Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Thanksgiving Week Gary Taubes Update

I'm sure most of us are already thinking about that Thanksgiving turkey, spending time with our families, and watching some down and dirty football later this week. But before you get into full holiday mode, check out the very latest update on Gary Taubes' bestselling health book Good Calories, Bad Calories. With Christmas about a month away and New Year's resolutions coming up soon thereafter, the positive impact of this outstanding book is expected to continue on well into 2008.

Here's the latest news and info on Taubes and his book:


Gary Taubes is still out on the speaking circuit promoting Good Calories, Bad Calories and his latest interview was on the "Quirks & Quarks" radio show with Bob McDonald on CBC Radio over the weekend. Listen to the entire interview by clicking here. Taubes is in perfect form just as he has been in most of his interviews over the past couple of months.


After a book has been out on the market for 90 days, generally the trend for media exposure starts to slow down. But not Good Calories, Bad Calories. I just learned that the book will be featured in TWO magazines coming in January 2008. The first one is Ladies Home Journal which will hit the diet-conscious female market at the PERFECT time for those interested in eating healthy and losing weight. The second one is the Delta Airlines in-flight magazine, a unique opportunity to reach a captive audience of people traveling that month. Be looking for these feature stories and more coming in 2008.


Ever since the release of Good Calories, Bad Calories in late September 2007, questions abound from so many of my readers that they want to learn more about the intricacies of what Gary Taubes wrote about. Although I started a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the book at my forum, some people have had some specific questions that they wanted Taubes to answer directly. He has been gracious enough to answer a few of them for me, including the following:

1. What is his evidence on whether saturated fat is good for you or bad (because it seemed much less clear and he said so in the last chapter)?

TAUBES: I thought I was pretty clear that saturated fat is almost assuredly harmless.

2. People I know who used the Atkins Diet lost a lot of weight, quit the diet, and gained it back. I know that the research is similar: most, though not all people on any diet lose a lot of weight but gain it back. But I don't understand why almost everyone who uses the Atkins Diet (obviously not including Jimmy Moore) quits it and then gains the weight back.

Why do you think they quit it when the Atkins Diet is very successful at helping people lose weight and doesn't expect you to be hungry all the time? This is a real question, not an argument in favor of anything; I'm not a fundamentalist and don't have a "position"about what is and isn't good to eat.

TAUBES: I think people quit the diet because it's difficult to give up foods you love, without a very good reason. (I liken it to quitting smoking without the knowledge that cigarettes give you lung cancer, but if you've never smoked, that won't mean much to you.) The medical establishment tells us all diets work by cutting calories, so it doesn't matter what we eat less of so long as we eat less. Our physicians tell us the diet will kill us. And then we crave foods that everybody else gets to eat.

So we start having a little dessert at dinner, because everyone else is having it. We have a few bites of our wives' or girlfriends' pasta, because it looks so good. Then just one bite of the warm bun that the waiter brings us before dinner, or a few
sips of the ice cold beer after a softball game, and the next thing we know we're back to eating carbs. Imagine trying to quit smoking, if no one ever told you that cigarettes were bad for you, if all your friends smoked, and they thought it was ridiculous that you didn't. All these things contribute to people falling off the diet. This is what happened to me the first time I tried it.

I think if people were told carbohydrates make them fat, they would find it easier to remain on the diet. Or at least when they fall off it, they would know what to expect and why. Another possible factor is that people try to do the diet low-fat or low-calorie, and so this might leave them hungrier or more lethargic. I don't know, but it's possible. This is one of the things I'd like to see research on in an ideal world.

3. I loved Gary Taubes's book, and I immediately quit eating flour and sugar, and immediately started to lose weight. The question is, what are the most healthy things I should eat instead of all that bread, pasta, and sweets? I think Taubes is probably right that we don't have a scientific answer for that yet because scientists are just beginning to take a look at it.

TAUBES: I agree we don't have a scientific answer. I eat a lot of meat, but that's just my own preference. Every once in a while I get a perverse urge to eat fish and see if I feel any healthier doing so and then I backslide to the meat. It's quite possible that it doesn't make much difference. My gut feeling is that non-carb foods are mostly neutral, and so once you remove the negative effect of these carbohydrates any other dietary variations will have very minimal effect on your health and longevity.

What I think you'll find after awhile is that you don't need to replace the bread, pasta and sweets anymore than an ex-smoker needs to find something to replace cigarettes. After a few weeks, you stop missing them. (My wife used to ask me if I missed pasta, and my reply was "not as much as I miss cigarettes and I quit smoking in 1997.") After a few years, you can't really imagine any good reason to eat them. If your experience is anything like mine, you'll lose your sweet tooth after awhile and with it any urges you might have to eat sweets.


There's been a ton of buzz happening within the blogosphere over Good Calories, Bad Calories and it's not all that bad either. The following is just a quick sampling of the ones that caught my eye:

Boing Boing
So Quoted
Skinny Daily Post
The BrandWiki
Once Upon A Diet
Lisa's Day (scroll to the bottom)
Weight of the Evidence
Tierney Lab
Diabetes Update
Denver Your Hub


One of the criticisms being thrown at Gary Taubes is that he cherry-picked the studies he cites in Good Calories, Bad Calories. In fact, one of my readers recently left a comment at my blog inquiring about specific research that was missing from the book. Here's what the reader wrote in his comment:

The Keim study took 2 groups of overweight women and had them on various exercise and diet regimes. The interesting part is the group of women who started on a weight maintenance diet with no exercise for 2 weeks. This established the baseline number of calories necessary for them to maintain their weight. They then stayed on this diet for the next 12 weeks but added treadmill exercise for 6 days each week. They lost an average of 0.5kg per week.In his NY magazine article

Taubes wrote, "As for those people who insist that exercise has been the key to their weight-loss programs, the one thing we’d have to wonder is whether they changed their diets as well." Well, in this case they most certainly did not change their diet and exercise sure seems like it was the key to their losing weight.

Keim NL, Barbieri TF, Van Loan MD, Anderson BL. Energy expenditure and physical performance in overweight women: response to training with or without caloric restriction. Metabolism 1990;39:651–8

Taubes did not reference this paper in either GCBC or his New York Magazine article. I would be very interested in his take on the study as it seems to directly contradict his hypothesis that exercise does not lead to weight loss.

Here was Gary Taubes' response to my reader's concerns:

I only have the abstract to go by, but the primary issue here is what is known as an "intervention effect." You change somebody's life in one way by giving them an intervention -- in this case, diet or diet plus exercise -- and you change it in many others as well. You have to intervene to get them to change their behavior, and it's excruciatingly difficult to effect that intervention so that you they only change one factor in their lives, and not multiple related factors.

For instance, say, you tell them you want them to exercise but not eat any more food than you give them. So now, you've instructed, in effect, them to exercise more and live with the hunger (assuming, as I suggest, that expending energy results in a compensatory urge to replete it). This living with hunger concept may not be something they were doing prior to the study, so you've changed their behavior in two ways. And maybe they do so successfully for 12 weeks, but could they keep it up. You don't know.

As for changing their diet, we do not know that these women did not. Certainly we don't know for "certain" as your reader suggests. One problem is that two weeks is not enough to establish weight stability and a weight maintenance diet. So if they were eating donuts, candy, soda, other sweets and other high glycemic index carbs prior to coming into the study, and then they were put on the weight maintenance diet (which might not have included such treats and so the quality of the carbs changes) the effect seen afterward that is assumed to be from exercise, could indeed be a longer term effect of this change in the quality of carbohydrates they were consuming.

And even though you've only told them to exercise, it is quite possible that they take the opportunity, now that they are exercising, to change their diet on their own in subtle ways. They decide, for instance, to forego their evening cocktail, for instance, or to switch from Coke to Diet Coke. This is a problem with all diet and exercise studies. Because you can't do them blinded, the subject knows what their intervention is and they will change their life in ways you can't control for.

Blinding is considered absolutely necessary in drug studies to make sure that the effect you see is indeed from the drug you're testing. Blinding is actually equally necessary in diet and exercise studies, people just pretend it isn't because it can't be done. The key point is that it's very tricky to do these studies correctly so that you control for all the other variables and test for only one. It's effortless to ignore the complications and interpret them to suit your preconceived opinions.


It's not surprising that Gary Taubes would have his critics since he is challenging the conventional wisdom of the status quo regarding diet and health. He could probably have a full-time job of answering all of these opposing viewpoints and he does so as much as he can. Here's one that a reader was concerned went unanswered:

I have been a low carber since May, 2000 but have only recently been mining your website. I have not yet had an opportunity to read Mr. Taubes' book but have been following the discussion on your website and listened/watched links.

In a [non-diet related] discussion group to which I subscribe, Gary Taubes' credibility has been questioned based on the article by Michael Fumento written in March of 2003 in response to Gary Taubes' earlier NY Times Magazine article.

It was pointed out that Michael Fumento's has had a good track record at separating real science from phony science as evidenced in his books "The Myth of Heterosexual Aids" and "Science Under Siege: How the Environmental Misinformation Campaign Is Affecting Our Lives."

The following was posted as a sample from the article:

"Taubes proved as adept at clipping data as at clipping quotes. Thus he claimed that one of the 'reasons to suggest that the low-fat-is-good-health hypothesis has now effectively failed the test of time' is 'that the *percentage* of fat in the American diet has been decreasing for two decades.'

"That's true, but irrelevant. The amount of fat consumed has been steadily climbing, as has consumption of all calories. Individual caloric consumption jumped from 3,300 calories per day in 1970-79 to 3,900 in 1997, an 18 percent increase. Per-person consumption of fat grams increased from 149 to 156, a 4-5 percent increase. 'We're eating just too darned much of everything,' says [John] Farquhar [a Stanford University cardiologist]."

Are you aware of any articles or interviews in which Mr. Taubes has responded to Mr. Fumento's article? Many thanks for any information you can give me.

Actually, yes, I am aware of an excellent response that Gary Taubes provided to Fumento who was merely foaming at the mouth to stand up for the same old tired arguments of the status quo. When you have people like this fighting tooth and nail for what we've always been doing with little results, then is it any wonder why we're still just as fat and sick as ever?


It was bound to happen and quite frankly I'm not surprised--PEOPLE ARE CHANGING THEIR LIVES because of the message of Good Calories, Bad Calories. Whenever you are challenged with clear-cut evidence backed up by the science as is presented in this book, it's almost impossible for it to NOT change you. Here is the first of two examples from my readers:

I just finished Gary Taubes book, Good Calories, Bad Calories; I now know more than I ever wanted to know about the history of diets but still don't know if you can have a glass of wine or not or if he thinks one should use lard instead of butter as he said on Larry King. After all that reading I guess I'm back to the South Beach thing. Maybe you could answer my question. Thanks!

Sure, you can have wine, but keep in mind your body will need to burn off the alcohol and sugars in the wine you consume before fat-burning can commence. Be sure to read Dr. Arthur Agatston's book from cover to cover to make sure you are doing his plan exactly. Best wishes to you! And here's the second:


I got absolutely fascinated with this whole subject when I read a review of Gary Taubes's book. That got me thinking, and I started the South Beach diet. My approach has been more Atkins since I've learned more. In under five weeks I've lost 14 pounds. I am six feet tall and weighed 202 when I started. I'm also feeling better in many ways.

Gary's book is one of the most thought-provoking I've ever read. It's hard to resist trying to share this with others. Thanks for your blog. It seems like a terrific resource.

And CONGRATULATIONS to you for allowing Gary Taubes' book to change your life like it has. Keep up the GREAT work!!!


Hi Jimmy. I think the following quote pretty much sums up the thrust of "Good Calories, Bad Calories":

I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

And this is precisely what Gary Taubes was communicating throughout Good Calories, Bad Calories. The bad science is favored over the good, quality research for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is protecting the financial interests of the manufacturing industry providing high-carb junk to the tune of billions of dollars in profits annually. You can't mess with that kind of gravy train without a fight, but Taubes is certainly shining a light on it!

Got any Gary Taubes news to share with me? Feel free to e-mail it to anytime. If you have been impacted by the message of Good Calories, Bad Calories, then I'd love to hear your story and share it with my readers. Keep reading to stay up on all the latest news and information on this groundbreaking book!

Labels: , , , , , ,


Blogger Richard said...

On the Brandwiki which you listed as one of the bloggers commenting on the book, he wrote to Glenn Gaesser at the University of Virginia to comment on the book and this is his response. Needless to say, the blogger is now confused. I'd like to see Gary Taubes refute Mr. Gaesser's criticisms. Thanks!


I have attached a copy of the article I wrote for JADA. Taubes’ book addresses many diet issues, but the most glaring inaccuracies in my view pertain to the issue carbohydrates and body weight.
For example, if carbohydrates make us fat and sick, as Taubes claims, then there should be virtually unassailable evidence to support his thesis. There is not. In fact, with regard to diet, body weight and obesity, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the truth is entirely opposite to what Taubes contends. Among the key findings in my JADA review:
(1) Virtually every major epidemiologic study shows an inverse relationship between carbohydrate intake and BMI. Potential confounders, such as energy intake, smoking, and physical activity, do not appear to undermine this relationship.
(2) The majority of epidemiologic studies also show that glycemic load is inversely related to body mass index;
(3) As for glycemic index (GI), most studies show either no relationship or an inverse relationship between GI and BMI. Several large cohort studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study II, the Women’s Health Study, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, revealed that higher-GI diets were associated with lower BMIs. Far from being a contributing cause of obesity, these studies actually suggest that high-GI diets may better for weight control. Although epidemiologic studies cannot prove cause-effect, at the very least these findings need to be addressed with regard to the underlying carb-obesity link. Taubes does not discuss or mention a single one of these studies.
(4) The epidemiological findings are consistent with a large number of interventions studies showing modest “spontaneous” weight loss with non-energy-restricted low-fat diets. I could not find a single study in the literature that showed that non-energy-restricted low-fat diets lead to weight gain, no matter how long the intervention. For example, in the CARMEN trial (Am J Clin Nutr, 2002; 75: 11-20), 6 months of non-energy-restricted consumption of a diet that required the subjects to replace 25% of the fat calories in the diet with simple carbs (which, according to Taubes’ hypothesis, should have resulted in weight gain), subjects’ weights remained constant over the 6 months. When the fat was replaced with complex carbs, the subjects lost about 9 pounds during the 6 months (even though the subjects were instructed not to actively try to lose weight). A number of similarly designed studies (brieftly described in my review in JADA), show the same thing.
(5) While whole-grain intake is associated with lower BMIs, refined grain intake is not consistently linked to higher BMIs.

A recent study published on PLOS Medicine (; August 2007, vol 4) on a combined analysis of the both Nurses’ Health Studies revealed that the nurses with the highest glycemic load had the lowest BMIs. They also had the lowest risk of diabetes. These results obviously fly in the face of the carbophobic view that high-glycemic load diets cause obesity and diabetes. The most likely explanation for these findings is that the nurses with the highest glycemic load consumed 8-10 times as much whole grains as the nurses with the lowest glycemic load. This also suggests that judging a diet solely on the basis of its carbohydrate content or glycemic properties is not justified.

If sugar is as bad as Taubes contends, how does he explain the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which shows an inverse relationship between sugar intake and BMI? (see Am J Clin Nutr 2003; 77: 1426-1433). The high sugar intake did not appear to adversely affect glucose and insulin because the high-sugar consumers had the same average fasting glucose and insulin as low-sugar consumers, and C-Peptide concentrations (an index of insulin secretion) were actually lower in the high-carb/high-sugar consumers. These NHANES data are consistent with the findings of most epidemiologic studies–sugar consumption is generally associated with lower body weights. (I am not advocating loading up on sugar, but rather just pointing out research findings that do not support the hypothesis that sugar consumption is tightly linked to obesity.)

As for the carb-disease connection, the published data are mixed. Some studies show a link between carb intake and/or glycemic properties of the diet and incidence rates for vascular disease diabetes. Many studies, by contrast show no relationship (some of this is discussed in my JADA review). And, with few exceptions, the vast majority of studies show no link between the glycemic properties of the diet and cancer. In fact high-carb diets that are rich in whole grains have been reported to be associated with reduced risk of several chronic disease, most notably vascular disease and diabetes. This beneficial effect of whole grains (cereal fiber seems to be the key link) appears to be independent of the glycemic properties of the diet. (See Am J Clin 2004; 80: 348-356, for example, and the JADA review, mentioned above, for discussion.)

In the Epilogue of his book Taubes concludes that “certain conclusions seem inescapable” to him. Among them is the assertion that “the fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.” This conclusion has little scientific support. Based on the bulk of published evidence, the opposite appears to be the case.

Best regards,
Glenn A. Gaesser, Ph.D.
Professor and Director
Kinesiology Program
University of Virginia
210 Emmet St., So.
PO Box 400407
Charlottesville, VA 22904
Phone: 434-924-3543
Fax: 434-924-1389

11/21/2007 4:47 AM  
Blogger Gloriana said...

I'm surprised at the comment about how 'everyone' goes off Atkins and gains the weight back. That certainly is far from universal! I, for example, would not dream of going back to some high carb diet - not only because of weight, but because I felt so dreadful.

Yet a thought does come to me. I used to belong to a low carb mailing list (which I left, some years ago, when it became so dominated by "The Carbohydrate Addicts" and pop psychology that I could not take it any more.) Too frequently, people stopped 'doing' Atkins, despite success, because of a doctor, nutritionist, CAD advocates who insisted one needed a more 'normal' diet.

I have lost significant weight (nearly 70 pounds now, though I am still 50 pounds from 'normal'.) I am trying to lose the rest, though the plateaus are driving me mad. Yet I never have been at 'maintenance' (well, not intentionally!) I cannot help but wonder if, now that even the Atkins site is the biggest 'trying to be all things to all people' business since Paul of Tarsus, those who are 'on maintenance' can fall into excessive carbohydrate consumption (and the resulting, intense hunger) all too easily.

Ten years ago, I would say that anyone embracing low carb would not have dreamt of adding breads, cereal, desserts and the like. Now, even Veronica Atkins' cookbook (I suppose to meet criticisms from those who think 'grains' mean 'health') places excessive emphasis on increasing grain intake. Even on the Atkins site, if one takes a cursory look it seems as if, for example, protein must be kept to three ounces, 'healthy grains' are to be constantly added, and so forth.

Those who are looking to maintain, rather than lose, could easily fall into the trap of intentionally adding too many carbohydrates because they think it is their goal.

Also (as I believe Jimmy mentioned in a previous post, though it occurred to me long before), I have yet to see 'medical studies' of low carb dieting where people are actually observing Atkins. (I gather it is Atkins induction for a few weeks, then too extensive an increase in carbs.) None of the studies show significant weight loss, many show people gaining weight back - yet anyone with whom I have had contact who continued for a year lost FAR more than the 10-19 pounds I've seen in 'studies.' (Maybe it is deliberate - where Robert Atkins persisted in low carb research regardless of criticism, more recent low carb advocates, such as the doctor mentioned in another post who considers 40% carb intake to be 'low'!. I wonder if those overseeing these programmes want to again be 'all to all' and satisfy doctors who only want patients losing one pound a month - or who don't want anyone to lose more than 10 pounds because they expect them to gain it back and more than that is 'yo you dieting.') Which brings me to another problem I saw people on that list share (and made me shake my head!) Those who hit plateaus seemed to think that doing so meant it was time to switch to a low fat, high carb diet. Those 'on maintenance' seemed to ignore that one must carefully watch one's intake and not gain - they seemed to picture one's goal was to reduce protein, increase grains, and basically end up back at the ADA food pyramid.

11/21/2007 4:15 PM  
Blogger Kevin M. said...

I am glad to see that Taubes' publicist is not asleep at the wheel, but keeping busy. It is a very worthy and substantial message which needs to be pushed into public awareness as far as it can be. It may be David vs. Goliath, but in the end, this giant is dishonest at heart.

Regarding Taubes' response to Fumento, it was longer than his original article. Fumento's "response to the response" at the time was that he refused to read it because it was "too long", and accused Taubes of trying to "confuse the public with words". That was actually what he said. Needless to say, this was a laughable response, and Fumento basically forfeited the argument completely.

It would be good for Taubes to respond to Gaesser's cited research above (thanks, Richard). However, there is a great deal of research now showing very opposing results, many examples of which Taubes' book has already provided, and which Gaesser avoids responding to, or even acknowledging. Gaesser also cites many of the largest, government funded research projects of the last thirty years, many of which have been debunked by various reviewers in detail. In short, Gaesser is admitting that he does not have time to look into or listen to independent research which opposes the status quo.

It is all too easy for the massive, congealed beauracracy which passes for our "modern" medical system to ignore and steamroll their critics by sheer inertia. The doctors themselves sincerely do not have the time or motivation to scrutinize the research in detail, and like the public, they merely swallow the sometimes highly spun conclusions and abstracts blindly.

We are at the point where we need to go head-to-head with the research, but each piece of research needs to be carefully reviewed by qualified, independent critics to identify bad methodology and bias. Dr. Atkins himself pulls apart the Nurse's study in an earlier version of his book and reveals its clear agenda. The beauracracy and PR lobbies are too ubiquitous to any longer trust any source blindly.

Gaesser also cites "published" research as expressing the truth. Part of the problem is that researchers refuse to do low-carb research because all the heretofore published research says it is not warranted, though all the anecdotal evidence says it is. Anyone who willingly ignores a growing mountain of anecdotal evidence which clearly defies the results of research is doing disservice to science and the public it supposedly serves. The argument that "anecdotal evidence" has no worth is merely an excuse to not follow the truth where it leads, but to conform to the politically correct agenda in vogue.

As has been recently noted, the science community follows "vogues" of interest which rise and fall over time in society. Before a new vogue takes hold, the "experts" resist vehemently out of personal interest. When a new insight begins to appear as inevitable and sensible, only then does the science community suddenly accept it, again out of personal interest to avoid being left behind.

Therefore, clearly the "experts" often do not really know what they claim to be true, but are riding a wave of professional security for as long as the Gravy Train pays off. For example, Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was a nurse during the Civil War. She believed that keeping her patients and their bedding regularly washed would reduce disease. She was roundly ridiculed by medics for her position, until her disease rates were shown to be greatly reduced.

Hence the "experts" of the status quo, however well-intentioned, can be shown to be very misguided and backward in avoiding progressive theories. This has happened over and over again in science through the millenia. Every new movement is met with ridicule, resistance and anger until proven, usually by anecdotal evidence, rather than research. Sadly, the modern research mill is too bloated and mercenary to be trustworthy without a great deal of critical oversight and review.

11/22/2007 7:17 PM  
Blogger The Bunnell Farm said...

"I have attached a copy of the article I wrote for JADA. Taubes’ book addresses many diet issues, but the most glaring inaccuracies in my view pertain to the issue carbohydrates and body weight.
For example, if carbohydrates make us fat and sick, as Taubes claims, then there should be virtually unassailable evidence to support his thesis. There is not. In fact, with regard to diet, body weight and obesity, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the truth is entirely opposite to what Taubes contends. Among the key findings in my JADA review:" etc etc..
Best regards,
Glenn A. Gaesser, Ph.D.
Professor and Director
Kinesiology Program
University of Virginia

"For example, if carbohydrates make us fat and sick, as Taubes claims, then there should be virtually unassailable evidence to support his thesis."

The "virtually unassailable evidence to support his thesis." Mr Gaesser is all around you. Not only 'fat and sick' but also 'thin and sick' and 'average and sick' in addition to 'fat and sick' is the 'actual unassailable evidence that abounds all around you. Hybrid carbohydrates are a deadly poison to both our minds as well as our bodies and are in fact at the core of all of the insanity and physical deterioration that prevails all around us, ourselves included. Follow the trail and you can conclude no less. It is self evident if you were to open your eyes rather than choosing to remain blind.
Best regards,
Tom Bunnell
Professor and Director
The Bunnell Farm . com
Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

11/22/2007 10:44 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home