So I was thrilled to stumble across this terrific summary of the book on the Guts & Black Stuff blog. Greg does a great job of extracting the most pertinent points from the book in a short but comprehensive form. His work has reduced my anxiety at not having read Taubes’ book and has also rekindled my interest in reading the whole thing (one day). The experience very much reminded me of my days as an English Literature undergraduate, when I’d seek out the York Notes‘ summaries of hefty literary works.
I urge you to head over to Guts & Black Stuff to read the whole ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ redux article. Here are some highlights:
Chapter 1: The Eisenhower Paradox
Eisenhower was obsessed with lowering his cholesterol and took extreme
measures to remove fat and cholesterol from his diet. His blood cholesterol
kept climbing, and he eventually died of heart disease. Heart disease was rare
before the 1920′s, but this could be because people didn’t live long enough to
die of chronic diseases. Ancel Keys’ hypothesis that dietary fat and
cholesterol are linked to blood fat and cholesterol became mainstream dogma by
the 1960′s. Keys cherry-picked data, and probably did not perform “good
science”. George McGovern used Keys’ hypothesis for the basis of “Dietary Goals
for the United States” in 1977, which has underlined government health policy
ever since. This document also used USDA statistics for historical
macronutrient breakdowns based on guesses and not reliable evidence that people
before the 1900′s ate much more grain and starch. They may have been thrown off
by the temporary decrease in meat consumption due to Upton Sinclair’s The
Jungle, published in 1906. USDA statistics are reliable after WWII.
Chapter 5: Diseases of Civilization
Several populations (e.g. Eskimos and Gabonese) have negligible rates of
chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and stroke
when eating their native diet. When some members of those populations begin to
adopt a Western diet their rates of chronic disease rise up to Western levels
while their counterparts who maintain the traditional diet continue to be
healthy. Meat-eating seems unlikely to be a cause of cancer as carnivorous
Inuit and Masai have extremely low cancer rates, while the vegetarian Hindus
had a prevalence of cancers (circa 1910). Refined carbohydrates such as white
flour, sugar, white rice, and molasses appear linked to risk of cancer.
Chapter 7: Fiber
Cleave and Yudkin’s ideas were dismissed by the McGovern panel because they
did not fit the standard dogma. Burkitt expanded on Cleave’s hypothesis to
suggest that the problem wasn’t the refined carbohydrates per se, rather it was
a deficiency of fiber (which is mostly removed during the refining processes).
This hypothesis was immediately seized upon by the media, and Kellogg and
General foods pushed bran and fiber. Public health authorities initially
remained focused on the fat/cholesterol hypothesis, but eventually adopted the
fiber hypothesis as well. Two large Harvard studies in the 1990s and another
study published in 2006 demonstrated that consumption of fiber and of fruits
and vegetables is unrelated to the risk of colon cancer. Although the media is
slow to catch up, the scientific community today seems to agree that fiber does
not prevent chronic disease.
Chapter 10: The Role of Insulin
Counterintuitively, diabetics have higher circulating insulin levels than
normal people; their tissues are resistant to the effects of insulin so they
need larger amounts either secreted naturally or via injections. Attempts to
understand the relationship between obesity, heart disease, and diabetes have
implicated chronically elevated insulin levels as a culprit.
Chapter 12: Sugar
The development of the glycemic index (a measure of how quickly different
foods affect blood sugar) supported Cleave’s speculations. Fructose has been
shown to elevate triglyceride levels, and this effect increases with long-term
consumption. Fructose-containing products such as table sugar and high-fructose
corn syrup strain the liver and block the metabolism of glucose, which causes
the pancreas to secrete higher levels of insulin to attempt to regulate the
blood sugar; this combination of fructose and glucose causes a harmful feedback
loop with more harmful effects than either sugar alone.
Chapter 24: The Carbohydrate Hypothesis, III: Hunger and Satiety
Experiments in rats have shown that they will develop tastes to make up for
induced needs or gluts, for example salt when their adrenal glands were
removed, or an aversion to carbohydrates when they were diabetic. Fertility is
linked to the availability of metabolic fuels. The levels of circulating
insulin are proportional to body fat. Sugars and carbohydrates have addictive properties.
He also reminds us of Taubes’ own version of ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ redux:
1. Dietary fat does not cause obesity, heart disease or other chronic
2. Refined carbohydrates, through insulin secretion, do.
3. Sugars, especially those including fructose, are particularly harmful.
4. Refined carbohydrates are the dietary cause of heart disease and
diabetes. They are the most likely (but not only) dietary cases of cancer,
Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic diseases.
5. Obesity is not caused by overeating or sedentary behavior.
6. Calorie restriction does not cause long-term weight loss, it causes
7. Fattening and obesity are caused by a hormonal imbalance, which can be
driven by diet (e.g. insulin secretion).
8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage.
9. Carbohydrate intake drives insulin, and is therefore proportional to our
10. Carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease energy.
Read and enjoy – even in redux form, ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ is a wealth of information!
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