Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Good Calories, Bad Calories and Troglodytes.

There is a current backlash towards the backlash towards fat. I first read about it yesterday in an article by Gina Kolata about Gary Taubes' new book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (Knopf, 2007). Today, again in the NY Times there is an article about how wrong we are in regards to fat intake and whether or not fat is actually bad for you.

Unfortunately, Gina Kolata's article does little to debunk Gary Taubes other than this blurb at the end of the article:

"I'm sorry, but I'm not convinced."

I'm not convinced either and John Tierney's article today did little to convince me either.

"In the case of fatty foods, that confident voice belonged to Ancel Keys, a prominent diet researcher a half-century ago (the K-rations in World War II were said to be named after him). He became convinced in the 1950s that Americans were suffering from a new epidemic of heart disease because they were eating more fat than their ancestors.

There were two glaring problems with this theory, as Mr. Taubes, a correspondent for Science magazine, explains in his book. First, it wasn’t clear that traditional diets were especially lean. Nineteenth-century Americans consumed huge amounts of meat; the percentage of fat in the diet of ancient hunter-gatherers, according to the best estimate today, was as high or higher than the ratio in the modern Western diet.

Second, there wasn’t really a new epidemic of heart disease. Yes, more cases were being reported, but not because people were in worse health. It was mainly because they were living longer and were more likely to see a doctor who diagnosed the symptoms."

First of all, after WWII, we experienced a cultural and economic shift. We went from a country of farmers to a country of factories, corporations and office buildings. Since then, due to a number of reasons, our lifestyles have gone from active to sedentary, from physical labor to sitting at office desks all day. It would make sense that a fattier diet would not result in the same health problems that are prevalent today: we exercised more and thus needed to eat more.

Second, I'm not sure how often Mr. Taubes or Mr. Tierney has tried to catch game using nothing but a wooden stick, but it isn't easy. There is no way we ate meat in the quantities that we do today and when we did catch it, it was shared among family groups of 20-30 people. It's true we do need fats, sugars and salts. But we like them because they were scarce and hard to come by: Our ancestors who craved meat, went out, caught it, received appropriate nutrition and survived. The ones that didn't died from insufficiencies. Why else would we waste the effort? It's dangerous and hard work to hunt, physical labor or "exercise" is required - much easier to sit around eating roots.

Which brings me to another point. The list of "bad calories" that Mr. Taubes has put in his book:

"Bread and other baked goods, potatoes, yams, rice, pasta, cereal grains, corn, sugar (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup), ice cream, candy, soft drinks, fruit juices, bananas and other tropical fruits, and beer."

This list includes yams, potatoes and bananas - some cultures subsist on diets that are primarily made up of these foods. They do not have a prevalence of obesity. Americans, who live on a diet of McDonalds hamburgers, french fries and oreo cookies do. Bread, cereal grains, corn and beer are all things that we have been consuming for thousands of years. Mr. Taubes argument that "we used to eat it before" appears a little thin here - you can't claim that we've been doing it forever so it can't be bad for you and then suggest that something else that we've been doing forever is instead bad for you.

Unfortunately, this is getting a lot of press and it will provide one more excuse for the overweight troglodytes to eat crap and not exercise.

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