What to eat? Health and our confusion over food


It’s about ignorance and public relations.

I’m not saying the man’s wrong; this isn’t my field. However, (A) he’s neither a medical doctor nor a PhD-bearing scientist, (B) since 2002 or so he’s made a living by publishing articles and books that make basically the points laid out in the opinion piece (Wikipedia: Gary Taubes: Dietary Science), and © his “Nutrition Science Initiative” solicits donations to fund scientific research, but isn’t particularly transparent about how much of what’s solicited goes to its administrators. (According to the disquietingly long-winded NuSI | Terms of Use, “Nutrition Science Initiative, Inc. is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation and has applied to the IRS for recognition as an entity that is tax-exempt under Section 501©(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.” It contains news articles dating back to 2012; shouldn’t the organization have its 501©(3) by now? And, per section 14, any idea you submit becomes theirs to do with as they will; per section 15, “Any information you provide at this site shall be deemed to be non-confidential. NuSI shall be free to use such information on an unrestricted basis.” I’m getting some cold pricklies off those.)

Hence, I’d want data to rule out the unfortunate possibility that Mr. Taubes has a financial incentive to convince folks that nutritional science is a “dysfunctional research establishment” before taking him particularly seriously.


Article is utter bollocks. You can’t blame researchers for not providing simplistic answers to complex problems. In fact, they’d be unprofessional if they did. The much bigger problem is that the industrialization of food production has insulated us all from any knowledge or insight to what’s in our food and how it might harm us. Gotta ask whose interests are served by blaming researchers for the failings of the consumer society?


There’s one body of research that the article ignores: professional sports. Billions have been sunk into producing top tier athletes. Even if you won’t want to go professional there’s still a lot of benefit the average pleb can get out of the things trainers have learned, and a lot of their lessons can be found with a web browser and a search engine.

(basic theory: bust ass in a gym, eat the right ratio of fats/carbs/proteins, and drink a lot of water)


"What to eat? Health and our confusion over food



There’s actually quite a lot of articles out there out there deconstructing and dismissing Taubes’ opinions. He’s well known as little more than a book selling publicity machine.

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Why drink a lot of water?

I’m not a fan of Gary Taubes. My husband and I have been listening to the Great Courses nutrition series which takes a lot of the common “wisdom” about nutrition and expands it out into more solid information. She is very good at not so much busting myths as explaining how certain ideas have become popular and what the actual research says. My husband and I have very different ideas about how to eat so that she is able to speak to us both says a lot about her.

Of course there are no fully controlled studies on nutrition. For one, you’d need to force people to not just eat a certain way but direct many other aspects of their lives, which would itself make the study unethical, impossibly expensive, and uselessly inapplicable to the general population.

But, it is also true that much nutrition research - and even more so, publicity regarding nutrition research - sometimes makes wildly unfounded claims on scant evidence.

Eh, we know how to make obesity and diabetes very rare. We have known for decades. Science already answered the question. We just don’t like the answer. We keep asking because we want an easier answer.

The way to prevent diabetes and obesity is: Exercise way more and eat a reasonable amount of a varied diet including lots of vegetables and fruits (and get lucky on your genetics).

“Exercise way more” is listed first because it is vastly more important than diet. “eat a reasonable amount” is next because you do need to avoid chronically taking in more calories than you use, however if you “exercise way more” it will be pretty easy to do. “a varied diet including lots of vegetables and fruits” is third because they give you good nutrients and mean that you can’t be eating nothing but steak and frosting, but really humans who “Exercise way more and eat a reasonable amount” can be quite healthy eating anything from mostly reindeer to mostly cornmeal. Finally in parenthesis is the one you can’t do anything about, well not entirely true, there are drugs nowadays for some people and via extraordinary willpower some will overcome even bad genetics.

The answer people want is “eat this one weird fruit and the pounds will melt away!”.


How do I sign up for your nutrition newsletter?
Is the Cherpumple allowed under your dietary regimen?


I definitely have some questions about a research initiative about obesity founded by somebody who has a well-known and very definitive answer for obesity that he’s been pushing for years now. I could be wrong. He could end up funding non-biased research and it’ll be great. But I won’t be surprised if this initiative just happens to unambiguously support everything Gary Taubes says.


The problem isn’t that nutrition researchers refuse to make black and white declarations from complex and incomplete data. The problem is that that is exactly what they seem prone to doing. Things like making claims of causality when there is no experimental data to support it. If you don’t want to do controlled trials, for whatever reason, that’s your call. However, if you then turn around and make statements regarding causation and recommendations based on them, then you are, at best, unreliable and suspect.

The book Why Calories Count explains nicely how difficult it is to a) measure data in a nutrition study b) make sure people are complying with the food regimen being studied and c) get people to keep weight off once it’s lost.

I agree that the junk advertising and marketing of quick weight loss are definitely part of the problem of people actually losing weight. However, it also seems like the lack of really great ways to lose weight opens the door for the salespeople to offer up that “One simple solution.”

Show me some researchers (I mean real researchers, publishing in the peer reviewed literature) who make such claims.
I hope you’re not confusing media reports and snake oil sales pitches for actual research.

Working for me.

Why not use your position as a journalist with BoingBoing to find our about NuSI? I personally think they’re pretty close to what’s on the tin, but you are much better positioned to examine their responses than me. (Not to mention much closer than up here in the great white north…)

Would you mind providing sources for those? I’m genuinely interested.

You inadvertently replied to me, rather than Textuality, there. Hence, I got a notified that you were interested in the resources-- but Textuality didn’t…

(I’m interested in what Textuality is referring to as well. Running a search with Google myself turned this one up: Scientific American: John Horgan - Thin Body of Evidence: Why I Have Doubts about Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat. Usefully, it’s not really a slam piece; rather, it fills in some context.)

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