Thursday, October 4, 2007

Bringing the Low-Carb Community Closer: Good Calories, Bad Calories

Wednesday before last, I left work early because I wasn't feeling very well. On the way home, I remembered that Gary Taubes's new book, Good Calories, Bad Calories (GCBC), had come out the day before. Well, fortunately for me, I live less than five minutes away from a Borders bookstore, so I was able to shuttle in and out with my book in less than 10 minutes. It was good to see Taubes's book on the "New Arrivals" table in the middle of the store as you walk in.

When I woke up the next morning, I had already read the first section of his 400+ page work; however, I wasn't feeling any better. So, I decided that I should stay home and in the bed for the day. Since I don't have a TV in my bedroom, I figured that I should continue to plow through his book, which I gladly did.

Now, before I go into my review of GCBC, I have to warn any potential readers that this is not, I repeat, is not a diet book. You won't find any low-carb recipes or any personal stories about how the author has lost weight following a low-carb (LC) way of eating (WOE). Also, if you are not familiar with reading works that examines dietary theories and medical research, then you may be intimidated with the vocabulary and the argument that is being presented. However, this is not to say that you have to have a degree in biochemistry to understand what the author is discussing; nevertheless, you do need a background in how the various macronutrients (i.e., protien, fat, carbs) are metabolized or used by the body. For more of a layman's discussion of these processes, I suggest that you read Dr. Gregory Ellis's Ultimate Diet Secrets (lite) and Protein Power by Drs. Eades; Dr. Eades also has a great blog that you may want to check out also for more background information that will help you understand Taubes's arguments better.

OK, now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, let's jump in shall we?

Since I've had more than a week to digest what I've read and to contemplate this review, I have to admit that my initial thoughts about the book has changed. At first, I thought that this would be the book that would finally cause a lot of low-fat dieters to start questioning their dietary protocol. I saw this book causing an uproar to the so-called "healthy diet" that is being promoted today; however, I don't feel that way anymore. As a matter of fact, I now believe that this book was written more for the LC community than anyone else.

GCBC, I believe, can serve as a book that can bring the LC community closer because it settles a lot of the debates within the LC community, which I'll discuss in a bit. By addressing and settling, IMO, these differences, it gives the community the ability to move forward and continue to spread the message that there is another viable dietary approach available to people who want to not only lose body fat (not body weight) but live a healthy life too.

Taubes has presented us with a 60 page bibliography, as well as 40 pages worth of chapters' notes for further research on the hypotheses he presents in his work. While many of the arguments he makes in GCBC I have read in other works by other authors, such as Ellis, Colpo, Uffe, Kendricks, etc., I appreciate the repository feel that this work has. Whether you are a lay person, medical student, nutritionists, or scientists, Taubes presents his arguments in such a way that will appeal to all. However, I will admit that it is far from an easy read, especially if you are knew to the science behind why LC eating is our optimal and, as some have argued, ancestral diet.

If you want the 11 critical conclusions of GCBC, then click here and read the review at, as I will only be discussing three points in my review that I feel gives the LC community an opportunity to come closer together as a cohesive community.

So, without further ado, here are the points that I've pulled from this text that I believe we in the LC community can capitalize on to fortify our ranks.

Point #1: The energy balance equation is not refuted by eating LC, especially when you look at the 2nd law of thermodynamics from a different perspective. In the LC community there has always been a heated debate about the role of calories in weight loss. Those who follow certain LC authors that advocate calories don't count have always butted heads with those who believe that this violates the law of energy conservation. Those who read my blog know exactly where I stand on this issue; however, I have to credit Taubes with causing me to view this debate from a different perspective. He argues that eating too many calories and having a sedentary life-style is not the cause of obesity, but they are side effects caused by our bodies not properly metabolizing fat as a result of high insulin levels in the blood. What I appreciate about this approach is that even though it places the cause of obesity on our metabolism running at less than optimal levels, it shows that once we switch to a LC eating style, more than any sort of metabolic advantage, there is what I've termed a metabolic restorative process that happens that reverses the metabolic imbalance that eating a high-carb diet causes. And, this restorative process causes one to lose body fat, have increased energy, and eat less. Taubes's argues that while one is in this restorative process, the body uses fat as fuel, especially stored fat, and the pathway to making fat from carbs is greatly reduced since the fat-storage hormone insulin is kept at normal levels. In turn, the body's active tissues (i.e., muscles, organs, etc.) are constantly nourished.

Point #2: GCBC serves as a primer for us to understand how, from a cellular level, why and how the low-carb eating works. If you weren't thrilled about being in your biology classes in high school, then this information is going to be a bit tedious and dry; however, get over it! Here you are presented with a clear cut explanation of the hormonal and enzymatic functions as it relates to how the body gains and loses weight. The only other author that I know of that has discussed low-carb WOE from this perspective is Dr. Ellis in Ultimate Diet Secrets; nevertheless, this is information is vital in explaining exactly why a low-carb WOE is the most healthy and nutrient packed known to humans. Citing examples from studies done by low-carb authors is not enough evidence for our cause. Even though folks like Dr. Ornish do this all the time, we must not fall in this same over-zealous trap. It has been well established in the scientific community of the ill effects of consuming sugar and carbs, as they relate to chronic diseases, for some time now. Now that GCBC brings to life many of these forgotten studies, it's the LC community's responsibility to never let these works be forgotten or easily dismissed. And the only way to make sure that this never happens again is for us to read, re-read, and digest the vast amount of information that's presented in Taubes's book.

Point #3: The Carbohydrate Hypothesis for chronic diseases is finally laid out for the world to see. Those of us following a LC lifestyle usually has an idea of the ills consuming too many carbs causes, but these are usually from the various books, websites, and forum posts that we've read. Very few of us have access to the studies and other research that points to a causation for many of these so-called diseases of civilization. What's important about GCBC is that Taubes readily explains the different hypotheses that fully implicate sugar and high insulin levels as being the culprit for not only obesity, but also diabetes, cancer, hypertension, etc. And, to top it off, he gives you the sources to do the research for yourself. No one has to take Taubes's word for any hypothesis he posits in his book because it's fully referenced. As a result, it gives us in the LC community the ability to learn and memorize these hypotheses. Yes, we need to learn them because the onus is on us to break down these complex hypotheses into more manageable parts for the joe and joann dieter to understand. While I think a discussion of glucagon and how it interacts with insulin is fascinating, I know that most people don't. I can't accept that they are damned because they aren't into scientific jargon like I am, so we have to take the information learned in GCBC and figure out ways to present the LC case in easy to understand terms. At lowcarb discussion forum, they are going to start a chapter by chapter thread for GCBC, and I encourage all LC forums to start a similar thread. To promote a WOE, we must first fully understand it.

There will be disagreements with approaches and I know that the metabolic advantage debates won't die out right away; however, I strongly believe that GCBC can serve as a catalyst to bring the LC community much closer than it currently is. I hope I'm right and this time next year, I'll be blogging about the many LC programs that are geared towards teaching children how healthy it actually is to eat LC.


Lowcarb_dave said...

Thank you for the Summary.

I feel compelled to purchase this book now.

Guess what? I've started tracking my calories today! I am using an online tracker 'Calorie King', the Aussie version.

Just wanted to let you know that you have inspired me.



Mr. LowBodyFat said...

That's excellent bro and your body will reward you for it!