices are key. I look to no one but myself for responsibility and accountability, and I feel dismayed when science writers vilify food groups and create conspiracy theories to deflect responsibility from the person who is holding the fork.

                          1. re: freia


                            you may want to take a look at this, from an m.d., regarding the "china study." dr. campbell himself offers it is nothing more than a collection of observational studies and correlations. hardly stuff with which to stick a stake in the ground. only the beginnings of data with which to form hypotheses and then conduct experiments. it is scientific proof of exactly nothing.

                            and if anybody was cherry-picking it was ancel keys. the guy we have to blame for the lipd theory.


                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              This is my point, exactly. If you take any literature review from an individual who is purporting a theory and has no credentials in the area that they are researching, you are reading simply a theory. My other point is that to take any theory and purport it as the "truth" may have consequences far down the road (well WELL down the road) that we simply don't see today. IF the epidemiological data in the China Study is to be believed (pure epidemiology, not the dietary theory), cancer rates will be significantly higher down the road in those that follow high protein, low carb/low grain diets. But then again, if you look at other epidemiological studies, you may have higher rates of certain other types of cancer if you are low protein and high grain/carbs. There is a ton of research out there that links high dairy consumption with increased weight loss and lower body fat. But if you believe Dr. Campbell's research, liver tumors can be turned ON if you exceed a certain amount of dairy intake, and tumors can be turned OFF if you reduce your dairy intake. This is the very nature of dietary theorization and research -- so much research out there, so much conflicting evidence, so many science writers looking to make a buck, and so much finger pointing and blame around obesity. So to point to Taubes, or to The China Study, or to Keys, or to anyone as having the "real truth" and thinking that there really is any original thought out there about diet optimization is IMHO ridiculous. There IS no "real truth" out there. We've turned the issue of diet optimization for health over and over and over again since the late 1700s and we are still no further ahead in any significant definitive way.

                              Dietary theories are constantly cycling in and out of favor and have been since the days of Brillat-Savarin (considered the father of the low carb diet craze dating from the late 1700ss) and Dr Kellog (low protein,high grains), Fletcherism, obsession with body weight and body mass (just consider how body ideals have changed from the days of Lillian Russell in the late 1800s to today -- heck, just think of the change from her time until the era of the Flappers!). Taubes, the China Study, Keys -- they are simply our generational iteration of dietary fad promoters.

                              The only sustained and proven concept has been all things in moderation -- kind of hedging one's bets so to speak. Don't demonize anything (except crap food and we all know what that is), eat in moderation, exercise, and have a happy life.

                              1. re: freia

                                Taubes has credentials, that's why he's an award winning science writer published in some of the most prestigious peer reviewed journals for offering cogent, assiduously researched reviews of data, not just slogans and personal opinions as evidence.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  "published in some of the most prestigious peer reviewed journals"
                                  Can you give examples from the last decade when he's been focusing on 'the big fat lie'?

                                  1. re: mcf

                                    Makes no difference: he's a science writer pure and simple. I never said he offered slogans and personal opinions. I said that science writers create a controversial theory, cherry pick the data to substantiate it, create villains for publicity, and reap the profits. His vested interest is money in his pocket, and he gets that through publicity created by a controversial theory. Plain and simple. And the worst part? It isn't even new information -- his theories are simply a reiteration of a cycle of nutritional hype and "optimization" which makes the rounds every 20 years or so.

                    2. re: mcf

                      According to his own website, he is not a scientist. He is a science writer. BIG difference.

                  2. I first encountered Gary Taubes' writing in 2002, stumbling across an article which ran in the NYT Sunday magazine, "What if it's all been a Big Fat Lie", which opens with this paragraph:

                    "At the very moment that the government started telling Americans to eat less fat, we got fatter. The truths about why we gain weight and why it is so hard to lose it just might turn out to be much different from what we have been led to think."

                    If you read Taubes' books along with Michael Pollan's books, heck throw in a little of Robert Atkins as well, it becomes impossible to ignore the conclusion that our government policies have been detrimental to our health. Taubes' and other writers (expecially Atkins) are "at odds with other scientists" because the other scientists started with a bad hypotehsis and strove to prove it was true. Now forty years later, these other scientists are still ridiculing those who don't buy into the low-fat supposedly heart-healthy diets the government, American Heart Association, et al, have been pushing on an increasingly unhealthy and obese american public.

                    The best government policy is not to try to engineer more parks, bike paths, and other opportunities for exercise, but to get rid of government subsidies for wheat, corn, and sugar. The government has conspired to make these foods cheap and the food manufacturers have responded with a plethora of delicious, cheap, addicting foods that are killing us and our kids. Remove the subsidies and see those prices soar; perhaps carrots, celery and cabbage will suddenly be the snack foods of choice rather than cheetoes, cheeseburgers, and caramels.

                    With the overwhelming evidence all around us and seemingly in the news on a daily basis, why is the low-carb approach still so controversial? The rates of obesity keep climbing, yet the government still promotes a food plan with grains as an important component. Huh?

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: janniecooks

                      Growing obesity at the same time that various government agencies and medical groups promoted a low fat diet does not prove that the low fat diet is wrong, or that the low carb alternative is correct. For one thing, it does not have to be an either or approach. Reducing the intake of harmful fats does not mean we have to increase our intake of harmful carbs.

                      How has the government 'conspired to make [wheat corn and sugar] cheap? US sugar prices are above the world market prices (due to quotas and tariffs). Talk about 'government subsidies' hides the complexity of the various Federal programs that supposedly benefit farms. Some were designed to protect farmers from low prices, as opposed to protecting the consumers from high prices. Some actually paid farmers not to plant their fields.

                      What's the basis for claiming that corn, wheat and sugar prices would soar if these 'subsidies' were removed? I don't think that is based on a sound knowledge of what controls those prices, either in the US, or on the world market. Do you think that vegetables are produced without the benefit of various government programs - such as irrigation, and transportation? Would a Kansas wheat farmer suddenly switch to growing cabbages if the wheat programs ended? Speculating that consumers would switch to carrots and cabbages ignores the relative prices of these items (which costs more, on a per pound basis?), but also ignores why consumers choose one food over the other.

                      1. re: paulj

                        "Reducing the intake of harmful fats does not mean we have to increase our intake of harmful carbs."

                        Here's the problem. There's no proof that there are "harmful fats". There's now proof that cholesterol in food does not result in higher cholesterol AND that higher cholesterol doesn't contribute to heart disease.

                        You need to read Taubes to realize that low carb/ low sugar diets were the defacto standard way to lose weight for 50-100 years until the low-fat craze came along and threw the science and empirical evidence out the window.

                        I'm proof. I lost lots of weight following The Good Fats cookbook & ditching skim milk for full fat milk, increasing my protein intake and drastically reducing carbs. I'm not saying it works for everyone, and people should experiment and see what works for them; but fat is not the villian as we've been told for years and years.

                        1. re: Snorkelvik

                          Low carb/low sugar diets were not the defacto way for 50-100 years. There has been a cyclical, predictable shifting in diet regimes since 1825. Brillat-Savarin/Banting was replaced by Graham, replaced by Fletcher, replaced by Chittenden, replaced by Fisher and Fisk, replaced by Copeland, replaced by Linn, and so on. Dietary fads are cyclical in nature, and there is no and has been no "defacto way" to lose weight.
                          The primary and ONLY "defacto way" to lose weight is to through compliance to whatever plan you choose to follow.

                          1. re: Snorkelvik

                            Snork, I believe that there is a large amount of evidence that (artificial) Trans Fats ARE bad for us.

                        2. re: janniecooks

                          "If you read Taubes' books along with Michael Pollan's books, heck throw in a little of Robert Atkins as well, it becomes impossible to ignore the conclusion that our government policies have been detrimental to our health."

                          Or if you take a look at the folks around you and compare to the implementation of low cholesterol, low fat, and the grain based pyramids.

                          1. re: mcf

                            "Or if you take a look at the folks around you and compare to the implementation of low cholesterol, low fat, and the grain based pyramids."

                            How's that work? If they appear lean and healthy like yourself, you assume that they are eating low-carb, while if fat and unhealthy they must be following the government's advise???

                            1. re: paulj

                              Take a look at what turned "adult onset diabetes" into a pediatric disease in a flash. Compare the timelines, low fat/high carb to diabetes epidemic.

                              You are making improper inferences: I make no assumption from the way individuals eat from their looks, I'm referring to epidemiology here, not personal bias. This is a wide population trend. To keep doing what doesn't work and expecting different results is insane by definition.

                              1. re: mcf

                                When I 'look at folks' around me, I see people, not epidemiological data. The data and its interpretation is filtered through people like Taubes, Katz, and you.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Well, that was informative.

                                  1. re: mcf

                                    I'm still trying to figure out what you mean by "Or if you take a look at the folks around you and compare to the implementation of low cholesterol, low fat, and the grain based pyramids."

                                    Is there any other review of G Taube's books or articles comparable to this by G L Bray. I'm not interested in reviews by other science writers or newspaper reporters, but responses by people doing research in relevant fields, whether it be more medical, or at the public policy level. Taubes may cite a lot of research, but I like to see whether those researchers think he fairly representing their conclusions. And is he ignoring research that does not support his favored position.

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      I consider his frequent invitations to speak at medical schools to obesity researchers and his inclusion in scientific research committees to mean that they have assessed his publications and research to be of value. Frankly, there's a quality citation for every single one of his assertions.

                                      Curious; have you read his books and taken the time to examine the cited research before condemning them, or is it just a matter of "I know I wouldn't agree?"

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        My understanding of much of this is that it is impossible to support any position (Low Fat, Low Carb, Low Cholesterol, Low Salt, etc.) without ignoring some research. That is, there has been at least some research supporting all of the popular approaches.

                                        So, at some point, if you (in this case, Gary Taubes) are researching diets and health and you do believe that the best research supports, say, Low Sugar, "Moderate" Fat, High Omega 3, etc. (I am picking things somewhat arbitrarily), then you are very likely "ignoring" research that is respected by quite a few in the medical field.

                                        And, if you go with Low Fat, Low...whatever, again, you are ignoring still others.

                                        And I am confident that if some researcher went with "Moderate" Fat, "Moderate" Carb, etc., then, again, he would be ignoring some well done research.

                                        1. re: DougRisk

                                          Some people don't do any indpendent review of the research, and they don't answer when you ask if they've read Taubes. He exhaustively reviews all the research and cites it.

                                          I have read research of every type as well, and have found that more often than not, the headlines and conclusions are not supported by the data and methodology.

                          2. Taubes is a crank, and the Bruch gal was delusional. There are thousands of Depression-era photos in existence, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a fat person in any of them (unless they were Wall Street fat cats).

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: pikawicca

                              That's no basis at all for questioning Bruch's observation — you've just pulled it out of thin air. In the first place, she was observing only New York City, and no doubt not a random sample even of that city. In the second place, there is a selection bias by the photographers. Much of the photography of the time was devoted to architectural subjects, migrant workers, the poverty of the depression era generally. You have no way to account for these biases and you weren't there.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                It's hard to tell from this article where Hilde Bruch's observations end, and Taubes's theories start. A quick web search suggests that Bruch went on to focus on psychological issues related to eating problems (not just obesity). I did not find evidence of her blaming sugar and cheap carbs. She might not have even generalized her observations beyond NYC.

                                This article is really Taubes taking a shot at the 'establishment' on the occasion of a major meeting on this topic of obesity sponsored by the CDC.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  I agree that Bruch probably did not focus on the dietary aspects of obesity. She was interested in the psychological factors behind eating disorders, and later became a psychiatrist. I haven't read her papers, but they are available.

                                  I also agree that Taubes is getting into advocacy journalism here. Good for him. It's obvious that the conventional approaches to healthier eating, which have been around in various forms in the US for decades, haven't worked. The subject needs some strong advocacy.

                                  The one thing I really take exception to in the article is his misuse of the term "factoid."

                              2. re: pikawicca

                                Actually, if you watch the videos of Taubes' presentation at UC Berkeley to obesity researchers, he documents with myriad studies, slides, etc. the connection between poverty, malnourishment and obesity. It's on youtube if you're interested in the extremely deeply researched facts he presents.

                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  to pikawicca: don't believe this is true. In fact I know this is not true, from family photos.

                                2. Bruch's comment on fat kids in 1930s NYC is interesting, but it's anecdotal evidence from a single source and it hardly justifies Taubes' sweeping conclusion that:
                                  "How can we blame the obesity epidemic on gluttony and sloth if we easily find epidemics of obesity throughout the past century in populations that barely had food to survive and had to work hard to earn it?"

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: emily

                                    That's not a conclusion, it's a question. I don't mean to be flippant. A theory of the causes of obesity must account for the trends toward increasing obesity in various segments of the population, and the population generally, at various times.

                                    1. re: GH1618

                                      That's science for you, the pursuit of answers. But first you have to be able to distinguish what the apt questions might be.

                                    2. re: emily

                                      Google up Taubes' video presentation to obesity researchers at UC Berkeley for it's extensive review of the science of obesity as he's documented it in books and articles. It runs 10 youtube episodes.

                                      1. re: emily

                                        Re: Emily

                                        Could not agree more. It's well discussed regarding the problem of obesity as being a percentage of the population and how this number is increasing. There have been obese people throughout time, but as we can see in the USA, documented through observations, videos, photos, this trend toward general obesity is recent in nature.

                                        The anecdotal comments on obese kids in 1930's NYC as the basis for any widespread conclusion on obesity in America during the Depression era is preposterous and almost insulting. More than a few of us have relatives who have lived through the Depression and the overwhelming majority of evidence from that period show people who couldn't be farther from obesity and 1 pound short of emaciation.

                                        It's troubling this trend toward blaming genetics and disavowing sloth and gluttony as if people do not suffer from these defects of character. This could not be farther from the truth as indeed if someone does not eat, he or she does not get fat, irrespective of genetics. If you intake fewer calories than the caloric exertion of your body, regardless of what you eat, sugar or fats, you will not gain weight.

                                      2. Obviously, research by actual scientists is ongoing and the jury is still out. It's premature to jump on any given bandwagon at this time. Just as obviously, claiming to have "the answer" has been a huge money maker for writers of books, manufacturers of the "right" food products, etc.


                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                          One thing we do know from all the evidence of the past 30 years is that restricting fat and protein and basing a diet on carbohydrates leads to very poor public health. We have no time to wait for everyone to agree before trying to stop all the crippling disease that's resulted from the low fat high carb reccos that never had any basis in objective science. This isn't mere theory or anecdote, the most important evidence is the clinical outcomes.

                                        2. This is all too simplistic. My problem with his work and this discussion is that it treats all carbos the same: a carb is a carb. Funny, since it strives so hard to break the "a calorie is a calorie" idea. From the perspective of a person prone to hypoglycemia, I can attest to the fact that carbs coming from a loaf of spelt or other whole grain bread has a dramatically different effect on my body (blood sugar) than the carbs from a banana or pizza dough or jasmine rice. Just the difference between jasmine and basmati is noticeable. The point cannot be to villify carbohydrates but question whether we should be eating carbs that are high on the glycemic index.

                                          We need carbs to move our bodies. We need to move our bodies so we are mentally happy, sleep well, age well. We simply have to eat the right carbs, in balance with fats and protein.

                                          33 Replies
                                          1. re: fame da lupo

                                            Bravo. Well said.
                                            You'll be drawn and quartered for having dared to state it without foaming at the mouth, but bravo.

                                            1. re: fame da lupo

                                              nobody, including taubes, eades and atkins, in the low-carb camp is equating broccoli to bread.

                                              i can personally attest that a low-carb diet helped me shed pounds, when conventional methods did not. i was over 40, the scale was creeping up and i could not make it stop. my diet was based on "healthy" grains and legumes, fruits, veggies and low-fat, as it had been for years. i cut, cut, cut calories, exercised like a maniac, fasted. the scale barely budged.

                                              when i changed my eating habits, the pounds and inches came off and i was never hungry. my sleep and energy improved. my entire life i suffered from bronchial issues and allergies. in 2.5 years of eating low-carb, i have not had even a sniffle. i eat more calories per day now than i did on low-fat and maintain a healthy weight and size.

                                              it is NOT calories in/calories out. the food pyramid is killing us.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                thank you for sharing your experience. And I agree, "My problem with his work and this discussion is that it treats all carbos the same: a carb is a carb" - is NOT true. He never says that. Refined carbohydrates, white flour, sugars, processed foods - those are the carbs that should be limited.

                                                Why such animosity? Such reluctance to read his articles/books? What is so threatening - he's challenging a tenet with facts and evidence and studies. Use this interest to learn more and then decide how you feel about it.

                                                1. re: Snorkelvik

                                                  He specifically mentions "processed food" like bread as being part of the problem. Bread is made from a wide variety of grains in a wide variety of processes. To unilaterally dump bread on the bad column is myopic. Wonder Bread is different from spelt, one is like eating candy and the other has complex, slow to break down carbs that the body needs for fuel.

                                                  1. re: Snorkelvik

                                                    This discussion has a religious flavor. There are 'believers' who write 'I have tried it, and it works; everything thing else failed, so therefor it must be the truth'. And when others raise questions (based for example on the OP's article), the reply is 'read our guru's book (or watch his videos), and you will be convinced.'. If some are reluctant to read the low-carb Bible, there are others who are just as reluctant to read (or cite) any substantive critiques.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      religious folks ultimately rely on faith as the foundation for their beliefs. not the same at all.

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        I agree and it's a shame. Taubes work has largely mirrored my own personal experience, that sugars are to blame and not fat. But I think he (or his acolytes) go too far in pushing for low-carb, as if carbs and their vehicles (food) were an undifferentiated mass. To some, it seems a potato is a bean is a Twinkie is a whole-wheat loaf -- all carbs and therefore to be avoided.

                                                        I think what some are also missing is that the "exercise doesn't do it" motto can serve as an apologia for sedentiary lifestyles. "OK, no carbs and I don't need to exercise either" may be a recipe for weight loss but perhaps is not a recipe for general health. We need carbs to exercise, we need exercise to be healthy. Pegging the entire discussion to weight is so short-sighted it's breathtaking - we are so much more than our body mass.

                                                        1. re: fame da lupo

                                                          the op began with an observation re: obesity, hence weight being the focus of the thread.

                                                          have you actually read any taubes? he emphatically does not equate twinkies with tomatoes. nor do i. you're oversimplifying the discussion to "no carbs" which is not what myself, and others above, are saying.

                                                          besides successful weight loss, i already mentioned my improved bronchial health since eliminating grains and legumes. (added sugars were never an issue for me. cookies and such hold little appeal.) it's astonishing in hindsight how often and how terribly i was sick. all my life. coughing fits so terrible i frequently burst blood vessels in my eyes.

                                                          within days of going low-carb my life-long insomnia disappeared, as did my nightsweats. my teeth were dramatically cleaner. no fuzzy sweater feeling on the backs of my teeth after eating. within weeks, my hair and skin became noticeably softer. my nails became unbreakable and grow like weeds. i no longer have debilitating energy dips when i skip a meal or go many hours without food. i don't ever feel drowsy after a meal.

                                                          my overall health has improved so dramatically i am amazed that i swallowed the "healthy grains-low-fat" dogma for as long as i did. it seemed impossible that my diet was making me so sick and miserable, but it was.

                                                          yet, it remains the standard advice from most doctors and the government. it's killing us.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            I'm not sure you get what I'm trying to say. The problem isn't equating broccoli to bread or tomatoes to twinkies. Broccoli and tomatoes contain very few carbs, I know that Taubes nor you would make that equation. I'm not sure why you keep construing it this way.

                                                            It does seem as if twinkies are equated with spelt or cannellini beans (no carbs!!!1). That is a problem. Personally, I do "healthy grains-full fats-lots of veggies". Best of both worlds.

                                                            1. re: fame da lupo

                                                              my personal experience is that grains and legumes were very damaging. i ate whole grains, nothing white, and lots of beans and lentils. they were my primary source of protein because i bought the dogma that meat was bad for you. this did serious harm to my insulin response and metabolism.

                                                              never again.

                                                              oh, and i frequently exercise in a fasted state. i don't need spelt toast before or after.

                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                Then there's the other problem: meat-centric diets support the industrial meat system which destroys local ecosystems, is the primary contributor to global warming, damages its workers, and of course, brutalizes the animals in its factories and CAFOs. Some of us have the means to buy pastured chickens and grass-fed beef, but many Americans do not.

                                                                At minimum, even if you discard the way the system treats its workers and animals, meat-centric diets are not ecologically sustainable on a local or planetary basis. We must not only change our production system to decentralize and de-intensify meat production, but also need to raise less livestock and poultry to ensure we have a habitable planet to pass onto our grandchildren.

                                                                On exercise, your average person might be able to go for a walk on an empty stomach, but try playing a 90 minute soccer match on a diet of tuna and broccoli. Real exercise requires calories for fuel.

                                                                1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                  you seem to have a penchant for reductionism.

                                                                  my diet is veg and fat centric. as a low-carber, i eat far more vegetables than i ever did as a vegetarian. i eat small portions of meat and lots of pastured eggs.

                                                                  the burning of fossil fuels and land-clearing are major factors in global climate change. it's not all the fault of factory-farming, which i agree is deplorable. does anybody disagree with that? do you personally eschew meat because of it? my personal ethics ( and taste buds) keep me out of fast-food places, which are the primary purchasers of this stuff. if people didn't insist on eating billions of 99cents burgers, there wouldn't be a demand for all this meat that is inhumanely raised.

                                                                  i lift and do cardio sometimes without eating. it's entirely do-able. if i don't feel hungry before i go to the gym, i don't eat. if i do eat, i prefer to go several hours after. am i running a marathon? no, but i never said i was.




                                                                  1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                    Are the Industrial Wheat and Corn farms much better?

                                                                    1. re: DougRisk

                                                                      I'm trying to re-frame the debate, not engage in witty rejoinders or critique individual diets (e.g. Hotoynoodle's). Industrial grain farms are problematic for their own reasons, obviously. My issue is that low-carb advice has historically fed into meat-centric diets that therefore support and further the industrial meat system. Those who eat a lot of veg, some meat and eggs raised well, are not the problem in terms of ecology or public health. Those who low-carb into endless amounts of chicken breast and eggs are a problem for the environment en masse.

                                                                      1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                        "Those who eat a lot of veg, some meat and eggs raised well, are not the problem in terms of ecology or public health."

                                                                        And those that go low-carb on local grass fed meat, artisanal cheeses and organic produce (i.e. lettuce, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cabbage, blackberries, raspberries, etc.) are not supporting those industrial wheat and corn farms that get huge tax supported subsidies that edge out family farms.

                                                                        Isn't that simply a reframe of your reframe?

                                                                        Personally, I don't think either of the low-fat or low-carb diets would be particularly helpful to furthering sustainable farming, but I am not sure that is all that pertinent to a thread that had, at some point, derailed into questioning whether Gary Taubes work was well done or not.

                                                                    2. re: fame da lupo

                                                                      Now it's clear. You have issues pertaining to the eating of meat which have nothing to do with the topic of this thread.

                                                                        1. re: GH1618

                                                                          Interesting how certain people cannot have this discussion without making it personal. The problem is the simplistic rejection of carbs and the turn towards animals given the current state of production of meat, dairy and eggs in this country. For that matter, I should include fish and the way we are eating several species into extinction. Animals/fish are intrinsically bound into the low-carb diet, since most protein comes from animals, soy or legumes. Legumes are out (carbs!) and unless you're going vegetarian (soy), you're getting your protein (which is emphasized in the diet over carbs, recall) from animal sources. This brings into question, and makes an issue out of, production practices.

                                                                          The issue is to think about how our dietary choices affect the entire food system as well as our own bodies. We are eating ourselves into ecological collapse and obesity at the same time.

                                                                          1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                            Fame, you obviously want this thread to be about "meat centric diets are bad for the environment", which, could be a really interesting thread to start.

                                                                            But that is not what this thread is about. Now, I am not interested in being some sort of "you must stay on topic" Nazi. God knows that I go off on tangents all the time.

                                                                            But there is a difference between going off on a tangent on really wanting the central idea of the thread to be completely changed. As you said up-thread, you want to "reframe" the debate.

                                                                            I think you topic of interest is a worthy one, but probably deserves it own thread.

                                                                            1. re: DougRisk

                                                                              Taubes' work, if popularized and practiced en masse, have effects beyond one's own waistline. These effects out to be considered in conjunction with the efficacy of his dietary advice.

                                                                            2. re: fame da lupo

                                                                              I believe you've framed this incorrectly. Low carbers don't typically eat more animal proteins than before low carbing. Nor do we eschew carbs, my plate is filled with them, they just happen to be colorful, leafy, fibrous and non starchy ones. What low carb leads to is typically more focus on fats from healthy sources and more veggies. Since we're sensitized to food quality, most lean toward organic, or sustainable foods and grass feeding, etc. giving rise to regional farming practices that are less polluting.

                                                                              1. re: mcf

                                                                                It's hard to generalize "low carbers" like it is to generalize the poor carb. Many diet fads in the past have turned away from carbs and towards meat -- protein becomes king. Atkins is but one recent example.

                                                                                Since our diet is a composite of many things, any changes in it affect a wide variety of processes in our food system as a whole. This is why we might look questioningly at low-carb diets to look at how they propose to replace that calorie intake which previously came from carbs. I worry that in American culture, considering past fads, meat/dairy/eggs/fish intake is increased to fill that gap.

                                                                    3. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                      I don't swallow the healthy grains dogma either ;) I eat a lot of white rice and so do many people I know that are slender. There are probably close to a billion people who eat white rice on a daily basis and are slender. I personally prefer the taste of brown rice but it's much more rarely offered.

                                                                      Personally, I think that many questions of obesity could be answered by having a diet cam recording food intake and activity during the course of the day. People eat a lot more and a lot less healthy than they think they do, and exercise a lot less than they think they do as well. To make matters worse, not only do people make honest mistakes, they also intentionally deceive on issues of food intake and exercise. I was trying to help one of my friends with her weight problem and found a stash of cupcakes and candy wrappers hidden in her closet.

                                                                      1. re: Pookipichu

                                                                        Not all "white rice" is the same. There are many varieties each with its own chemistry and effect on the body, in particular on one's blood sugar. Some white rice is very slow to metabolize, like basmati, and is therefore something I qualify as "healthy carb".

                                                                        1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                          My meter says there's no such thing as a slow metabolizing, glow GL rice. Studies have shown that white converted rice is slowest, but it's too fast for good health, anyway.

                                                                          1. re: mcf


                                                                            This is what I had seen years ago - GI of 43. Puts it low in the medium category. I also noticed in my past research that brown rice isn't always lower in its glycemic load than white, which perhaps is why people are able to point to Asian rice consumers and question whether brown rice is really superior.

                                                                  2. re: paulj

                                                                    And then there are others who feel the need to look for tiny cracks and look to open them wide.

                                                                    I mean, if he has not published anything in a peer reviewed journal then he must be wrong.

                                                                    Personally, I don't have a horse in the race, but I thought that the book was EXTREMELY well referenced. That does not mean that his ultimate message is correct. But it does say something about the effort and research.

                                                              2. re: fame da lupo

                                                                By "his" do you mean Taubes? You are misrepresenting his position on carbs, I think.

                                                                1. re: GH1618

                                                                  Yes. For example, I don't see any evidence that he differentiates between types of bread or mentions the myriad benefits of legumes.

                                                                2. re: fame da lupo

                                                                  Human biochemistry does not need dietary carbs for anything. You're confusing glucose, which is very well supplied by protein foods, with dietary carbs. Endurance athletes adapt in about three weeks to a ketogenic diet, and are less likely to bonk, since fat can also be converted to glucose for energy as needed. The only essential nutrients in human nutrition are fats and proteins. Well chosen carbs can be part of a very healthy diet, but that's an option, never a requirement.

                                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                                    I find this to be a radical statement and one that I would be interested in reading more about: can you link me to some studies?

                                                                    1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                      It's in standard biochemistry texts. It's this simple; essential nutrients are those we require that cannot be synstheised in the body... and glucose is synthesed from protein, even fat under extreme circumstances. Check out the Inuit and the study of the Alaskan explorers who ate a meat only diet for a year in a famous Belleview hospital study. Dietary carbs are wrongly cited as required for glucose, but that's not how biochemistry works, protein converts to it, even fat will under duress. Slower, more sustained, hence the adaptation in endurance athletes.

                                                                      Here's a link to the process that makes dietary carbs non essential: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedict...

                                                                      The beauty of it is that is't a much slower, less efficient process, hence no sugar rush, leading to high glucose suddenly shot down by an insulin gusher.... it fuels one longer and more steadily.

                                                                3. I have sort of mixed views of this problem. I do think some regulation of snack foods, and certain prohibitions about they are offered, are good for us as a culture. But in the final view, it does come down to understanding something about a pervasive culture of easily available calories in super portions. I don't believe obesity can be legislated or regulated away. Obesity with diabetes has existed for a long time, although not in such alarming proportions. I admit that I am shocked at some who have received diabetes diagnoses. So, I know that this problem is widespread in our Western culture.

                                                                  But ultimately individuals need to understand that most of us eat too many calories. This has been a personal realization. Reducing diets often appeal to us on the basis of "you won't be hungry" and we try to minimize the pain of hunger as we reduce. I really think that we expect too much food on a daily basis. By "we" I mean most of us.

                                                                  Anorexia is just the other side of the coin, as gluttony. They are not the same disorder, obviously, but they have to be related. They are two extremes of what is a normal activity.

                                                                  What I notice is a gradual erosion of normal tastes toward the sweet and the salty. Instead of simple chocolate cake, there is a movement in recipes toward the double chocolate or the deluxe chocolate cake--or brownie or cookie. If chocolate is good, then double chocolate must be divine. If "Italian" salad dressing is tangy, it must by sweetened a little, then more , then more. (If you don't believe this is happening in popular taste, just try to get an unsweetened Italian flavored dressing in a chain restaurant.) Not satisfied with pure and more simple flavors, we want novelty in the form of more, more, more--intensity and portion size. Remember that restaurants and recipe writers are catering to us.

                                                                  Ultimately, most all of us, including myself, eat too much. Every day. And it is very hard to change this behavior. In the words of Walt Kelly's Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                                                    It's the hyper-availability of highly processed, highly manufactured food with a specific fat : sugar ratio that makes it both extremely palatable and devoid of nutritional value. It is extremely cheap to make, easy to sell, and extremely convenient for busy people. It is everywhere, and it is difficult to resist when you've had a tough day at work, the kids are in the car, it's dinner time and you haven't made anything and soccer practice starts in 45 minutes and you are RIGHT by the Burger King. It is a hard lifestyle pattern to break, but it can be done and done successfully, but it has to start with a personal commitment to change and a complete acceptance of personal responsibility for one's lifestyle and dietary choices (been there, done it, lost and maintained 82 lbs to date for the past 5 years).
                                                                    And as you say, you can't legislate nor regulate it away. There has to be a cultural shift through a heavy emphasis on education I think in order for society as a whole to change it's views on obesity, junk food and physical activity (I don't mean the gym, I just mean being more active overall -- stairs vs elevator/walk vs drive/that sort of thing), much like what has happened with smoking in the past 20 years.
                                                                    No easy, pat answers I fear.

                                                                    1. re: sueatmo


                                                                      from this link:

                                                                      One in every three American children born in 2000 will likely be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime

                                                                      about 95 per cent of children with type 2 diabetes are overweight at diagnosis.

                                                                      i am not disagreeing that many people eat far too much. portion sizes, especially at chain restaurants are to the point of absurdity.

                                                                      but even well-intentioned folks, mindful of their plates, are being given terrible advice about WHAT to eat. childhood obesity was a rarity when i was a kid. but our moms didn't have cheerios and juice boxes in their handbags either. when i see little kids out and about they are ALWAYS eating. always. snacking and grazing is the new normal and it's necessitated by the awful energy dips from their high-carb diets.

                                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                        Good point, except that you should have ended with "high-sugar diets."

                                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                          Good studies with children and adults have found that those who eat carbs at one meal, breakfast in particular, eat much higher cal at the next meal due to the hunger induced by hyperinsulinemia/high carb.

                                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                            As I said, I believe that there needs to be some regulation of the food industry.

                                                                            When consumers demand change, I believe there might be meaningful change. However I stand by my observation that most Americans eat too much, and this eating too much is a part of our everyday life, and goes unremarked by most of us because we are so used to it. And what we eat is bad for us. If you doubt this, have a look at almost any organization or fund raising cookbook. See the recipes people are really eating.

                                                                            And I must say that I encounter people fairly frequently who are eating sweets and carbs, even though taking meds for diabetes. It is so common it is hard to believe. People who can't give up sweets, even though their health is at stake, have to be addicted, no? I have walked down that path. I still crave some sweet thing sometimes.

                                                                          2. re: sueatmo

                                                                            Wasn't there a thread about a California rule that would limit how close to schools food trucks could operate? People seemed to view it as a threat to food trucks rather than an attempt to protect kids from unhealthy snacks.

                                                                            Doesn't California have some sort of junk food tax? Washington tried to impose the regular sales tax on snack foods (food and drugs are exempt), but a referendum overturned the legislature on that.

                                                                          3. I think it's time for a little common sense here; instead of listening to experts, those of who've lived long enough see things quite differently than Taubes. I was born in 1949. Growing up (mostly in the States), virtually all Americans ate white bread, white rice, and lots of potatoes. We usually had a sweet snack at some point during the day. Special occasions demanded pies and cakes. Almost no one ate whole grains, with the exception of oatmeal. DIABETES AND OBESITY WERE RARE. Meanwhile, most Asians were eating white rice 3 times a day, also with very low rates of diabetes and obesity. At the same time, the famed Mediterranean diet was chock full of refined grains, again, the populace was pretty much free from diabetes and obesity. What's the difference between then and now? WE EAT TOO DAMNED MUCH.

                                                                            7 Replies
                                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                                              I'm older than you, so that doesn't give you a pass here. The difference between our childhood in the 1950s and today is that there is far more sugar in commercially prepared food today. Dr. Lustig has documented the effects of sugar on human metabolism, and Taubes has reported it.

                                                                              If the problem of the obesity epidemic is ever solved, it won't be by "common sense," but by science and public policy.

                                                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                                                I'm not looking for a "pass." Common sense trumps Taube's "science" every time. Why would anyone believe some self-anointed "expert" over the evidence of their own life experience?

                                                                                1. re: GH1618

                                                                                  I am not so sure about there being more sugar in commercially prepared food now than 50 years ago. OK, there's more commercially prepared food, but if I were to compare comparable items then and now, would they be that different? And, just how much of the current overload of sugar comes hidden in those foods?

                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                    Paul, I don't know if this answers your question, but we get something like 85% of our sugar from prepared goods.

                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                      I think (but cannot prove) that there is more sugar in processed foods than there used to be. Things like bread and tomato sauce taste very sweet to me, mayonnaise and salad dressings, too.

                                                                                  2. re: pikawicca

                                                                                    Agree totally.

                                                                                    I wonder if you were a Pet milk formula baby? Worst sort of diet for a baby. Somehow we all survived, but I think we have paid a price.

                                                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                      We were also dramatically less sedentiary then -- remember jobs when you actually had to stand all day? Service labor, mostly bound to a chair, has had a huge effect. Let's also not glamorize things too greatly -- heart disease hit its apex 40 years ago.

                                                                                    2. Folks, this thread has grown increasingly hostile on both sides of this issue, and has gotten bogged down in a debate about who is meaner to who. At this point, we think it's about time to wrap it up, so we're going to lock it now.