Weekly Review: “Good Calories, Bad Calories”

Happy Wednesday! So, as promised, we are continuing with our weekly review. Usually, Kevin will be reviewing exercise plans and I will be reviewing popular diet or exercise books and the lucky winner today is “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. Here is a link to the book on Amazon

First of all, this book is not for the feint of heart! It is thick, both literally and figuratively.  Taubes is a scientific journalist who wrote for very important journals like Science and he writes this book exactly how he would write for a scientific audience. The book is not fluffy or funny, but direct and chock full of research and important sounding citations, which is exactly why I picked it up.

The Good: Taubes is not trying to give you a meal plan or a fad diet, but rather is attempting to review all the recent literature (and some not so recent) about what actually causes weight loss and weight gain. He criticises Americans (and prominent scientists) for jumping on the popular culture bandwagon of a low-fat diet and total calorie reduction without truly reviewing the evidence. He lists multiple incidences where general claims were made and dietary recommendations created without nearly the appropriate amount of evidence to support the claims. His over-arching claim is that low-fat diets do not prevent heart disease or weight gain, but instead diets high in starch and sugar are the real culprit. There is definitely some truth to the fact that high starchy or sugary diets will increase your insulin response and that can lead to n increase in stored fat and diabetes, however Taubes goes the whole way claiming that dietary fat claims no responsibility and carbohydrates are the only evil macronutrient.

The Bad: It is interesting to read how the current dietary guidelines came about and the apparent lack of supporting evidence for a low-fat diet, however Taubes seems to be completely biased against the evidence. Each study he cites supporting the role of cholesterol or dietary fat is ripped to shreds, but most of his evidence for a high-protein, high-fat diet is no better. He shares many anecdotes and case study support and very few randomized controlled trials. He blames this on the fact that the entire medical community is brainwashed against his theory and no one will publish high-fat diet research.

The Ugly: At worst, this book could be incredibly misleading. He tells stories of how many people have been on meat and cheese only diets and been happy and healthy AND lost tons of weight. He offers no long term studies about potential detrimental effects of very high protein diets or diets that completely cut out fruits and vegetables. I would imagine that someone on a meat and dairy diet would quickly become deficient in several vitamins and minerals.  Also, he doesn’t make a case for vegetable or beans as protein sources, only meats. He uses the research to say, “If your way isn’t completely proven, then my way must be correct.” Additionally, he doesn’t take into account any effect of exercise. if a person has a moderately high-carbohydrate diet, exercise can independently increase glucose uptake into the muscle and reduce the insulin response, which can decrease the severity of diabetes.

Take home message: Mostly, don’t waste your time. The no-carb diet thing has been said and done, and the best thing you can do for yourself is have a BALANCED diet. Don’t overdo the carbs, but don’t cut out fruits and veggies just because you think they are too high in carbohydrates.

Just to keep you updated…. I ran 14 miles this past Sunday! It was…. awful! My knees were aching and I was completely exhausted. 50 miles is starting to sound longer and longer….It took me 2 hours, so I am only 1 hour away from my 3 hour goal. How are you all doing on your current fitness goals?



One response to this post.

  1. Sara,

    I agree with your over all take away; I actually heard Gary Taubes speak, and although he mostly addressed topics in his other book , Why We Get Fat, the message was very similar: Carbs make you fat, not fat, so cut out as many as possible. While the diet is slightly less crazy than Atkins (he does actually advocate eating lots of vegetables, and fruits in moderation so it’s not quite a meat and cheese diet), I did notice the same things you did. In fact, during his talk, he actually went as far as to say that exercise has a “minimal” effect on weight loss, if any at all. I thought, that’s crazy, it can’t be right ! I don’t know if it’s just out here in the northwest, but this whole idea of taking out grains and starches entirely (the paleo diet) is very popular. It’s a little odd…and while I agree that most Americans eat gross, processed crap and that it would help most people a lot to take a step away from the high fructose corn syrup, white rice, white bread, and white potatoes in favor of lower glycemic index grains, I think that you said it well. Any diet that cuts out a whole food group is not a good idea, and balance and moderation is the key!



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