Yesterday's episode of Quirks and Quarks (the national science radio programme of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) featured an interview with Gary Taubes, an investigative science journalist whose new book, Good Calories, Bad Calories attacks the idea of low-fat, high-exercise dieting as scientifically unsound and unsupported by empirical research, tracing the idea back to a nutritional fad that arose 50 years ago. Before this, all over the world, everyone knew that the way to gain weight was to eat lots of starchy and sweet food. Taubes wrote the seminal New York Times article on the Atkins diet, What if it's All Been a Big Fat Lie in 2002 -- an article that inspired me to switch to a high-protein, low-carb diet and lose 80 pounds in a year.
Good Calories, Bad Calories expands on the article in great depth, looking into the credible scientific studies on weight and carbohydrates, and, from the sounds of things, makes a compelling case for the idea that the obesity epidemic can be laid at the feet of the precept that weight loss is best accomplished by eliminating fat and replacing it with starch.
I found the high-protein diet hard to sustain after three years -- I was getting bored, and I was conscious of the fact that subsisting principally on meat meant that I was indirectly consuming tons of grain and water for ever pound of steak I ate. These days, I still eat low-carb (no starch, grain, or sugar), but try to get the bulk of my calories from fruits and vegetables -- tons of them, more-or-less on the Eat to Live plan -- with lots of beans and tofu and a little fish now and then. That seems to sustain my weight just as well as Atkins did, but without the meat.
For the last thirty years, medical advice on obesity has been very clear. Eat less and exercise. But what if that was all wrong, a big fat lie, as Gary Taubes would put it? Mr. Taubes is an award- winning science writer based in New York, and in his latest book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, he explores the history of diet and exercise advice from the late nineteenth century until the present. According to his research, eating fatty foods doesn't lead to heart disease, cholesterol levels aren't something to worry about, and exercise doesn't help you lose weight. In fact, according to Mr. Taubes, everything the medical profession advocates, in terms of eating and exercise, is at best a waste of time, and at worst, may actually be killing us. He says it isn't fat we should be worrying about, but instead carbohydrates, especially white flour and white sugar. He thinks the current obesity epidemic, the rising levels of diabetes, even cancer and Alzheimer's disease, may all be a result of our modern diet of carbs and sugars.