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Fat lot of lies about your health

I am amazed that one of the most important books written on nutrition and health — one that systematically demolishes the myths, lies and scientific bigotry of mainstream health dogma — has received so little attention in this country. Perhaps I shouldn’t be.

Published last year, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes is not the easiest of reads, I grant you. Based on five years of meticulous research and hundreds of interviews, it’s investigative journalism at its best, a methodical, detached analysis of a huge body of research into nutrition and health over the last century.

Taubes is an award-winning US science writer, not an “expert”, and that’s why this book is so important: it’s written by someone who, though eminently knowledgeable, has zero vested interest in the medical/health/food industry; he’s a professional sceptic — or heretic.

Why, Taubes asks, are the so-called diseases of civilisation — diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer — still so rampant? In trying to answer the question, he uncovers a hornet’s nest of distortion and deceit. Bottom line is this: everything we thought we knew about diet and health is mostly wrong, even downright dangerous. The big fat lie exposed by Taubes is centred around the calories in/calories out hypothesis. No matter how obvious it seems, it’s just not true that if you eat more calories than you expend you will get fat, or that a fat calorie is the same as a protein calorie is the same as a carbohydrate calorie: there is a huge difference in the way the body metabolises these different types of nutrients.

According to Taubes, we can blame a helluva lot of our obesity and chronic disease misery on a man named Ancel Keys, who 60 years ago, using really terrible, now discredited research, developed the fat-causes-cholesterol-causes-heart-disease hypothesis. Keys and his cohorts spawned the multi-billion cholesterol-lowering/statin industry; they helped create the obesity epidemic with their war against fat; they have been successfully wrecking the health of a large chunk of humanity for the last six decades.

The world has never been sicker since the Keys hypothesis became gospel but the medical establishment just refuses to let it go.

I bet you my last lousy rand that 90% of medical “experts” are still telling their patients with chronic illnesses to eat low-fat, high-carb diets despite the overwhelming evidence, and Taubes really does present an avalanche of solid research, that this dietary regime has been a recipe for health disaster and actually promotes the very sicknesses it is meant to help treat.

It takes Taubes almost 500 pages and a further 100 pages of footnotes/references to totally demolish the entire edifice of this low-fat nonsense we have been fed about nutrition and health, and focus the spotlight where it really belongs: on carbohydrates. In sifting through all the research he arrives at the following “inescapable” conclusions:

1. Dietary fat does not cause obesity, heart disease, diabetes or any other of the “chronic diseases of civilisation”.
2. The scourge of modern health is elevated levels of the hormone insulin triggered by excessive consumption of carbohydrates, mainly refined carbs. Sugars, especially sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup (the stuff you find in Coke) are the worst culprits.
3. Obesity is not caused by over-eating and sedentary behaviour. It is a disorder of fat accumulation and the body’s inability to release stored fat.
5. Consuming excess calories (taking in more energy then you expend) does not cause you to get fat any more than it causes a child to grow taller. And the converse is also true — calorie restriction (eating less) does not lead to long-term weight loss — it leads to hunger.
6. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance in the way our hormones (especially insulin) regulate fat metabolism and storage. When elevated, insulin causes fat to be stored, and when insulin levels decrease we (should) release that stored fat and use it as energy. But if the body is constantly flooded with insulin caused by the over-consumption of (especially refined) carbs, it prevents that stored fat from being released as energy. That’s what really makes us fat. The less carbs we consume, the leaner we will be.

Taubes also mobilises all the research to show that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight either (it just makes you hungrier).

Yup, I can just hear all those prejudices about obesity bubbling to the surface: that it’s caused by those deadly sins, gluttony and sloth, lack of willpower. And some of you diet-junkies will say, oh this is just Atkins (referring to the high-protein Atkins diet), but Taubes’s book goes a lot, lot further, delivering a systematic and damning critique of all the bad science that has shaped orthodox thinking on nutrition and health and then produces the solid scientific foundation for a complete overhaul.

Go get Good Calories, Bad Calories. It’s a riveting, if demanding, read. You won’t regret it.

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes (Anchor Books). I ordered it through Kalahari.net