In the recently published book, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, Gary Taubes challenges our dietary beliefs, often accepted as true, by approaching the published research from the perspective of a skeptic.
Taubes finds much of what we think lacks support from findings from data published throughout the last century.
Taubes tackles a number of issues in the book, first reviewing the history of how we got where we are today with public health policies and dietary recommendations; and why, even without good scientific evidence to support our policies as they developed, they were formed and promoted as fact to the population at large.
Diet-Heart Hypothesis vs Carbohydrate Hypothesis
He then tackles what were two competing hypotheses at the time we hit the crossroad in our search for understanding how diet plays a role in disease: the diet-heart hypothesis and the carbohydrate hypothesis.
He asked, “If we had taken this other fork in the road, what would we have come to believe?”
The full weight of the evidence, Taubes contends, led him to conclusions he did not anticipate at the start; conclusions that are controversial but open-ended for more discussion, interpretation, analysis and trial.
One such thought-provoking piece of the diet-health-weight puzzle is that carbohydrates contribute to the storage of body fat in ways that are not fully appreciated by researchers; diets rich with carbohydrate, especially refined & processed carbohydrate, act in the metabolism to foster weight gain while inhibiting release of stored fatty acids for use as energy due to hormone signals from insulin and the effects of circulating alpha-glycerol phosphate.
With insulin and alpha-glycerol phosphate in play, the evidence suggests we’re effectively running on empty despite consuming plenty of food and calories each day, suggesting it isn’t just how much we eat, but what we eat which contributes to our growing waistlines.
What Do We Believe?
Taubes provokes us to examine our beliefs about a healthful diet by providing a wealth of data from hundreds of studies reviewed in his research in writing the book. That is, he presents a compelling argument that the supportive data used to maintain the status quo of the diet-heart hypothesis and our current dietary guidelines is not as sturdy as we’re led to believe, and makes the case that for well over a century there has been, all along, the competing alternate theory, the carbohydrate hypothesis, that has been ignored despite compelling data.
No matter what one currently believes, this book is an eye-opening examination of the science and the history that led us to where we are today; a compelling review of the weight of the evidence from both sides; and a resource rich with citations that allow us to begin examining and questioning the validity of our beliefs in the connections between diet and health.