The Weekend Read – The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes

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Gary Taubes is a scientific researcher and journalist. His previous books have examined the myth of cold fusion and scientific experimentation. The cover claims that he is “America’s most controversial scientific writer”.

When the book was published in 2009 my brother suggested that I give it a look, at 640 pages and with a host of references to scientific research I wasn’t too keen, but in early 2010 I persevered. It’s an eminently readable book which draws you in from the preface which tells the story of William Banting, a corpulent man who, in spite of regular exercise and a good diet, could not lose weight. With the guidance of his physician, William Harvey, he changed his approach to eating (and dieting) and scrupulously avoided food that might contain sugar or starch – the result was that he lost 50lbs in 18 months or so. He became so famous that the word ‘banting’ entered the language as another word for dieting. The results were published and ridiculed by the scientific hierarchy.

The book proper starts with President Eisenhower and his heart disease which leads the section on ‘The Fat-Cholesterol Hypothesis’. The next section explores ‘The Carbohydrate Hypothesis’ and the final third is devoted to, ‘Obesity and the Regulation of Weight’.

As you would expect from the book’s material there were some mixed responses to Taube’s book with him being accused of interpreting data to suit his theories – much like those who convinced us to give up animal fats.

I can’t add anything to the review that wasn’t made by David Colquon in the improbable science blog here.

Summary:

Here is his Gary Taubes’ 10 point conclusion – read the book and make up your own mind at least you’ll be able to hold your own in the conversations about diet and the apparently new evil that is sugar. Funny how I was considered a zealot and my wife a crank when we would look at foods on supermarket shelves for “hidden” sugars 25 years ago in order to give our patients and their children good advice. “We’re all sugar zealots now Father”, as they might have said on Craggy Island.

““As I emerge from this research, though, certain conclusions seem inescapable to me, based on existing knowledge

  1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization
  2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis – the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body.  The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
  3. Sugars – sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup specifically – are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates.
  4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes.  They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization.
  5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behaviour.
  6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter, any more than it causes a child to grow taller.  Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger.
  7. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance – a disequilibrium – in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism.  Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation.  We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this balance.
  8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage.  When insulin levels are elevated – either chronically or after a meal – we accumulate fat in our fat tissue.  When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel. 
  9. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity.  The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.
  10. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.”

Oh yes Amazon have it.

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