In this groundbreaking book, the result of seven years of research in every science connected with the impact of nutrition on health, award-winning science writer Gary Taubes shows us that almost everything we believe about the nature of a healthy diet is wrong.
For decades we have been taught that fat is bad for us, carbohydrates better, and that the key to a healthy weight is eating less and exercising more. Yet with more and more people acting on this advice, we have seen unprecedented epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Taubes argues persuasively that the problem lies in refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, easily digested starches) and sugars–via their dramatic and longterm effects on insulin, the hormone that regulates fat accumulation–and that the key to good health is the kind of calories we take in, not the number. There are good calories, and bad ones.
These are from foods without easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars. These foods can be eaten without restraint: meat, fish, fowl, cheese, eggs, butter, and non-starchy vegetables.
These are from foods that stimulate excessive insulin secretion and so make us fat and increase our risk of chronic disease—all refined and easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars. The key is not how much vitamins and minerals they contain, but how quickly they are digested. (So apple juice or even green vegetable juices are not necessarily any healthier than soda.) Bread and other baked goods, potatoes, yams, rice, pasta, cereal grains, corn, sugar (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup), ice cream, candy, soft drinks, fruit juices, bananas and other tropical fruits, and beer.
Taubes traces how the common assumption that carbohydrates are fattening was abandoned in the 1960s when fat and cholesterol were blamed for heart disease and then –wrongly–were seen as the causes of a host of other maladies, including cancer. He shows us how these unproven hypotheses were emphatically embraced by authorities in nutrition, public health, and clinical medicine, in spite of how well-conceived clinical trials have consistently refuted them. He also documents the dietary trials of carbohydrate-restriction, which consistently show that the fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.
With precise references to the most significant existing clinical studies, he convinces us that there is no compelling scientific evidence demonstrating that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. Based on the evidence that does exist, he leads us to conclude that the only healthy way to lose weight and remain lean is to eat fewer carbohydrates or to change the type of the carbohydrates we do eat, and, for some of us, perhaps to eat virtually none at all.
The 11 Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories:
1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.
2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
3. Sugars—sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.
4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.
5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.
6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.
7. Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.
8. We get fat because of an imbalance—a disequilibrium—in the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.
9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.
10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.
Good Calories, Bad Calories is a tour de force of scientific investigation–certain to redefine the ongoing debate about the foods we eat and their effects on our health.
“Gary Taubes's Good Calories, Bad Calories is easily the most important book on diet and health to be published in the past one hundred years. It is clear, fast-paced and exciting to read, rigorous, authoritative, and a beacon of hope for all those who struggle with problems of weight regulation and general health--as who does not? If Taubes were a scientist rather than a gifted, resourceful science journalist, he would deserve and receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine.”
-Richard Rhodes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“If Taubes were inclined to sensationalism, he might have titled this book ‘The Great Low-Fat Diet Hoax.’ Instead, he tackles the subject with the seriousness and scientific insight it deserves, building a devastating case against the low-fat, high-carb way of life endorsed by so many nutrition experts in recent years. With diabetes and heart disease at stake as well as obesity, those ‘experts’ owe us an abject apology.”
“Good Calories, Bad Calories is a remarkable accomplishment. From a mountain of diverse scientific evidence Gary Taubes has drawn an amazingly detailed and compelling picture of how diet, obesity, and heart disease link together–and how some of the world’s most important medical researchers got the story colossally wrong. Taubes proves, I think beyond doubt, that the dietary advice we’ve been given for the last three decades by the federal government and the major medical bodies rests on, shall we say, a slender empirical base.”
–Charles C. Mann, author of 1491
“A brave and bold science journalist . . . Taubes does not bow to the current fashion for narrative nonfiction, instead building his argument case by case . . . much of what Taubes relates will be eye-opening.”
-The New York Times Book Review
“A watershed . . . Deeply researched and profoundly unsettling, the book proposes a seismic paradigm shift that could well undo our perceptions about the relationship between food and health. It could also literally change the way you eat, the way you look and how long you live . . . an unwavering challenge to conventional thinking . . . Taubes’ most elegant and surprising arguments examine long-held assumptions . . . lucid and lively.”
“Fascinating . . . Mr. Taubes has a gift for turning complex scientific principles into engaging narrative.”
-The Wall Street Journal
“Bound to stir renewed debate . . .”
“His major conclusions are startling yet surprisingly convincing . . . his writing reflects his passion for scientific truth . . . offers plenty of food for thought.”
About the Author
Gary Taubes, author of Bad Science and Nobel Dreams, is a correspondent for Science magazine. The only print journalist to have won three Science in Society Journalism awards, given by the National Association of Science Writers, he has contributed articles to The Best American Science Writing 2002 and The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000 and 2003. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.
Here we can discuss the book and what we got out of reading it.