Customer Reviews: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease
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on April 27, 2010
I've worked in hospitals or have been in a teaching position in health care since 1972. That entire time I marched to the unceasing drum of dietary-fat-and-cholesterol-lead-directly-to-heart-disease, now called the lipid theory of heart disease. It never occurred to me to ask "Where is the hard evidence?" I assumed it had been irrefutably proven. Then factors in my own life led me to eventually question that ever present mantra.

My own mother had her first heart attack when she was just 48 years old. In her seventies she was put on a statin for elevated cholesterol and became someone I barely recognized; argumentative, irritable, forgetful, poor coordination and very depressed. Nothing in my own medical care education lead me to blame any of that on statin drugs. What was even more puzzling was that she had never been one to eat fatty foods or things laden with cholesterol. But I never stopped to think about that. I did know she struggled with weight her entire life and hence was vigilant in eating things low-fat, as well as only using polyunsaturated oils for cooking. But it is also true she had a problem with carbohydrates - they always were the majority of her diet. I lost her to a heart attack in 1995.

Three years ago, as my own cholesterol nudged up a bit, but still within traditional normal range, I did not hesitate to comply with my doctor's suggestion to begin a statin (Lipitor). If anything, I felt I was getting ahead of the danger of losing my life as my mother had. But also like her, I struggle with my weight and like her I gravitate to carbohydrates. I was strictly avoiding all saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, cooking with the supposedly "healthy" polyunsaturated oils and always choosing fat-free or low-fat dairy products. In all that time in hospitals and health education we had a two other mantras - "a calorie is a calorie" and its corollary "calories in calories out" as the only approach to weight management. But every calorie restrictive program I tried just left me hungry and with only short term weight loss.

I developed, in those three years, various aches and pains, initially too varied to form a pattern. I was aware that I was having a marked increase in short term memory problems, and my joints were getting so troublesome I was unwilling to do the exercise my doctor kept harping about to keep my weight under control. I found myself getting irritable, less interested in life and feeling O.L.D. @ 60. Out of frustration with both weight and how crummy I was feeling, I read a couple of food advice books, and one, "In Defense of Food" started making sense to me. Two other books were mentioned within that one, so I moved on to one of them - "Good Calories, Bad Calories." The author already had an excellent track record of science journalism.

Just imagine how startled I was while reading Gary Taubes book to find out there never has been definitive reproducible studies to prove the connection between consuming dietary saturated fat and cholesterol to the development of high blood cholesterol, nor to cholesterol numbers being a directly predictive factor in heart disease mortality. This was a jaw dropping revelation to me. Then I went on to read about the abundance of information revealing "healthy" seed oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy and canola, showed no evidence of lowering either heart disease itself or the mortality rate from heart disease. Then the came the real shocker.......the most consistent risk factor for developing heart disease, as far as diet is concerned, is the intake of carbohydrates. I was dumb struck. He also challenges, then destroys, the assumption that all calories are created equal and that saturated fat is harmful. One whole chapter is devoted just to how our bodies manufacture and use insulin and the stress that excess carbohydrate puts on our system, leading eventually to insulin resistance and finally type 2 diabetes.

I am not easily swayed, so it is important to me that when someone makes such revolutionary counter-to-accepted-belief statements, they had better be able to back it up. Taubes book has over 60 pages of just reference sources. It is exhaustively researched, going back through dietary research for the past century. His book led me to a few others that focused on carbohydrate dangers. cholesterol, fats and the harmful effects of statins. For those interested, here are some recommendations: Natural Health & Weight Loss,Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food,The Statin Damage Crisis,The Modern Nutritional Diseases: And How to Prevent Them : Heart Disease, Stroke, Type-2 Diabetes, Obesity, Cancer,Cereal Killer,The Great Cholesterol Con: The Truth About What Really Causes Heart Disease and How to Avoid It and The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy Four of these are written by MDs - informed, well educated, science background people working with current research information.

Information I uncovered left me shocked about how manipulative Big Pharma is as far as pressuring doctors to use their drugs, (complete with "incentive" packages that can only be compared to flat out bribery) about how they fund their own studies and then get to interpret their own results to be sure they are favorable, and/or they can choose to fail to publish anything negative. Agribusiness is also enormously influential in getting studies done, with their own highly lucrative contracts with research groups, to "prove" that oils made from their excess harvest, that are cheap and highly profitable, must be part of our daily diet at the expense of traditional fats. The power the pharmaceutical industry and the agribusiness has on such supposedly trustworthy institutions such as the American Heart Association, the FDA and the NIH is not to be believed. So sad for all of us.The food pyramid is absolutely wrong for heart health, weight management and avoiding type 2 diabetes.

As I read these books, I began to have hope about finally managing my own weight. Taubes book is all about arming you with proper facts, about making intelligent choices for your own dietary direction. It is not focused on the use of statins (I found that informations in other related books listed above) - rather, he is making the point that while we have been concentrating on fats as the cause of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, it has really been the shift toward more carbohydrate and seed oil consumption for the last 60 years.

But Taubes is NOT offering "program" as such. Rather, for someone like me, who really wants to understand WHY things are the way they are, this is a wealth of information about how we went down the wrong path as far as national nutritional health advice and who was behind it all. He lets you connect the dots for yourself. If instead you would rather have help with a program for redesigning your nutrition, two of the books I listed are better for that, specifically "Deep Nutrition" by Dr. Shanahan, or Mark Sisson's "Primal Blueprint". Both books have at their core a target of total carbohydrate in a day of about 70 mg if you need to lose weight. Using these guidelines, I dropped 25 pounds in 11 weeks, without feeling hungry, and I feel excellent. I have also slowly tapered off, then stopped my Lipitor. I will not know my lab numbers for several months until my next check up, but I can report that my body aches have lessened, I have more energy, my short-term memory is better and my depressed mood has vanished.

I bought two extra copies of Taubes book and will be giving them to both my Family Practice doctor and my Endocrinologist. This information is vital. I believe my mother would have remained her normal self until her passing if she had not been given a statin and I also believe we may have had the joy of having her longer if any of us (including her doctors) had fully understood the implications of the carbohydrate laden low-fat diet she consumed for years.

Good luck to you. Be well.

P.S. - An eye-opening DVD is "Food Inc." that lays out the case for how we as citizens are at the mercy of only a handful of agribusiness companies. Profit, not our well being or the the survival of family farms matters to them. Their influence on our government's policies at all levels is truly shocking.
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on May 24, 2011
This book is one of the most important health books I have ever read.

(My copy was called 'The Diet Delusion' which is the UK and Australian etc. title of this book, I think.)

The author is incredibly intelligent and that this book took the author more than five years to write, shows. I've read few health books so intelligently written as this one.

I thought I was quite well educated about diet and the need to restrict refined carbohydrates (for good health and to stop weight gain) but I learned so much from reading this book.

This book is not a simple book offering practical advice and a diet sheet but a detailed analysis of why low calorie diets don't work and why restricted carbohydrate/high fat diets do.

The book explains that:

1. The 'calories in, calories out' mantra is a myth

2. 'A calorie is a calorie is a calorie' is a myth

3. The 'just eat less and do more exercise to lose weight' message seems to be logical but is actually wrong and unhelpful

4. Overweight and obese people often eat no more calories, or even less, than their thinner counterparts

5. Low calorie diets also reduce the amount of nutrients in the diet

6. It is a myth that the brain and CNS needs 120 - 130 grams of carbohydrate as fuel in order to function properly, as the body can use fat and protein equally as well, and these fuels are likely the mixture our brains have evolved to prefer.

7. Restricting calories with a low fat/high carb diet just makes you hungrier and more lethargic and slows your metabolic rate. Weight loss is only maintained if the patients stays on a semi-starvation diet forever, which is impossible for most people and also undesirable. Being far more active just makes you far more hungry.

8. It is a myth that reducing calories slightly or increasing activity slightly will lead to weight loss.

9. It is a myth that we evolved through periods of feast and famine to be very good at holding onto fat. Fat gain is due to excessive insulin levels caused by high dietary refined carbohydrate intake. It is a sign of something in the body going wrong, not a healthy adaptation.

10. Fructose is not much better than glucose and the two together may cause more harm than either individually.

11. The idea of a weight 'set point' is a myth

12. Insulin is the overall fuel control for mammals. High insulin levels cause the body to store fat and stop the body from using fat as fuel. This means that high carbohydrate foods make you put on more fat, and also leave you still feeling very hungry and unsatisfied.

13. Our bodies have evolved to do best on a diet of plentiful fat and protein (including saturated fat), lots of greens and minimal fruits and starchy vegetables. This diet is the best for health and also for losing weight and stopping weight gain.

14. Dietary fat, including saturated fat, is not a cause of obesity. Refined and easily digestible carbs causing high insulin levels cause obesity.

15. To say that people are overweight due to gluttony and slothfulness is just not correct and it is very unfair. Overeating and a sedentary lifestyle are often CAUSED by eating a high carbohydrate diet! This association has wrongly been interpreted as a cause of weight gain, rather than an effect.

16. Hunger caused by eating a high carbohydrate diet (or excessive exercising while on a low calorie diet) is a very strong physiological drive and should not be thought of something mild and psychological that can be overcome with willpower. This is something serious occurring in the body, not the brain!

Thus psychological 'treatments' for obesity are inappropriate and cruel. Most people are overweight due to bad medical advice, NOT a lack of willpower, greed, laziness or because they lack 'moral fibre'

17. People have different insulin secretory responses. Even if insulin secretion is slightly off, weight gain can occur.

18. Eating large amounts of a high sugar and high fat food like popcorn is easy because the body will not use most of the carbohydrate and fat for immediate fuel but will store much of it as fat - leaving you able to eat a lot of it and still be hungry a short time later as well.

19. Eating foods with a large bulk or high in fibre wont fill you up, you need the correct proportion of macronutrients and will stay hungry until you get them.

20. Those advocating the low calorie and high carb diets for health and weight loss are not involved in legitimate science. These approaches are not supported by the evidence.

I have still not covered so many other great points!

The bottom line is that we have evolved to eat a diet that contains enough fat and protein to cause satiety, lots of green vegetables and minimal amounts of fruits and starchy vegetables. Our bodies really can't cope with huge levels of refined carbohydrate as have recently been added to the modern diet.

More detailed information about this type of diet (and the benefits of traditional foods as well such as raw milk, organ meats, bone broths and fermented foods) can be found in books such as 'Nourishing Traditions' and 'Eat Fat, Lose Fat' by Sally Fallon (of the Weston A. Price Foundation) and Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan and Luke Shanahan, among others.

This book is a *very* dense read. (Those that are very ill and can't read such a long and complex book may do best to read just the first chapter and the last 2 chapters as these provide a summary to some extent.)

My only criticisms of the book are that a brief, maybe half page summary, of each chapter at the end of each chapter may have been very helpful for those of us that struggled taking in so many new facts at once due to illness or any other reason. I'd also have liked the ideas of Weston A. Price to be featured a bit more prominently than just on the acknowledgments page! But I accept that space was a concern for the author, as he states.

To the author, thank you so much for all your hard work. This is such an impressive body of work. I wish we had more investigative jounalists writing about 'controversial' topics to such a high standard.

I highly recommend this book. Check your library for a copy, at least!

Jodi Bassett, The Hummingbirds' Foundation for M.E. (HFME) and Health, Healing & Hummingbirds (HHH)
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on November 5, 2007
I'm a researcher by trade. Not a medical researcher, but an analyst nonetheless and I have been waiting for a very long time for this kind of work to come out. This isn't advocacy whatsoever. It's a look at what everyone says, and what the science says, and the politics that led us to ignore the science. The research level is staggering and evidence so overwhelming that portions of the book are downright infuriating.

I personally found reading the one-star reviews here interesting because there is not a single, negative review here that remotely suggests the reviewer actually read the material.

On to my own rating, here's what I think you should know when considering this purchase:

This is unlike any book you've ever read on the subject of diets. It is not a diet book. It is not a lifestyle book. It is not an advocacy book. It is a look at the science that has been ignored as our country has rolled toward the low-fat religion and what the consequences of this have been. It is a look at how and why overwhelming science and evidence was ignored.

Society has needed someone to do what Taubes did here -- to strip away what is popular, to dig into claims and recommendations, and see what the EVIDENCE shows us for claims on both sides of the diet argument. It will give you clarity where there has never been any, while explaining why it has been absent.

If you are looking for a book that lays out a diet plan and recipes and sample meals and such, this is not for you. This is a work of scientific journalism, not a diet plan.

On a final note, it is noteworthy that there have been no real rebuttals to this work whatsoever from the "experts" and "authorities" who have, because of politics and money and cowardice, advocated dietary guidelines that have driven our society into our miserable states of health and obesity.

That silence is shame.
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on January 3, 2011
I am a product formulator for a company that specializes in blood glucose normalization. I've talked and worked with thousands of chronic T2 diabetics over the last 12 years. I have researched the central question of diabetes (obesity, hyperinsulinemia, proper nutrient intake, exercise, etc.) for many years to arrive at the most beneficial recommendations for our customers, and I can say that after reading hundreds of books and research articles, I found Mr. Taubes' book to be the most comprehensive discussion of how and why we, in the U.S., ended up with what is, by all accounts, the most irrational and ineffective set of dietary recommendations on the planet. That what we are doing is not working is without question. The real question up to this point for most people has been, "What is the truth about the role of diet for our health?"

This topic is far from new. It's been a battleground between the "low-fat" people and the "low-carbohydrate" people for decades now, but the low-fat camp has always had the upper hand in spite of dozens of credible books (Food and Western Disease, Lindeberg; Insulin: Our Silent Killer, Smith; Genocide!, Carlson; The Leptin Diet, Richards) discussing the effectiveness of the the low-carbohydrate approach. This book does much more than just tell you why a low-fat diet doesn't work, it tells you why it doesn't, and in fact, cannot work long term. Further, it explains in great detail how this misguided low-fat belief, and the whole set of federally-mandated recommendations that it spawned, came to be. It is hard to walk away after reading this book without realizing that you have just read an incredible and admirable work that answers the question, "What is the truth about the role of diet for our health?"

I've seen hundreds of people normalize their blood glucose levels and lose greater amounts of weight than ever before following the low-carbohydrate diet, and this book explains why. It simply is the best book available on this topic.
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on October 20, 2007
This book is an impressive review of the science and the politics behind our ideas about good nutrition and healthy diets. Taubes took 5 years to write this, and says it wouldn't have been possible without the ready access to original resources that the Internet makes possible. It does indeed have an incredible amount of information about the subject.

One of the sad and infuriating themes of this book is that much of the currently accepted wisdom about healthy diets has a political basis, that recommendations were made and marketed before the science was solid, or in many cases before the science was even done. The people pushing their ideas strongly believed that they were doing the right thing, that their recommendations would save lives and wouldn't hurt anyone. Unfortunately, as the science gets better and better, it looks like they were wrong -- they may have helped a small percentage of people, but at the expense of greatly increased risk of diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer for large numbers of us.

Taubes opens his book by reminding us of the "diseases of Western civilization", that diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and cancer were relatively unknown in the third world until they adopted a more Western diet. Albert Schweitzer didn't treat many cases with these problems when he started practicing in Africa, but at the end of his service was seeing a lot of them, as local diets changed during his practice.

One hypothesis for why a typical Western diet is so unhealthy is that we eat a high level of refined carbohydrates: sugars, white flour, polished white rice. Taubes does an excellent job of supporting this hypothesis.

The basic model is that refined carbohydrates are absorbed very quickly by the gut and result in large blood sugar (glucose) spikes that require large insulin surges to keep blood sugar in a healthy range. Over time, many people develop metabolic problems and are not able to cope with these repeated glucose surges and keep their blood sugar under control. As average blood sugar and insulin level levels go up, they cause a cascade of increasing metabolic problems, leading to higher weight or obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflamation, and increased risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and dementia.

Taubes looks at a number of other explanations for "Western diseases".

* Cholesterol and saturated fat. This theory was championed by Dr Ancel Keys, who succeeding in turning it into dogma. The idea was that people with extremely high total cholesterol (265 and up) had higher risks of heart attacks, so lower cholesterol must be good for everyone, even though only a very small percentage of people have total cholesterol over 265. Eating saturated fat increases total cholesterol, so it must be bad. Eating polyunsaturated fat reduces total cholesterol so it must be good. Eating less saturated fat means that you need to make up the calories that were coming from it, so you needed to eat more polyunsaturated fat or reduce fat and eat more carbohydrate (e.g. a "low fat" diet).

The problem with Keys' theory is that further research did not support it: the epidemiological studies showed a modest risk of increased heart attack for men with total cholesterol over 240, and no increased risk for women. Low levels of cholesterol, under 160, are associated with increased risk of cancer, so you don't want to get too low. High levels of polyunsaturated fat are associated with increased risk of cancer, so you don't want to eat too much polyunsaturated fat.

Cholesterol is carried around in your blood in small globules of fat and cholesterol with a protein backbone, known as "lipoproteins". These globules range in size from very large (VLDL for very low-density lipoprotein) to medium sized (LDL for low-density lipoprotein) to small (HDL for high-density lipoprotein). When you get a blood test for total cholesterol, what is really measured is the cholesterol carried in all of these different sized globules.

It turns out that lipoprotein globule size is correlated with heart attack risk. Having more HDL is good (so your total cholesterol can go up and you have a lower risk of heart attack, if the increase comes from HDL). For LDL, there is a wide range of sizes, and the large ones are innocuous (e.g. "pillows floating around in your blood"). The smaller LDL particles are indeed correlated with an increased risk of heart attack. So if your total cholesterol goes up but it is because you have more large LDL globules, that is fine. If it goes up because you have more small LDL globlues, that is bad. But when you get a total cholesterol number, you have no way to tell which is which.

Eating saturated fat does increase total cholesterol, but it increases the large LDL particles, which appears to be harmless. Eating more carbohydrate increases the small LDL particles, which is likely dangerous. So saturated fat doesn't appear to increase risk of heart attack, but eating high carb diets might.

* Fiber. The theory that low fiber was the problem with Western diets was advanced by Dr Denis Burkitt, and held sway for quite a while. It was gradually disproved, and today the science is that fiber helps with constipation, but that's it.

* Overabundance and lack of willpower. This theory is that the various problems of a Western diet stem from an overabundance of good things, and our lack of willpower to resist them. As a result of our gluttony and overeating over time, we gradually put on weight, leading to the various Western health problems.

This theory is also called the "a calorie is a calorie is a calorie" theory of weight gain and resulting metabolic dysfunction.

Taubes makes an overwhelming case that weight problems are due to metabolic dysfunction, not the other way around. The obvious cases are people with diabetes type I, whose pancreas doesn't make insulin at all. These people cannot put on weight without insulin injections. On the other side of the spectrum, heavier people have higher-than-average insulin levels. People who eat diets that lower their average insulin levels lose weight without being hungry (e.g. low-glycemic index diets or extremly-low carb ketogenic diets such as Dr Atkins).

Also, eating high-carb diets makes you hungry, and makes you want to eat more, and makes it very hard to lose weight or stay at a lower weight. Eating a low-glycemic-index diet, you lose weight and are not hungry (where most people go wrong is to gradually add back in more refined carbs, which are literally addictive, increasing dopamine levels in the brain, and give you a craving for more and more once you eat any). It is also interesting that the only way to get normal rats to put on weight is to feed them more carbs, less fat and protein.

So, all in all, it looks like it is the highly refined sugars and carbs that cause us to gain weight.

The book has a lot of useful information about where the current science stands, and led to a lot of new threads for me, to try to figure out how to be healthier and feel better.

I did have some issues with it, however.

* Taubes doesn't discuss one of the major difference between Western and other diets, which is the level of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. The Western diet is significantly deficient in omega-3s, with too much omega-6 fats. Research shows that DHA (an omega-3 fat) is a critical part of having insulin work as it should, so over time the typical Western DHA deficiency could be the mechanism that starts the cascade of damage from insulin resistance to higher average levels of insulin, higher average blood sugar, higher levels of damage with time, etc.

* There is recent research that shows extremely low carb (ketogenic) diets such as Dr Atkins increase methylglyoxal levels. Methylglyoxal is extremely reactive, and could cause much more rapid aging on a long-term ketogenic diet than on a glucose-based metabolism. So my take is that you shouldn't be in ketosis by choice.

* I think Taubes is too hard on some of the people involved in this story, and doesn't appreciate how hard it is to recognize bias at the time. From our vantage point, it is easy to point fingers. I think a lot of the people he talks about had reasonable, defensible perspectives at the time. Where I do think Taubes is right is when he protests that they shouldn't have been so sure that their recommendations would do no harm. Recommending major changes in everyone's diet is not something that should be done without stronger evidence!

* Taubes doesn't seem to appreciate some of the value of epidemiological studies, and overrates the value of controlled studies, which have their own risks and errors.

* I would have liked the history and the current science to be more clearly separated. As it is, you have to wade through a lot of history to get a clear picture of where we are today.

All in all, though, it is absolutely outstanding, fascinating and highly recommended!
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on April 7, 2011
I have little to add to other reviewers' posts except a brief outline of my own journey, which I hope will inspire uncertain readers to at least give the "alternative hypothesis," outlined in this admittedly intimidating (but so worthwhile!) book by Gary Taubes, a fair chance to work for them.

My story is similar to many other commenters'/reviewers': I struggled since childhood with weight; standard low-fat diets made me gain; doctors, nutritionists, and WeightWatchers instructors implied I was cheating (along, I suppose, with the many, many others for whom low-fat plans failed). I finally tried Atkins, lost 50 pounds effortlessly, and then my doctor freaked out and said I was going to die young of a heart attack, so I quit. At age 43, weighing 220 pounds and miserable with depression and rheumatoid arthritis, I finally said to heck with my doctor and went back to low-carbing.

I now effortlessly maintain a weight in the 140s, have gone over three years without anti-depressants, and have no trace of joint stiffness. This book played a huge role in sustaining my commitment; without Mr. Taubes's meticulous research, I probably wouldn't have had the spine to stand up to the barrage of criticism I received from my doctor, and from well-intentioned friends and relatives in the medical field.
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VINE VOICEon October 8, 2007
Gary Taubes reviews the medical research of the past 50 years to establish that the connections between fat and cholesterol and heart disease have never been proven and that, on the contrary, the case that unrefined carbohydrates are responsible for obesity and the so-called "diseases of civilization" has been made by the very studies that have been used to defend the "fat" hypothesis. His review of the research is exhaustive. He does not claim that exercise does not improve muscle tone and overall health. Rather, he argues that exercise is not a a "cure" for obesity, and may even make some people fatter, because they eat more of the wrong foods after exercising.

Taubes writes that the rule to follow is the same one that your mother taught you: starch and sweets make you fat. The solution is to center your diet around protein and non-starchy carbs such as green vegetables and berries, and not to worry about fat so much as unrefined flour, rice and other processed foods. (As one reviewer below points out, "bad" calories may include meat, fish and poultry that has been fed a diet of highly-processed grain. Buy grass-fed, and read labels: much of the canned and prepared food that you buy, including some yogurts, contains sugar and food additives made from corn (corn syrup, citric acid, etc.))

Anecdotally, after reading Taubes's 2002 article in the NYT, I realized that I had started gaining weight -- put on twelve pounds, and gone from a size 6 to an 8 or 10 -- precisely when I had changed my diet in the late 1970s to conform to the "new wisdom" regarding fats and carbohydrates. Exercise -- running and yoga -- had helped me to hold the line at 12 pounds, but could not take off the added weight. My husband, for whom I had assiduously prepared low-fat, high-carb meals for years, was 25 pounds overweight, despite daily exercise. Although I had tried The Zone, and lost weight, I was scared to switch permanently to what my doctor warned me was a dangerous diet. So I'd switched back to low fat/high carb, and back came the 12 pounds.

Then, last year, we began cooking with Julia Child's "Art of French Cooking" and, rather than getting fatter, I actually lost -- yes, lost -- weight eating all those butter-sauteed veggies and creamy quiches. When I once again became concerned about eating too much fat, and returned to a low-fat/high carb diet, back came the weight.

Finally, 8 weeks ago -- before reading Taube's book -- I decided that low carb (meaning low starch) had proven itself to me twice over, and that I was going to do what worked. So I ate protein (eggs, fish, chicken, dairy), organic greens and other low-starch veggies, and tossed the rice, bread, potatoes, and sugar. I didn't worry about the fat and cholesterol in eggs, swiss cheese, whole-milk yogurt or almonds; that fat kept me full, and I wasn't eating tons of such foods (who could?), just enough to feel satisfied.

I have lost 8 pounds since July. I feel great. I am not hungry. I no longer have the digestive problems that I used to describe as a "sensitive stomach." Moreover, having recently bullied my husband into giving up sugar, white rice, potatoes and all but multi-grain bread, I am certain that his weight will soon come down as well.

In short, my mother (who was not sick a day in her life until she died -- still trim -- at age ninety, and whose cooking kept my father alive until the same age) was right, and so is Gary. Listen to your stomach, watch your scale -- and read this book.
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on June 10, 2011
After four years of attending a well known hospital "Heart Attack" prevention program, I had not lowered my cholestol, had gained weight 40 plus pounds and had been formally diagnosed as a diabetic. My nutritionist told me to excercise. I did. 60 minutes a day for over 1 year. Still nothing.

Then I read this book. I was astounded. Finally someone had taken all the studies on obesity, diabetes, heart disease and diet and had evaluated the implications and linked the research without bias. I learned that there was a reason for my weight gain, increased cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood sugar and it most likely had to do with the fact that my nutritionist had me on a high carb, low fat diet. So I took the initive and went on a low carb, high fat (protein) diet similar to the one recommended by Atkins.

In five weeks, I lost 8 pounds (which doesn't seem like a lot but if you compare it to the previous five years, it is huge). Better than that, my bad cholesterol dropped 55 points, my triglycerides dropped 85 points. My doctor was floored when I told her how I had chantged my diet. I told her about this book and told her that she should read it before making final judgment.

After four months I have now dropped 20 pounds and now my blood sugar is below the line for being classified as diabetic. I ran into my nutritionist who had gotten this book and read it. She told me that both she and her husband had started a high fat, low carb diet and were experiencing the same results that I had. She actually bought two copies of the book. One for the cardiologist and one for the other nutritionist. My endochronologist and her assistant are also so impressed with my restults they are getting the book to read. My sister and Dad have also experienced great results. All because of the information contained in this book.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who cares about health and diet. Buy it for yourself or buy it for a loved one. I believe it has saved my life.
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on December 20, 2011
For years, I had been worried about slowly gaining weight. I had tried a few diets/methods that seemed sound but simply did not work for me. The main reason was that I was unable to control my eating habits. When I was hungry, I needed to eat NOW!!!!

All too often, this caused me to forgo cooking at home and get fast food instead, due to the power of my cravings. Obviously, this is a bad thing. I knew this, but was unable to stop myself. Also, whenever I bought cookies or other sweets, I was unable to stop eating them. I just couldn't stop thinking about them. I was beginning to wonder if I had some psychological problem.

Now that I have restricted carbs very heavily, I never, ever, ever get that kind of craving. Now, I eat for energy, instead of trying to satisfy a craving. This means that when I do eat, I'm able to take the time to cook at home. I am able to make intelligent decision about what I eat. Most importantly, I eat when I want to, not when my body/brain tells me to. On several occasions, I have delayed meals for up to 4 hours, because I was too busy with friends to eat at that moment. Now, you may think this is not a big thing, but this used to be impossible for me.

Also, as a result of this new way of eating (I hesitate to call it a diet, since I will eat this way for the rest of my life), I lost 10 pounds. I did this without counting calories, without eating foods I didn't like, without going hungry and without working out.

I realize this sounds too good to be true. The downside is I REALLY have to pay attention to what I eat and restrict carbs. Almost all of my meals are made at home. Almost all of my food comes from the farmer's market. On the rare occasion that I do eat a high-carb meal, I have strong cravings to eat for about 24 hours. This is a real test of willpower in the short and long term. But I'm so much happier living this way that it is well worth it, for me.

In fact, this has been such a profound change in my life, I feel like telling the whole world about it, as I don't want anyone to have to live the way I lived before eating this way. It really sucked being a slave to my appetite.

I would never have trusted such a diet without reading this book. I have a decent background in biochemistry and was able to understand everything the author wrote. There were times when the book got pretty boring and I skipped some sections that went into painfully explicit detail of the history of the research. I was more interested in the biology. And, oh boy, is there ever some painfully detailed biology. That part I read with a fine-toothed comb. I was hyper-critical and didn't want to believe this was true at first. I took notes and went over them while reading different sections. In the end, I was convinced to give this diet a try. And the way the biology of eating is explained, I was able to start this diet without having to buy anything else; no diet aids, no food tables, no calorie counting software. I just started eating all the stuff I'd been wanting to eat for years and was told not to.

If you have questions, write a comment to this review. I will try to get back to you in a timely fashion. I really feel this could help a LOT of people who are struggling with weight loss and feel powerless to stop.

Just to state it plainly: I have no affiliation with the author, publisher or researchers mentioned in the book. I am not getting compensation of any kind for writing this review. These are my honest feelings and facts as best as I can recall them.

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on September 15, 2009
This review was originally posted in the Normal Eating newsletter and blog:



I just finished reading Gary Taubes' book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. It's superbly researched and contains crucially important information, but it's a hard read - long, dense, meandering, and repetitive. I fear that many people won't get all the way through it. And while the extensive detail on studies is great, the forest gets a bit lost among all the trees. So here is a summary of the book's main findings, which start with this revolutionary notion:

Overeating is not the cause of obesity, but rather its consequence - a form of body wisdom caused by dietary fuel being abnormally locked away as fat. The cells of your body don't have enough usable energy, so you eat more and move less. Sound crazy? There's actually voluminous research to support this theory.

A Heart-Healthy Diet is High Fat

The book starts with a thorough debunking of the idea that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. I'm not going to repeat all the evidence here (read the book for that), but there is no question that the dietary cause of atherosclerosis is excessive dietary carbohydrate, not excessive saturated fat. In fact, eating saturated fat is protective of your heart.

Study after study shows this is true. But unfortunately, before the evidence became so clear, the government and medical establishment made some premature pronouncements about low-fat diets being good for your heart, and now they can't find a face-saving way to back off from it.

In addition to the experimental evidence, there is the cultural evidence. The chapter on "Diseases of Civilization" gives example after example of hunter-gatherer cultures that never experienced heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, or the rest of the diseases that plague our society - until they started eating the Western diet dominated by white flour, white sugar, and white rice.

Human breast milk is very high in cholesterol. We evolved as hunter-gatherers eating a high-fat diet composed chiefly of red meat. How in the world could this be bad for us? The new food in our diet - processed and excessive carbohydrate - is the obvious cause of the new diseases. There is a wonderful quote about this from Peter Cleave's testimony before George McGovern's Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs:

I don't hold the cholesterol view for a moment. For a modern disease to be related to an old-fashioned food is one of the most ludicrous things I have ever heard in my life. If anybody tells me that eating fat was the cause of coronary disease, I should look at them in amazement. But, when it comes to the dreadful sweet things that are served up ... that is a very different proposition.

Low-Fat Diets Make You Fat

The gigantic mistake that the government and medical establishment made in advising a low-fat diet also affected the advice to people struggling with obesity and diabetes. Doctors who recommended a high-fat, low-carb diet for weight loss risked censure because of the widespread - and erroneous - notion that this was bad for the heart.

All obesity research results were interpreted - sometimes tortuously - to be compatible with the idea that carbs are good for you. And one entire area of evidence - the biology of fat metabolism - was completely ignored, because there was no way to reconcile this with the bad advice to eat lots of carbs.

When you eat carbohydrates - particularly processed carbohydrates like white flour, white rice, or sugar - your body secretes insulin to remove the sugar from your blood. Insulin is the hormone necessary to store fat into your fat cells, and also inhibits the release of fat from your fat cells. You can't get fat without insulin, and you can't lose fat with insulin. Obese people virtually always have chronically elevated insulin levels, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes that makes it almost impossible to lose weight.

The only way you can lose weight on a low-fat, high-carb diet is by restricting calories - a semi-starvation diet. Not only is undereating unbearable - for experimental subjects as well as dieters - people almost always regain weight lost from semi-starvation, usually plus some. Study after study shows this to be true, whether you start out fat or lean.

So why isn't everyone fat on a Western diet? People differ in their sensitivity to carbs - they differ in the amount of insulin released after eating carbs, and the sensitivity of their fat tissue to insulin. Some people can eat cake for every meal and not gain weight, but others will quickly fatten on a high carb diet. Unfortunately, people who don't struggle with weight often have little sympathy for those who do because they don't understand that their bodies are different. They think they're morally superior.

Obesity is Not Caused by Gluttony and Sloth

The nice way of saying "gluttony and sloth" is "overeating and lack of exercise". But however you say it, the fact remains: The common wisdom is that fat people cause their own problem by committing two of the seven deadly sins. No wonder there is so much fat bias.

The conventional wisdom is that you get fat if you eat more calories than you expend - the positive caloric balance hypothesis. But the fact that semi-starvation diets almost never produce long-term weight loss strongly suggests that positive caloric balance - overeating and lack of exercise - is not the underlying cause of obesity.

The positive caloric balance hypothesis assumes that (1) the source of the calories doesn't matter - a calorie is a calorie, and (2) energy intake and energy expenditure are independent variables. Neither of these assumptions is true:

- A carb calorie has a very different affect on the body than a fat calorie (see above).

- Energy expenditure is highly dependent on energy intake. Our bodies work hard to maintain a constant body weight. Research shows that if you undereat, your metabolism slows to compensate, and if you overeat, your metabolism speeds up. The idea that you can gain or lose weight over time by altering your intake by 100 calories a day is ridiculous. Your body easily compensates for this small variation (and much larger variations).

Growing children have a positive caloric balance. But the reason they are growing is not because they are eating more calories than they are expending. They are eating more calories than they are expending because they are growing. The cause of their growth is growth hormone, not overeating. The same is true in obesity.

Obesity is a fat storage disorder, not an eating disorder. The body is storing too many of the calories you eat as fat instead of making this dietary energy available to your muscles and organs. On a cellular level, you are experiencing semi-starvation. So you eat more, and you conserve energy by moving less. You don't get fat because you're overeating and under-exercising, you overeat and under-exercise because you're getting fat. Just as vertical growth is driven by hormones, so is the "horizontal growth" of obesity - in this case, insulin. Insulin becomes elevated by a diet too high in carbohydrates.

Have you noticed that people who are fat don't gain weight continuously? You gain weight and then stay at that weight. This is not because of some "set point" that your body is stuck at. Your body maintains a dynamic equilibrium around usable energy, not fat. One hypothesis is that as fat cells expand, it becomes easier for them to release their fat - just as the pressure inside a blown-up balloon will push out the air. Once enough fat is in the cells that it can be mobilized (burned for fuel), a new equilibrium is reached and you stop gaining. Once fat can be mobilized, you don't need to eat as much because your cells have fuel.

The more insulin circulating in your blood, the harder it is to mobilize your fat stores and burn fat for energy. The more carbohydrates you eat, the more insulin will be circulating in your blood. For those who are genetically vulnerable, a high carb diet eventually causes insulin levels to become chronically elevated, while muscle cells become increasingly resistant to insulin (unable to use dietary glucose for energy). Eventually, fat cells also become insulin resistant, and diabetes is the result.

The cellular semi-starvation from excessive fat storage may be why obese women have trouble getting pregnant. It's actually similar to what happens to women who are underweight.



Taubes' book is quite long and extremely detailed. I'm just highlighting its main conclusions. For the evidence - which is voluminous - read the book. Or try some experiments on your own body.

I wrote in a previous post that there are two main reasons that people become overweight: emotional eating and processed food (which is generally high carb). Processed carbohydrates are an unnatural food that cause our body wisdom cues to go haywire. Even if you vanquish emotional eating entirely, you will tend to overeat processed carbohydrates because they induce cravings.

Processed carbs taste good, but they don't make your body feel good. They give you a buzz followed by a crash, and then constant cravings. They also can affect mood, making you depressed. If you've never gone without carbs for a period of time, you may not even realize you feel this way because of what you eat. If you have nothing to compare it to, you may think it's just you. This is why food experiments are such an important part of Stage 2 of Normal Eating. You have to experience first-hand how different foods make you feel to internalize the body wisdom. You can't read this and believe it, you have to feel it.

So in the spirit of experimentation, try reducing your carb intake for a few days or a week and see how you feel. Don't get black-and-white about it - just see if you can slowly push down your carb intake over time. In particular, try to minimize white flour, white rice, and sweets of all kinds - including honey and artificial sweeteners. If you're feeling ambitious, try minimizing all grain for a few days - even whole wheat and brown rice. Grain is a Neolithic food, introduced with agriculture. It's not what we evolved eating, and now it's the staple of the Western diet.

Why cut out artificial sweeteners? Research has found that artificial sweeteners will cause the body to secrete insulin, same as sugar - sweet is sweet. When I read that, I wondered if some people failed to lose weight on low-carb diets because of overuse of artificial sweeteners. If you try lowering your carbs, don't go the Atkins route of weird ingredients, using highly processed substitutes for flour and sugar. Just skip the bread and the sweets. Stick with real food, recognizable from nature.

I've been trying this myself the last few weeks. I had no problem cutting out grain, but sweets were a sticking point. No sweet taste at all? That was tough. But I was able to taper off it, and then - surprisingly - it didn't bother me. It's really true that eating carbs induces carb craving. The physiological reasons are detailed in Taubes' book. Once you wean off it, you stop craving it. It's a bit like quitting smoking.

Years ago I tried the Atkins diet and didn't even last a day because I felt so dizzy and weak. I now realize this is because I wasn't eating fat. One day last week I again tried eating zero carbs, but this time with lots of bacon and sausage (from the farmer's market - no nitrates), and I felt fine. Actually, I felt better than fine, to my great surprise. My energy level was high and I didn't feel hungry at all. And I've lost a few pounds since I started experimenting.

People in the forum hate when I talk about nutrition; they say it feels like a diet. But it's not a diet if it's just an experiment to see how you feel, and it's not a diet if you choose to eat a certain way because you feel good eating that way.

An important part of Normal Eating is understanding, on a deep level, that it is your right to eat whatever your want. But with rights come responsibilities, and this other side of the coin is just as important. No one can tell you what to eat, and that means you must take responsibility for your own eating. In the end, nutrition matters.

So what do you think? Are you willing to try lowering your carbs as an experiment? If not, why not? If yes, post your experiences in the blog, where this article is cross-posted:


Sheryl Canter
Author of "Normal Eating for Normal Weight"
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