Saturday, April 04, 2009

Good Calories, Bad Calories

By Diana Hsieh

Flibby posted the following remarks on Gary Taubes' excellent book Good Calories, Bad Calories. It's too damn funny not to quote in its entirety:

Do You Like Sugar?

Then I would advise you not to read a book called Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes because if you read this book you will learn that sugar will kill you dead until you die from it.

I'm not done reading it, but so far I have learned that it will give you diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, blindness, fatness, cancer, old age, and dead.

Do you want dead? Go for another bon-bon and let me know how that works out for you.

In seriousness, it doesn't CAUSE cancer, but it feeds cancer. Have you ever given a stray cat some food and then you wake up the next day and there are 75 felines perched on your headboard watching you sleep? Sugar is like that for cancer except cancer kills hence the deadness you also get from sugar.

I'm tempted to just eat steak constantly and wash it down with that delicious half-and-half I love.
Noooooo! I don't want dead!

Amy Mossoff of The Little Things -- another favorite blog of mine -- posted a more serious review of Taubes' book a few days ago. Here's the first paragraph:
I strongly recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes. If you haven’t heard of it, the subtitle is, "Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease," and that is an understatement! This book turns everything you thought you knew about nutrition on its head, or at least attempts to.
Go read the whole thing. While I'm doubtful of some of Amy's remarks, her review seems fair based on my recollection of the book.

Honestly, I need to re-read the book, as it's hard for me to separate what I learned from it from all that I've read on these topics since then. In particular, I'm just not sure where my present views might differ from Taubes' views in that book. I'll be very interested to find out -- and I'm sure that I'll learn tons more from re-reading it!

In response to Amy's review, I posted the following general comment concerning my reasons for eating as I do. Just to set some context, it's partly a response to a commenter who said:
...the general point here is just that, if one practices the same scrutiny and careful skepticism in regard to "the carb hypothesis" that Taubes et al. practice in debunking "the fat hypothesis", one finds that the former, while surely better supported by the evidence than the latter, remains just a strong hypothesis -- not an established certainty. And given the cost and inconvenience of implementing "paleo", that is a very important difference.
So without further ado, here's my comment:
Regarding Taubes' positive hypothesis about carbohydrates, I do think that much remains to be discovered and understood. I tend to think that Stephan [of the stellar Whole Health Source] is right that various non-paleo foods (including tubers, grains, and dairy) can form part of a healthy diet -- provided that they are prepared properly. That's what the comparative data from various cultures suggests. (Stephan has blogged about that extensively. I'd like to do more reading on it myself.) Of course, individuals will vary in their tolerances for foods -- and I think it's critical to attend to the feedback of one's own body.

Notably, I would not be willing to trouble myself with eating as I do simply based on the scientific evidence to date. However, I am committed given that (1) I enjoy eating more than ever before, (2) I feel so much better than ever before, (3) I've easily lost nearly 20 pounds after much fruitless effort in years past, and (4) my bloodwork has improved. Notably, part of my feeling better is simply a matter of energy levels and the like. However, it's also about the end of my pathological relationship to sugar. The costs of that -- in terms of my health and happiness -- were far, far greater than any trouble to eat as I do.

As it happens, I also love to cook. However, I spend less time cooking than I used to do, and my meals are tastier. Plus, although I spend more money on higher-quality foods, Paul and I eat out less, so our food expenses haven't increased. Plus, I'm fascinated by the workings of traditional methods of food preparation, e.g. fermenting milk into kefir. (That's hardly necessary to the diet, however.)

The only problem with my diet is that eating what other people serve can be tricky. Yet even then, I'm pretty flexible. I just need to avoid the bread, pasta, and sugar. (If I don't, I'll feel miserable.) With individuals, I can indicate my preferences beforehand. With restaurants, I order only what I want to eat. With banquet-type meals, I just eat what I want and leave the rest. If all else fails, I can easily skip a meal or two or three because my body can easily draw on its fat reserves rather than crashing without fresh input of carbs.

So all things considered, I cannot see that my diet involves any noteworthy costs. (Of course, I did have some "start-up" costs as I figured out what to eat when, but those faded with time.) Of course, for other people, the benefits might be less and the costs greater. I wouldn't dispute anyone's choice in that, so long as they eat with their eyes open.
Again, if you're interested in a serious discussion of the science of nutrition -- including the serious corruption introduced by government interference -- I strongly recommend that you read Good Calories, Bad Calories. Your rewards for this effort will be many -- including the guilt-free enjoyment of all kinds of deliciously fatty foods.

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