"Nutrition Heretic" Gary Taubes writes about his shaming and "relative" vindication


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/12/13/nutrition-heretic-gary-tau.html


#2

We once spent an evening discussing what the most precise word would stand in for “the opposite of regret”; Vindication was at the top of the list.


#3

I enjoyed his books on the topic.

Know what else I enjoy? Self-quoting instead of writing the same opinions all over again. Context be damned!

Continuing the discussion from Long-term weight loss considered nearly impossible:

If you’re talking about the ‘No Sugar No Grains’ above I can recommend Why we Get Fat by Gary Taubes as an excellent light-reading primer on ‘why’.

Or, if you’re interested enough to stomach the giant, heavily researched and footnote-heavy version of the same thing, ‘Good Calories Bad Calories’ is definitely worth the read. Also the best explanation I’ve read on how exactly bad science, good intentions and commercial interests combined into the perfect storm of worse-than-useless status quo policies regarding weight gain.

(Am I the only one who does this around here?)


#4

I read NYMag.com’s Vindication series piece on Gary Taubes. I admit I’ve read only his Reddit AMA, and books by physicians who are in alignment with Taubes’ ideas, so I can’t write about what’s in Why We Get Fat, or Good Calories, Bad Calories. Are Taubes’ books still worth reading by one who’s followed eating protocols written by physicians heavily influenced by Taubes? Maybe if one’s getting pushback or challenged by laypeople convinced saturated animal fats cause cancer, “calories in, calories out” is THE diet rule, and that the brain needs glucose from plant sugars to run, instead of non-carbohydrate carbon substrates converting lactate, glycerol and glucogenic amino acids to glucose through gluconeogenesis. Is the science in Taubes’ books heavy enough to scare away the average adult reader, or does he make his arguments as digestible as Mary Roach can?

I do see though that not all nutrition and health journalists or even professors agree with Taubes. Jane E. Brody who writes some articles for the NYTimes’ “Well” section still relies on Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) for expert opinion, the same CSPI that promoted trans fats in 1987.

More exactly, Taubes writes “While the orthodoxy has yet to embrace Atkins and low-carb, high-fat diets, or ketogenic diets as they’re technically called, as healthful diets, let alone ideal, they’re getting there.” It’s still an undertaking to find a nearby physician who recommends a low-carb high-fat or moderate Atkins diet to reverse metabolic syndrome biomarkers and symptoms.

I’ve noticed it takes at least a generation or two to question mainstream nutrition science; maybe Taubes’ absolute vindication will happen by 2030, as close to thirty years past CSPI’s initial championing of trans fats, it’s now mainstream nutrition knowledge that trans fats bestow no health benefits.


#5

My friends who are cancer research scientists believe this as well.


#6

If you’re interested in the history of how and why past and current ways of thinking came to be, and don’t mind some lenghty asides, I think you’ll like Good Calories. Taubes is a science-focused journalist, not a medical professional, which I think helps him generally write in a more (pun) digestible way for curious laypeople.

Why We Get Fat is the fat-free version of the same thing for the masses, so to speak. A good simple primer but less substantial and more citation-needy. That one might be a good gift for someone else who cares about the subject but isn’t a BoingBoing-level nerd.


#7

Your cancer research scientist friends don’t have surnames of Seyfried or D’Agostino, I’m hazarding.


#8

No, just working stiffs at an NCI research center.


#9

Have you plans to read Taubes’ forthcoming book The Case Against Sugar?


#10

Also in the news: Broken clock feels smug about being right not once, but twice in a day, in spite of criticism that maybe there’s still a better source for timekeeping.


#11

Not sure. Is it more of the same for a new round of readers that might have gained interest in the subject recently?

If so, I’ve personally had enough with the other two books.

Even so, it might serve a purpose in the world. The article makes it sound like the consensus has moved on, but it’s clearly still controversial.

You might have noticed it very much remains the kind of message many people seem instantly, ferociously critical of, sometimes almost as if they have a personal stake on the credibility of the lipid hypothesis. See: every public discussion including the word “carb” ever, including those right here. It gets ugly fast.

My understanding is that the more people actually read the guy’s books instead of vague secondhand summaries and personal feelings of how things should be, the better the level of criticism, counterpoints and general discourse on the matter. And it’s an important matter, impacting more lives than ever.


#12

Which is a bit crazy considering that most animals require saturated fats to live and could not live without them.

Saturated fats are crucial for so many biological functions, not to mention making the bulk of the brain and nervous system. They are so crucial for life that most organisms will produce their own at a fairly high biological expense if they aren’t being obtained through diet. There is a good reason that most animals, including humans, are full of them.

There are several problems with the blanket corollary carcinogenic studies like the one your friends are most likely referring to. They are mostly crap studies science wise and meaningless without the necessary qualifiers and controls:

  1. How carcinogenic? (mildly like black pepper and burnt toast or extreme like aflatoxins which can be found in peanut butter)
  2. Which type of saturated fats? Short chain? Medium Chain? Long Chain? Artificially hydrogenated fats? These are all very different biologically and treated differently in biological processes, you can’t really have a meaningful conversation about their effects without discussing the type.
  3. Source of the saturated fats? Cured meat products are more carcinogenic then coconut oil because they come with high nitrates.
  4. Control of the rest of the dietary factors including exercise and elimination, fiber intake, leafy green intake, mineral balance, etc.

Problem is you can’t feed human groups or animal groups just one type of saturated fat in isolation to set up any sort of control, and the margin differences in general population studies for “is this food carcinogenic or not” is usually so small (±2%)as to be within the margin of error for any sort of population study. Direct exposure studies like those done with aflatoxins are much more scientific and accurate then general population studies like those done with saturated fats, imho.

Just my 2cents for whatever it is worth.


#13

[quote=“redesigned, post:12, topic:91088”]
Which is a bit crazy considering that most animals require saturated fats to live and could not live without them.[/quote]
And I’m pretty sure that few if any of them would make the leap from “animal fats cause cancer” to “humans must never eat animal fats”. Extreme reductio and hysterical overgeneralization is the province of bad science popularism/journalism and hucksterism, not good research science.


#14

I am not much of an inside baseball kind of person when it comes to diet stuff. But I did want to mention that when Taubes himself set up a rigorous experiment, he found that, all other things being equal, a low-fat diet was the most effective way to lose fat.


#15

Gary Taubes founded NuSi, which supported this pilot study led by diet researcher Kevin Hall. From Marion Nestle’s blog post which you link to, I read:

NuSI recruited highly experienced and respected obesity investigators to design and conduct the studies.

Gary Taubes did not directly participate in the research in design and administration, he is a science journalist who helped set up NuSI.

Link to research document abstract, with authorship credits and conclusions

I don’t understand “all things being equal” when the summation is made from reading a nutrition professor’s blog post. I could post a summation from a nephrologist’s critique of the study and it would have the same weight and value. It would have differing opinion.

Small sample size (17 men), small duration in time (4+4 weeks), and no control group.

The phase-in was 4 weeks of 2,700 calories a day of Standard American Diet. But for all we know these men used to eat 3,500 calories a day. They were obese men, if that is the case the phase-in would need to be a lot more than 4 weeks. In other fields of science, periods of “phase-in” are used for computer simulations, and they continue until the distribution converges to an initial range.

They then go on a ketogenic diet for four weeks. Do we know then that four weeks is the time it takes to stay on a diet to declare that weight loss by low fat is more successful, and that the weight stays off? Do we know if there was a control group? Was insulin resistance measured in the study participants before their entry into the metabolic ward, regularly during their metabolic ward stay, and upon exit of the metabolic ward?

You may ask: "why do you bring up insulin resistance?"
Here’s the beginning of the AJCN abstract:

The carbohydrate–insulin model of obesity posits that habitual consumption of a high-carbohydrate diet sequesters fat within adipose tissue because of hyperinsulinemia and results in adaptive suppression of energy expenditure (EE). Therefore, isocaloric exchange of dietary carbohydrate for fat is predicted to result in increased EE, increased fat oxidation, and loss of body fat.

This is from the detailed description:

we will measure changes in energy expenditure in response to 4 weeks of inpatient feeding of a eucaloric, very low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (5% Carbohydrate, 15% Protein, 80% Fat) immediately following an inpatient period of at least 4 weeks of consuming an energy balanced standard American diet (50% Carbohydrate, 15 % Protein, 35% Fat).

The ketogenic diet group showed an increase in energy expenditure. We know this from the conclusion:

The isocaloric KD was not accompanied by increased body fat loss but was associated with relatively small increases in EE that were near the limits of detection with the use of state-of-the-art technology.

increased fat loss meaning greater fat loss than continuation of a calorically controlled Standard American Diet over four weeks.

I point these out as they are from the primary source. What is brought to mind for me is @telecinese’s contention stated upthread that

You might have noticed it very much remains the kind of message many people seem instantly, ferociously critical of, sometimes almost as if they have a personal stake on the credibility of the lipid hypothesis. See: every public discussion including the word “carb” ever, including those right here. It gets ugly fast.

My understanding is that the more people actually read the guy’s books instead of vague secondhand summaries and personal feelings of how things should be, the better the level of criticism, counterpoints and general discourse on the matter. And it’s an important matter, impacting more lives than ever.

This exchange is not a discussion of Taubes’ ideas in his books, or whether or not he achieved relative vindication. It is a correction of conclusions derived from conclusions made by a secondary source, made with quotes from primary and secondary sources, and an open reminder to self that reading, understanding and evaluating primary sources are preferable for aiding profound and vigorous criticism and discourse.


#16

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