Reading Taubes: part one

Avoid white bread

A while back one of my blog readers asked if I had ever read Taubes. I wasn’t sure if that was a book title, a diet plan or an author, so I Googled the word and eventually purchased two books written by a veteran science writer, Gary Taubes.

Taubes studied applied physics at Harvard and areospace engineering at Stanford, then wrote articles for Discover and Science plus four books. He looks for scientific controversises and wades into them. In July 2002 he published an article in the New York Times Magazine titled “What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,”

The article takes us back to the Adkins diet craze. Dr. Atkins, trained in cardiology, was significantly overweight and used a JAMA study as a basis for his own personal diet plan. He then published two books urging dieters to severely limit carbohydrate consumption. At one point it was estimated that one out of eleven North American adults were on his diet. His company made over $100 million, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005, two years after he died.

Taubes explores some of the same turf, saying it’s refined carbohydrates that make us fat. His initial plunge into the field was the NYT piece, followed by a 2007 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories and now a 2011 book, Why We get Fat: and What to do About It.

Taubes has hefty credentials as a science writer; he is the only print journalist to have received the Science in Society Journalism Award three times. Currently he’s a Robert Woods Johnson Foundation investigator in Health Policy Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. But his initial article ignited a firestorm. In the piece Taubes mentions that the common veiwpoint links the kickoff of the obesity epidemic  (in the early 1980s), to cheap fatty foods, large portion servings (at commercial establishments presumably), an increase in food advertisements and a sedentary lifestyle.

He would beg to differ, invoking what he terms “Endocrinology 101,” an explanation that says human evolution was not designed for a high-sugar, high-starch diet. Until a comparatively recent era (roughly 10,000 years ago) we were not agriculturists, but hunter-gatherers. So Taubes thinks the problem is our increased consumption of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white bread, pasta &  white rice.

Others think he picks and chooses his facts. I don’t think he’s wrong in his basic premise, but he also disagrees with the ideas of “calories in; calories out,” avoiding saturated fats and exercising being important in weight control (He seems to think people who exercise then hurry off to eat more).

more than one way to "thin a cat"

I’m down thirty pounds since early in 2009, have easily kept the weight off by exercising six days a week, avoiding sugar & HFCS foods and eating lots  more veggies and fruits while cutting back on portion size of meat dishes.

I’ll read more on Taubes and his detractors and let you know what I agree with and what I don’t.

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