The People's Perspective on Medicine

651 Good Calories Bad Calories

Many people, including scientists, think of obesity as an inevitable consequence of gluttony and sloth. But research suggests that insulin may contribute more than we imagine to excess body fat. What’s more, eating refined carbohydrates seems to boost insulin levels. So perhaps not all calories are created equal. Could it be that dietary fat is not the evil we have been led to believe?

Guest: Gary Taubes is an award-winning science writer. His cover article in the New York Times Magazine in 2001 was titled what “If It’s All A Big Fat Lie?” and stimulated a great deal of controversy. His new book is Good Calories Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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how can I listen to this now?

I’ve never consumed the number of calories necessary to put on or maintain what I weigh today. I’ve never tested positive for insulin resistance, but think it’s possible that I am at a sub-clinical level.
I’ve lost close to 30 pounds in the last 6 months by adding vinegar, lime juice, and cinnamon to my diet. I have a little bit before I eat. Other than that, I haven’t changed my diet or amount of exercise one bit. I’m so thankful to have figured out something that works for me.
In the past, I had good results (a loss of 20 pounds in a year) by eliminating high glycemic foods (the white stuff, for the most part), but it’s terribly difficult to keep that up as I’m always on the go–nothing is more portable than food carried between two pieces of bread.
I don’t know how long the cinnamon and acid before meals will work for me. If my weight loss slows down before I want it to, I plan to try harder to limit the high glycemic foods and up the exercise.

Just an update to my posting, I changed my diet to no bread, pasta or added sugar. After one month with no medication, my cholestrol has lowered from 251 to 206. This was with very little exercise. I plan to stay on this course. Those that disagree with Gary Taube’s book didn’t read it. He is only pointing out the results he has found in the numerous studies done over the years on diet and weight loss. I’m happy he is writing about this, and I am so glad I read it.

Of course this makes sense, so does every other diet guru out there. All I can say is that it adds another dimension to an already confused population about weight loss. I can tell you that I started gaining weight when I reached 45 yrs. I had never been obese or overweight even when I was pregnant. Age and hormones I’m sure contribute in some way but my job changed and as a teacher I was under a different type of stress and less time to eat as I should. I was eating less but not better. I don’t even use sugar and try to stay away from it as I check labels and read information about carbs.
All through my early adolescence through to my 30’s I ate carbs, protein, fruits and veg. and very little processed food. I was thin, thin, and thin. I don’t buy the fact that carbs are the problem; however, I do believe that processed foods, all kinds, are culprits that spike our insulin levels. Carbs in general are not the pariah and to be told that all you have to do is give up carbs and that will take care of the problem is unacceptable. Maybe gleaning some information from some of the diets that we know work, like weight watchers, and watching what is in the food we consume, such as hydrogenated oils which contribute to heart disease and obesity. Using fresh ingredients instead of packaged or canned food may help us. I know that where people avoid such foods there is little problem with obesity.
Gary Taubes makes a good argument about processed carbs but it is too broad and just drops the ball when it comes to clearing up any confusion about what we should really be looking at as far as how we eat. Maybe it’s in the book. I’m getting tired of reading books and contributing to the author’s bank account. Where will this lead us to? More commentary on others’ research?

I listened to the interview with Gary Taubes and was struck by the quite arrogant and smug tone of his comments,and the way he dismissed conventional nutritionists. I have great respect for my nutritionist; she helped guide me out of an eating disorder. It has taken me years to get to normal, reasonable eating. Perhaps low/no-carb is the answer for certain metabolic types, but diet is not one size fits all!

In 1998 I went on a diet with the general rule of no bread or pasta (complex carbs), no sugar, and no salt. I ate small portions of chicken or fish and vegetables and fruit five times a day. The weight fell off. I kept it off for over five years, but the bad habits crept back into my diet. Now despite my wariness of high fructose and trans fats, my LDL is sky high, and the Dr. wanted to put me on a statin. I have put them off for a month and it is back to the different way of thinking and eating. Thank you for reinforcing my positive prior results.

I only feel really well and full of energy when I eat “lower-carb”; when I eat simple carbs I begin to feel tired and light-headed soon afterwards. My mama’s family members were/are diabetic. Eating “LOWER-CARB” works well for me, and i have lost 15 pounds in 3 months; I feel so much better.
A few years ago, my family doctor (Osteopath) told me about a patient that had sky-high cholesterol and triglycerides. Nothing seemed to get them down. After my doctor had been on low carb a la Atkins, etc. and lost weight and lowered cholesterol, he decided to suggest his patient go LOW carb and see what happened. She went on Atkins. Her triglycerides and cholesterol dropped WAY down, her HDL went up and she lost weight in the bargain! EVERYbody was happy.
When I eat GRAINS I feel tired. I eat them selectively and not often. When ever I stick to LOWER carbs, I feel G R E A T. (I try to stay away from white potatoes, white rice, BREAKFAST CEREALS of ANY kind, pasta (which makes me feel very tired and light-headed fairly quickly) and most breads of ANY kind….you get the idea. NO DIABETES for me!
sheila anne

I believe my personal experience has vindicated Mr. Taubes’ research. I am from a German/Irish background. My father and grandfather and many women on his side of the family suffer from weight problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. I had metabolic issues causing weight gain from infancy and have been on a careful carb diet (no sugar, potato, bread, rice) for two years. I have dropped from 207 to 150lbs. I gained some back because I haven’t been as careful with the carbs lately.
Before my diet change, I suffered from hypoglycemia and got hungry especially after eating white rice. I have never suffered from high blood pressure and my cholesterol has been normal with high HDL.
It is a social disservice to chalk up obesity to lack of resolve. It is more of a disservice to put us into preconceived molds: “one treatment fits all”. I found out how hard it is to live “low carb” in American society when I started two years ago, and it’s not any easier today. Thank you for giving me strong evidence that what I am doing is a good path.

Heard this show on Sunday. I need to read this book, but before I do, I must comment on the interview. The comments made by Mr. Taubes were, I think, even more confusing to people who want to lose weight. I certainly can’t dispute the insulin claim since I haven’t read the book, but comments such as “all exercise does is make you hungry” are ridiculous. I was overweight by 40 lbs in 1977. Why? Because I ate like a pig. When I stopped, I lost weight. Not only that, I educated myself (after struggling with “diets” and finally realizing, as Mr. Graedon stated, that eating less and moving more is really a big solution) about foods and eating. I was addicted to food. I have MAINTAINED my weight–and I mean not 10 lbs up and down each year–for over 30 years now. I eat a lot of carbs too. I lift weights and am not hungry when I finish. This sounds like another book to boost the believe that self-control is not a key to healthy life.

I loved your interview on the Peoples Pharmacy NPR Show.
My husband eats 75% more food than I do & I’m the one who gains weight, not him.
I am going to try your plan.

I am a 63-year-old female, and I lost 25 lbs. 5 years ago and have kept it off. I eat a low-fat diet of about 1400-1500 calories, but do not watch carbs. I eat few potatoes, though, and very few desserts. I exercise at a gym 3 times weekly. I am 5′ 5 1/2″ and weigh 123 lbs. My cholesterol improved to under 200. I feel healthy and successful, but according to you I’m not doing the right thing. This is confusing!

I was diagnosed with diabetes 1 1/2 years ago. Within 6 months of limiting carbs to control blood sugar levels, I had lost about 12 pounds. I am a slender female, age 64. I have lost the extra weight I had put on during the last 10 years as I now realize I was “pre-diabetic”.
Thanks to Gary Taubes and the People’s Pharmacy for bringing this issue into the public eye (again)!

Thanks for the great program! Always belived the old maxim to “stop eatng the white stuff if you want to loose weight”, and it worked for me when I was active and younger. Due to a mad miniscus I had to stop walking several years ago and gained a lot of fat. Still unable to walk much, any ideas how to get all this insulin quieted down now? at age 69?

Thank you for the informative show–I listened to it yesterday on WNED 970 AM. But I seem to recall a longer segment on the radio than what is available here. Is there a way to hear the entire interview as it was heard on the radio? Thank you for your time. ~Mike

Since getting false teeth (full upper, partial lower) two years ago, I have gone from 165 pounds down to 117 pounds. At the age of 62, I am very concerned that I continue to lose weight at about 1 pound a month. Can I reverse this carbohydrate diet (eat potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.) and start to GAIN weight?

I grew up in Urbana, IL. Burnsides Laboratory, on the U of I campus, was very actively engaged in research on causes of atherosclerosis when I had a summer job there in 1966. I recall they were having trouble proving the anticipated connection between cholesterol (or was it saturated fat?) and atherosclerosis. The experiments involved feeding trials in rats. I was responsible for caring for all the rats used by the lab. All of the rats were sick with a respiratory illness–constantly sneezing, noses running, sometimes dying. In other words, all the research was investigating the effects of various diets on rats suffering from respiratory disease! It might, I suppose, have been of some interest to rat veterinarians wanting to know what diet would be best for ill rats. I don’t think the research was useful to vets, however, since none of the published research mentioned that the studies were done on rats that were ill.
Just thought I would add to the discussion of the possibly questionable aspects of the dietary research at that time–or later, for that matter!

I have cut way back on sugar and use Splenda, and don’t eat many sweets, but I can’t seem to lose the belly fat. I am hypoglycemic sporadically. I can’t figure out where I’m going wrong. I walk, and work out several times a week, and I’m disabled. If anyone can help me, please let me know. Thank you…

Fascinating discussion. Mr. Taubes seems to have a lot of good information, but I was surprised at the dismissal of the role of exercise. Aren’t there good studies that show that regular exercise helps to regulate insulin levels? Furthermore, as humans evolved wasn’t exercise a regular part of our hunter/gatherer lifestyle? I’m also interested in hearing his views on the role of stress on insulin levels and disease in general (Flight or Fight was mentioned–I missed the first 5 min. of the program).

Your radio show this morning was fascinating, and I hope that you will have a follow-up show where science people and others can question and comment on Gary Taubes’ book.
I have two questions:
– How would a diet very high in animal fat and protein affect your kidneys?
– Shouldn’t Gary Taubes make more of a distinction between simple and complex carbs? He talked about greens being OK, but how about whole grains and beans? How do they affect insulin levels?
I would also like to hear more about the “density” of the cholesterol. My total cholesterol is high (268) but my ratio good to bad is only 1 because my HDL is very high. How do you measure the density of the HDL?
By the way, my triglycerides are very low despite the fact that I eat a lot of carbs (mainly complex but also some simple carbs).
I must say that I am more confused than ever after listening to Gary Taubes, but I think his ideas are worth investigating.

I was on the Atkins diet in 2000. I lost 20 lbs and my cholesterol was very low. The doctor told me to continue what I was doing. It was working. Well of course I strayed. And in 2005 I had triple bypass surgery. I was put on Lipitor, which has my liver count way high, and the leg cramps were unbearable. I am now waiting for the count on my liver to go down and see what happens. I hope I do not have to go back on Lipitor. I don’t know what is right, but I do know the Adkins diet lowered my cholesterol.

I have been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for over 30 years. I have struggled with my weight all my life. I have had great success (both with weight loss and with health) following a Atkins/Stilman-like diet before making a vegetarian choice. It is very difficult to stay on such a diet without including animal protein. Do you have any suggestions?

What about vegetarians? I eat the standard American diet and I am obese. I have begun to shift toward a vegetable-based diet, mainly because over the years I have lost the taste for meat (primarily beef and pork). Can you be a vegetarian AND reduce your insulin? Thank you, Corrie

This interview makes SO much sense to me. I never dieted until about 4 years ago because I was always thin, but as I entered my forties I just started gaining weight. (I’m 48 now & 50 pounds heavier than I was 10 years ago–though I think losing 30 would be good enough.)
My experience with dieting was like everyone else’s. I lost 10 pounds on Atkins and gained it back–I lost 10 pounds on Weight Watchers and gained it back. I couldn’t stay on the diets and I constantly felt guilty because of it.
Then recently, I gave up on the thought of dieting completely and just started eating less. (I should stress there’s isn’t much junk in my diet, very little fast food or cookies or chips… though ice cream is an ongoing obsession). I stopped eating breakfast (which I always wanted to skip but which is supposed to be FATAL!)–sometimes, when I’m really in the zone with work, I don’t eat till 4. And when I do eat I’m careful not to stuff myself, to have small amounts of meat and salad or vegetables, just enough to get full. The result? I’ve lost 10 pounds without really trying.
Now, let me be clear: I don’t torture myself–if I’m hungry at 8 or 10 and it persists or I start to feel unwell, I eat something. Sometimes I eat junk–ice cream sandwiches, french fries (made with potatoes, not the processed kind). I’m not becoming anorexic–I’m not obsessed. It’s just that if I get hungry and I drink something–some water or carrot juice or homemade V8–and it goes away, I don’t eat. I wait until I’m really hungry.
One benefit of this is that I’ve gone from thinking about food ALL THE TIME when I was dieting to only thinking about it only when I’m really hungry. The funny thing is that I’ve been feeling guilty because this goes against all advice, but listening to Mr. Taube made me realize it’s actually the way I ate as a child. I loved certain dishes, and I loved certain tastes, but I wasn’t that interested in *eating.* (I was my mother’s despair–she kept trying to give me breakfast when all I wanted was juice–or a whole balanced meal when all I wanted was chicken…)
Now instead of feeling like I’m doing something wrong, I’m going to keep exploring this… and just make some healthier choices about … those ice cream sandwiches in the freezer.

This morning’s show is an eye opener. Hormones abet obesity! I knew I was not truly overeating! From the show, I assume that limiting carbohydrates should assist me in losing my excess stored fat. I will get and read the book to check on my hypothesis. My blood pressure and chloresterol levels are good, so the main problem I have is stored fat.
More information along this line would be appreciated.
C. E. Ryan

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