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    Don’t Blame Obesity on Carbohydrates

    Ever since the second-coming of the Atkins Diet in 2003, carbohydrates have taken the blame for rising obesity rates.  Before I go any further, let me make it clear that this country’s steadily rising intake of added sugars (which increased by 23 percent from 1985 to 1999, and currently clocks in at 156 pounds per year per person) has undoubtedly played a major role in the contribution of empty, and mostly liquid, calories that do not satiate and therefore do not discourage the consumption of additional calories.

    However, the dangerous and inaccurate carb-phobia out there goes far beyond added sugars, vilifying all carbohydrates, essentially equalizing oatmeal with soda, chickpeas with donuts,  and brown rice with Froot Loops.

    If you hear some of the low-carb “authorities” like the infamous Gary Taubes (who in part supports his scientific theory on fruit being fattening by claiming that “if [he] eat[s] fruit, other than maybe a handful of blueberries a day, [he] start[s] to gain weight”), oatmeal and strawberries are just as responsible for obesity as Mountain Dew and chocolate donuts.

    Mind you, this coming from a man with a background in applied physics and aerospace engineering who, to my knowledge, has never worked a day with patients in a clinical or outpatient nutrition setting, but instead makes conclusions and grandiose statements (and essentially says “everything we know about nutrition is wrong!”) based on reading copious amounts of scientific literature.  Sure, he has acquired degrees from top-rated Ivy League universities, but in subjects that bear no relation to physiology, human biochemistry, public health, biology, or nutrition.

    I wonder how the folks at NASA would feel about someone proclaiming themselves an expert on aerospace engineering (and telling them everything they know about engineering is incorrect) not because they actually had experience and an academic background with some semblance to the field, but simply because they had read piles of books on the subject for many years.  Shouldn’t a relevant academic career and experience in a field that someone criticizes as being “dead wrong” count for something?  Otherwise, why pursue a degree in a specialized field?  Why work towards a credential?  I digress.  Let’s push that to the side, though, and examine the claims he and other “anti-carbers” make.

    Interestingly, most vegetables — which are mainly comprised of carbohydrates — are exempt from harsh criticism, demonstrating how loosely and inaccurately the word “carbohydrate” is thrown around (anti-carb advocates generally use it to mean “grains and fruit”, though some go as far as shunning all beans due to their starch content.)

    Speaking of starchy foods: this past Wednesday, a new Harvard study declared that ALL potatoes — no matter how they are prepared — are to blame for weight gain (according to that study, a baked potato and a French fry are equally responsible for added pounds).  In fact, one serving of potatoes “was found to cause more weight gain than downing an additional 12-ounce can of a sugary drink or taking an extra helping of red or processed meats.”  The Los Angeles Times article which reported this study also featured this jaw-droppingly ignorant “understanding” of nutrition:

    “Making matters worse, potatoes pack a lot of calories into a relatively small package, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s lead author. A large baked potato — without any fixings — will set you back about 278 calories, and a serving of French fries contains between 500 and 600 calories. That makes the 140 calories in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola or the 150 calories in a Pepsi look puny.”

    This is what happens when we live in a society that gives exponentially more importance to weight than to health outcomes.  By the logic (?) stated above, then, a can of soda is better than an avocado because it has fewer calories (70 fewer calories, to be exact).  There is no mention of the fact that the large baked potato with its fiber and protein, is much more satiating than the empty calories in the can of soda.  Or, for example, that the baked potato offers vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, manganese, and an array of health-promoting phytonutrients.  This caloric tunnel vision is the same nonsense trotted out by General Mills to “prove” that a serving of Trix is “better” than oatmeal due to a lower caloric content (I guess we’re supposed to ignore the copious amount of added sugar in the cereal).

    Potato-phobia aside, let’s return to the “carbohydrates are making us fat” issue.  A look at the historical data on carbohydrate intake makes it glaringly obvious that blaming all carbohydrates for current obesity rates is grossly misguided, to say the least.

    This study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which displays average per capita intake of calories and macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) in the United States between 1909 and 1997, is rather interesting, especially since it disproves much of the central arguments made by fervent low-carbers.

    For starters, many in the low-carb camp like to make the statement that calories are irrelevant (according to them, calories from fat and protein “don’t count” because they do not lead to weight gain).   This study shows that “until 1980, the total energy intake remained relatively constant.  Then, between 1980 and 1997, energy intake increased by > 500 kcals/day.”  And, wouldn’t you know, the early 1980s was when obesity rates began to rise.

    Now, yes, approximately 80% of these extra calories came from carbohydrates.  Specifically, that study points out that carbohydrates went from comprising 48 percent of the diet to 54 percent of the American diet.  However, it also states that “from 1963 to 1997, the consumption of total fat increased nearly 30%, protein consumption increased 8%, and total energy consumption increased 9%.”  So, really, we are looking at a caloric increase from all macronutrients.

    Let’s take a closer look at carbohydrates, though.  The “It’s the carbs, stupid!” advocates point out that, over the past fifty or so years, carbohydrate consumption in the United States has increased.  Yes, absolutely.  Set the clock back another fifty years and, well, the “blame the carbs” mentality doesn’t hold a lot of weight.

    This chart shows average per capita carbohydrate intake in the United States from 1909 to 1997.  Look at the average grams of carbohydrate consumed  per capita in 1909.  That’s right — exactly the same as 1997!  Alas, the difference is in the quality of carbohydrates.  Total grams of carbohydrates remained the same, but fiber intake plummeted.  In other words, what happened after 1980 was an increase in two specific sources of carbohydrates: caloric sweeteners (i.e.: corn syrup, sugar, etc.) and refined grains.

    But what about that Harvard study that claimed potatoes are fattening?  Well, again — total potato consumption over the past 50 years has remained steady.  However, according to figures by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, “processed potatoes [mainly fries and chips] comprised 64 percent of total U.S. potato utilization during the 2000s (compared to 35 percent in 1960s).”   So, once again, what we are looking at are higher intakes of highly processed, fiberless, refined potatoes.

    Take a look at this map, culled from data by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, which shows the contribution (percentage-wise) of carbohydrates in total dietary consumption around the world.  Now, I should point out that the data is based on available food calories.  So, for instance, The United States produces 3,800 calories per person, which is not the same amount that is actually consumed (some of these produced calories are wasted or exported).

    However, intake data from the CDC matches these figures (that is to say, the contribution of carbohydrates in total dietary consumption based on food availability data is within one or two percentage points of data based on actual intake).  Note, that the United States has one of the world’s lowest percentages of calories from carbohydrates.  Now, compare that map with these two World Health Organization global obesity maps (one for males 15 and older, one for females 15 and older).  There is absolutely no correlation between percentage of calories from carbohydrates and obesity rates.  I am sure, though, that if one looked at consumption of caloric sweeteners and refined grains, the maps would look strikingly similar.

    Two more things I want to mention before wrapping up:

    1. Many in the low-carb camp employ the common “straw man” argument that if one does not condone the liberal eating of protein and fat while simultaneously shunning whole grains and fruit, then they are a “low-fat” drone who thinks people should start their day with a bowl of Corn Flakes, a slice of white toast, and a tablespoon of jelly, followed by a lunch of white rice and vegetables and a side of Jello, and a dinner consisting of two cups of refined spaghetti with a cup of fat-free marinara.

    As readers of Small Bites know, I am far from a low-fat advocate. Is the American diet saturated with refined grains and caloric sweeteners?  Absolutely.  Is the American diet deficient in fiber?  You bet.  Should we lump all carbohydrates into one bag?  No.

    2. “But then why do people lose weight when they go on low-carb diets?”, some of you may wonder.  No magic there — most people who go on low-carb diets simply consume fewer total calories than they did before starting the diet.  Decreases in total caloric intake are why, every once in a while, the media revives one of those “man loses 30 lbs. eating nothing but (insert heinous fast food chain here)” stories.  Weight loss is about caloric net loss.  Of course, the key lies in achieving healthful weight loss and sustainable weight loss.  Consuming 600 calories of Haagen Dazs — and nothing but 600 calories of Haagen Dazs — a day will certainly lead to weight loss, but it is also unhealthy and unsustainable.

    As long as we continue to blame one nutrient for obesity, we are giving food companies ammunition to trot out more “low in (latest nutrient blamed for obesity)” stickers on the front of packaging for nutritionally-pitiful products that are better suited for a science fair exhibition than anyone’s pantry.  What needs to be examined and brought to people’s attention is the increased intake of fake, refined, laboratory-made foods, the relentless advertising by food companies, and the agricultural policies that make added sweeteners and refined grains ubiquitous and cheap.

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    30 Comments

    1. Abbey said on June 25th, 2011

      Love this post, hit the nail on the head!

    2. Seth said on June 25th, 2011

      Hi Andy,

      Sometimes the digressions can be the best sources of new material! I’d like to know more of your thoughts on what qualifies a person to interpret food/health information, and beyond that, to advise people on how to eat for health. Gary Taubes is a great case study, because after all, he has a journalism background, writes books, makes TV appearances, and publishes in the NY Times—just like Michael Pollan. Neither has real nutrition training, I believe, so is either qualified? Surely the use and interpretation of sound science should count for something.

      And what about all the others? Doctors are trained in many aspects of health but often don’t have any nutrition background. There are personal trainers who talk about what to eat for health/weight management despite training on the calorie-burning end of things. And then what about this more recent trend of ‘health coaches’ (www.integrativenutrition.com)? Reality TV stars? Are they all inferior to RDs, who by definition belong to an organization that famously stated ‘there are no bad foods’ and is funded by many of the largest food(ish) producing companies?

      I’d love to know your thoughts in this discussion.

    3. Andy Bellatti said on June 25th, 2011

      Seth,

      I never said anyone was “inferior to RDs” — your words, not mine. Anyone who has read Small Bites for a short amount of time (or follows me on Twitter and Facebook) knows very well that I take issue with many RDs who spout off industry propaganda and cling to old-school ways of thinking (“all saturated fat is bad!”, etc). So, I am certainly not making the case that simply having an “RD” after one’s name makes them superior or “all-knowing” when it comes to nutrition.

      That said, many RDs are hands down some of the best sources of nutrition information (I am referring to those who not only have the academic background, but also take the time to read research and stay current, as well as those who realize nutrition goes well beyond what one is taught in school and what the American Dietetic Association puts out in press releases). I will have the RD credential after my name, and I certainly don’t agree with everything the ADA says.

      And, no, I don’t think being an RD is the end-all, be-all. I know many health professionals who have a firm grasp on nutrition. The doctors who come to mind are folks who actively sought out nutrition information, since it was not presented to them during their training. However, as doctors, they have a background in physiology and biochemistry; therefore, they approach the world of nutrition with a solid science background that enables them to evaluate information. The doctors I am thinking of also currently work in the areas of weight loss or integrative medicine (they are not, say, cardiac surgeons by training who have extensive medical experience, but solely in the operating room).

      Similarly, I know individuals who have Masters degrees and/or PhDs in nutrition who are twenty times more knowledgeable about nutrition than someone with an RD credential. Marion Nestle, one of my role models and inspirations, is not a Registered Dietitian. However, she has a background in molecular biology and public health; yet again, with that background, one is, in my opinion, qualified to speak up on issues of nutrition.

      Gary Taubes and Michael Pollan are two very different people. Michael Pollan’s work is not so much about nutrition as it is about the food system and agricultural policy. Sure, he makes some nutritional recommendations, but he does not claim to be a scientist who is out to prove that steak and eggs are healthier than a bowl of oatmeal and berries. If anything, Michael Pollan’s work is more journalistic in nature. The fact that the general public equates Michael Pollan with nutrition is a whole other matter.

      Gary Taubes has a background in aerospace engineering and applied physics. What concerns me is that I don’t see a familiarity with human biology, biochemistry, nutrition, public health, or physiology. Think about this reversely. I have a background in nutrition, which includes a background in biochemistry, physiology, medical nutrition therapy, and nutrition science. That does not make me qualified — or truly give me a solid-enough background — to comment on issues of, say, geology. The fact that Gary makes quite the proclamations that he does without having any background or experience in nutrition baffles me. If he had the same academic background but then spent 5 or 10 years working in the field of nutrition, that would be fine with me (at least he would have a reference point, or could at least relate some of what he says to experiences he had with patients or clients).

      Keep in mind that I bring the nutrition background up precisely because of his claims (and the notion that he is here “to prove nutritionists wrong”).

      FYI — I have a journalism background (that was one of my majors as an undergrad). However, I decided to study nutrition because I figured that in order to be able to write about nutrition, it would serve me well to understand the basic science concepts behind it.

      Reality TV stars? Really? Who are you referring, to exactly?

    4. Janet Nezon said on June 26th, 2011

      Andy, Bravo for doing such a thorough and excellent job in explaining all the mumbo-jumbo around the carb-phobia phenomenon! As I’ve come to expect, you clearly cut through the hype, pointed your readers to the facts and truths, and once again reinforced the message that the heatlhiest way to eat is a moderate, whole foods based approach. Thank you for being a voice of (science-based) reason!

    5. Seth said on June 26th, 2011

      Some of the myriad reality and talk show types who advise on nutrition are real housewife Bethenny Frankel, American Idol judge Randy Jackson, talk host Rachel Ray, and all-around confused individual Kelly Osbourne. Their books and appearances are mainly based on their own experiences and, I think, do more harm than good.

      Taubes is worth going after because, as you say, he sets out to be the anti-nutritionist, as if all LNs/RDs agree on how to eat and that they’re all somehow wrong. That and his neo-Atkins solution to our health problems. As to Michael Pollan, though, it’s no wonder people think he’s all about nutrition—his ‘Food Rules’ book addresses precisely that and his most famous slogan is “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He gives nutrition advice in a mass-market fashion and I’d say he does a pretty good job.

      Maybe there’s a bit of a split there—mass market evangelizing vs. one-to-one advisement on an individual’s health. There must be two different standards there for who to trust based on their qualifications. That would be a great future post on Small Bites—ideas for how individuals can choose who to trust for their dietary advise.

      Oh, and one other thing. Do you think you got a touch defensive in your response? I chose the word ‘inferior’ in my original question to you, and I own that of course. It was phrased as a question and left for you to answer as you like. No one’s putting words into your mouth.

    6. Andy Bellatti said on June 26th, 2011

      Seth,

      I can see how the part of my response about the word “inferior” may have come across as defensive, but if we had had this conversation over the phone or in person, my tone of voice would have communicated a need to clarify, rather than be defensive.

      In terms of celebrities (the ones you mention): none of the celebrities you mention have any sort of background in health, nutrition, or a health science. I agree that their experiences do more harm than good. This also reminds me of Drew Carey sharing his diet tips after he lost 80 lbs. by claiming he had no carbs, and in the next breath saying he always had fruit with breakfast.

      I think, again, that Michael Pollan is different because while he certainly touches on issues of nutrition, I see him coming more from a food systems/food production angle. His message comes down to “Eat foods in their most basic state”. None of his books go into nutrition science, nor does he attempt to “open everyone’s eyes” to what nutrition science is “getting so wrong”.

      Thanks for the conversation.

    7. Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD said on June 26th, 2011

      I do have a degree in food and nutrition. I have worked with patients for over 30 years. I do believe that there are those of us who do not metabolize carbohydrates the same as others.

      Insulin resistance is not so much a cut point to identify disease but a continuum of relative glucose sensitivity. Some people are far more sensitive than others for a variety of genetic and environmental reasons.

      This truth makes the argument that there is one right way to eat rather mute. Calories count, but in the big picture they aren’t the only thing that counts.

      The challenges of navigating an abundant food supply, weight management, as well as honoring hunger and satiety call for a far more nuanced approach than merely counting calories.

      I often think too many “experts” are preoccupied arguing for one approach versus another. I believe the critical question is what balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat works for any one person. When people get the balance right, they feel satisfied. Feeling satisfied after eating can be just the foothold someone needs to navigate the rest of the issues.

    8. Andy Bellatti said on June 26th, 2011

      Bonnie,

      Calories are certainly not the only thing that counts. That’s precisely why I pointed out my frustration at the weight-loss stories that attribute success to 30 days of eating nothing, and why I commented on that paragraph in the LA Times which compared a baked potato and a can of soda solely on caloric contribution and declared the baked potato “worse” from a weight standpoint. In the four years that I have written this blog, I have always made the case that, say, 200 calories from almonds are not the same as 200 calories from pretzels in how they satiate (and have explained how that relates to weight maintenance).

      Attacking all carbohydrate-rich foods, as Gary Taubes does, and claiming that oatmeal and strawberries are “fattening” is disingenuous and doesn’t provide anything valuable or helpful to the average person. I don’t know in what capacity you have practiced nutrition (i.e.: clinical, outpatient, food service, etc.), but I’m sure that in your 30 years of experience you have seen individuals lose weight while consuming whole grains and fruits, yes?

      I certainly will not argue that different people respond to foods differently. However, the fact that some individuals have differing levels of glucose sensitivity does not justify the vilifying of whole fruits or whole grains. It would be akin to someone recommending a low-protein diet for everybody on the basis that some individuals have impaired renal function, or warning everybody that sweet potatoes and spinach are “bad” because their high oxalate content can cause kidney stones for individuals who are predisposed to forming them.

      It’s quite ironic that Gary Taubes, who is so critical of nutrition’s “one-note” approach operates a very similiar rhetoric (“everyone is wrong; carbs are bad for everyone”).

    9. Andy Bellatti said on June 26th, 2011

      Janet,

      Thank you for the kind words and kudos.

    10. Eric said on June 26th, 2011

      Not only does this article answer all the low-carb charges it is also entirely consistent with my personal experience which was reassuring. A few years ago I was 140 pounds overweight and recently retired from the military. While on active duty I was a proponent of low-carb dieting because, in my mind, it allowed me a lot of “free” satisfying foods and I could drop the weight with it to make measurements every six months. I was a chronic yo-yo dieter.

      Long story short, after I was retired, I decided to make be changes and make sure I never had to go on a cursed diet again. I started doing all the things that conventional wisdom in (I think) instinct tells us to eat.

      I eat three big well-balanced meals a day. Breakfast is whole grains, fruit, and two sources of protein – usually nuts and some sort of dairy. For the other two meals its a half pound of raw vegetables, a serving of cooked vegetables, a whole grain or potato, protein, and a piece of fruit. I have entirely omitted added sugar and flour from my diet and most other processed edibles in favor of whole single-ingredient foods.

      That’s the template I’ve followed for 2.5 years straight.

      I felt like I was eating more food than ever and my weight plummeted. I got rid of my sleeping problems, joint problems, back problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity within a year. I also have higher energy and could swear my memory and acuity has improved.

      I didn’t count calories, carbs, fat grams, or any of that jazz. I just make sure I have a consistently sized portion from each category in my template.

      By the way, I don’t have any background in health, science, physiology, or nutrition either.

      Thanks for the article, it reinforces what I do every day.

    11. Andy Bellatti said on June 26th, 2011

      Thank you, Eric. I’m happy to hear you feel so much better and that your health has improved.

      BTW, don’t know if you saw my exchange with Seth in the comments section, but my reason for bringing up Gary Taubes’ lack of background/expertise in health, science, physiology, and nutrition is because of his “everything you’ve been told is wrong!” approach to the topic.

    12. Eric said on June 26th, 2011

      Thanks Andy. Not sure why I mentioned my lack of education and training – I suppose just to be sure it is understood I speak only of my own experiences. I meant no offense to anyone by it.

      Over the years I have grown very cynical around anyone who gives eating advice. Many are well-intentioned and many are also pushing something else while telling me what to eat.

      Big-food and the agriculture industry wants to sell their stuff, the government wants me to vote for them so they try to sound helpful while not hurting the feelings of their big-food contributors, and many in the vegetarian and other health food areas have their own political axes to grind apart from nutrition.

      Its hard for regular people like me to know who to listen to.

    13. Rebecca Scritchfield, RD said on June 26th, 2011

      Andy, great article… very informative! One thing you left out (you nearly got there when you said “This is what happens when we live in a society that gives exponentially more importance to weight than to health outcomes.” Our country is full of weight bias. Plenty of people are “obese” according to the BMI and they have good health, good labs, good behaviors, — basically a solid lifestyle, low stress. I’m sure they eat carbs too :) Readers should check out “Health at Every Size” if they think that people are obese because they eat too many calories and junk food.

      Rebecca (a very proud RD!)

    14. Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD said on June 26th, 2011

      I am intrigued with the number of people who speak to their own experience. What is valid for one person is valid for one person, not everyone. It seems like some of these conversations become polarized very quickly, with the focus on who is right.

      For many of my clients, the quantity of the carbohydrates matters almost as much, and sometimes more than the quality of the carbohydrates. I have observed people gain weight when too high of a percentage of their calories come from carbohydrates. This includes professional and recreational athletes, people who are often presumed to be carbohydrate sensitive.

      I have read both of Gary Taubes’ books and have seen him speak at Cal Tech in Pasadena this year. I have spoken with him at length offline. Frankly, I find his take on the high carbohydrate, low fat mantra of the past 40 years refreshing. It offers another perspective and hopefully keeps those of us in the trenches open minded.

      I don’t believe his original message was that all carbohydrates make you fat. I do know that Dr. Oz tried to frame him as someone who says “everything Dr. Oz says is wrong”. Very sloppy science (on Dr. Oz’s part).

      When I analyzed what Dr. Oz proclaims to eat(estimated from what was shown on the March 7 show http://muchmorethanfood.com/wordpress/?p=744), I estimated that his overall preferred carbohydrate intake probably hovered less than 40% of his calorie intake. That is not a high carbohydrate diet.

      It is important to not dismiss any other person’s experience with food and their metabolism. We don’t know everything there is to know.

    15. Andy Bellatti said on June 26th, 2011

      Bonnie,

      I heard Gary speak at NYU three years ago, and he made it rather clear that obesity was related to carbohydrate consumption, and specifically, that whole grains are certainly not better than refined grains. As I pointed out in my post, it’s rather silly to bash carbohydrates but then say vegetables are okay (it would be akin to someone saying dietary fat is the worst thing you can eat, but nuts are fine).

      His presentation centered on what he talks about in his books — that weight gain is solely and exclusively about insulin, not calories. He also made the bizarre claim, when asked his thoughts on the fact that many Asian cultures subsist on white rice and have lower obesity rates than the US, that “they’ve been eating rice for a thousand years, so their bodies are used to it.”

      I get the impression you have not read many of the posts on Small Bites. I say this because I have never been an advocate of “low-fat” dieting. I have written at length about the problems created by the low-fat mantra. Unlike what many who align with Taubes like to think, one can disagree with Taubes and simultaneously disagree with low-fat dogma.

      Your point about a diet comprised of 40% carbohydrates not being a high-carbohydrate diet is interesting, because I know that many who follow Taubes and other low-carb gurus take much offense if one ever tries to claim that a diet where 40% of calories come from carb is “low-carb”. If anything, all I have ever heard from that camp is that 40% of calories from carbohydrates is “high-carb”….

    16. julie said on June 27th, 2011

      Thanks for being a voice of reason. And even-tempered, I might add. That potato article was very fishy, but I already figured that I was going to continue to eat them, (not french fries), just as I decided that I wasn’t going to try to cut down on fruit, nor eat low-fat anything, nor vegetarian, just straight moderation. I don’t like how so many people refuse to have any shade of gray. My head spins sometimes, people go from meat only to fruit only overnight, from vegan to primal, whatever, a pox on all of their houses! Okay, I’m grumpy, but I am trained as chemist (just a touch of biochemistry), and I know when the science and/or logic smells, even if I don’t always know why.

    17. kathy said on June 27th, 2011

      Gary Taubes says that fruit doesn’t work for him because the carb load causes him to gain more weight than he would like. He is super skinny and if he wanted to gain some weight he would eat more fruit. But he doesn’t want to gain weight so he doesn’t. Of course all carbs are not the same and anyone who thinks a ho-ho is equal to oatmeal is in denial.

      But as an educated nutritionist and weight loss counselor I advise you to look at the science. Insulin is reactive to carbohydrates. Most people are not capable of the carb load that our SAD diet emphasizes. Because of this we are becoming diabetic.

      If you want to lose weight/be healthy than lose processed carbs. It is science! The less carbs you eat, the healthier your weight will be. Gary Taubes has used science to back himself up, yet you use no science at all to bash him. You question his background and knowledge. And assume because you have an RD (which is a complete joke – I have studied nutrition and know more than most RDs because I research this topic obsessively, while RDs get brainwashed by food companies and then get pissed off at anyone who questions their bogus information). Where are the studies and tests that you have done to state that the problem is not an abundance of carbs? You don’t state them. You look at data that compares our diet before HFCS came on the scene. You see no correlation to the overabundance of HFCS (a carb) in most people’s diet and our epedemic of obesity?

      Oh, I forgot. The ADA is sponsored by the bev/corn/pretend food industry so you can’t say anything bad about them.

    18. Andy Bellatti said on June 27th, 2011

      Kathy,

      Gary Taubes himself (in a presentation) criticized a breakfast of oatmeal and strawberries as one that, despite being lauded as “healthy” by many, is actually fattening due to its insulin response. I provided that example simply because it is one he has referenced in the past. When he demonizes all carbohydrates, he is essentially placing Twinkies and oatmeal in the same boat. I have never heard Gary Taubes say “enjoy a cup of brown rice” or “whole wheat pasta is not the problem” or “oatmeal is a great breakfast food”. Have you?

      I can’t help but wonder if you read my entire blog post or just decided to comment after the second paragraph. I’m more inclined to go with the latter. Let me explain why.

      In the post, I specifically talk about the role that *refined* carbohydrates and added sugars play in the ever-increasing rates of obesity and diabetes in this country. I particularly mention that fiber is crucial, and that whole grains are very different from their refined counterparts. Those who have read this blog for a while know my stance on refined vs. whole grains (I certainly do not view them as equal). I have outlined this many times, and do not see the need to repeat it in every post that deals with carbohydrates.

      Also, you mentioned the SAD (Standard American Diet). When I think SAD, I think sodas and other sweetened beverages, donuts, cookies, muffins, and bottomless breadstick bowls. I certainly don’t think the Standard American Diet is comprised of brown rice, oats, barley, and whole fruits. So, then, why are whole grains and whole fruits implicated in this issue? A banana is just as guilty of diabetes and obesity as a can of soda?

      You wonder if I don’t see a correlation between the overabundance of HFCS in most people’s diet and obesity, which leads me to believe you skipped over this sentence in the post:

      “In other words, what happened after 1980 was an increase in two specific sources of carbohydrates: caloric sweeteners (i.e.: corn syrup, sugar, etc.) and refined grains.”

      Right there, in that one sentence, I am acknowledging that one of the main problems has been the increase of refined grains and added sweeteners, including HFCS, to the American diet from 1980 on.

      Your criticisms of me make it rather clear you are not at all familiar with my work or line of thinking. I have criticized the American Dietetic Association quite extensively, particularly because of its ties with the food industry (Coke, Hershey’s, etc.), and how these ties weaken their nutrition and health messages. I have blogged and tweeted several of my grievances with the ADA for several years now. So, I don’t know who you are directing the “you can’t say anything bad about the ADA/bev/corn/pretend food industry” critique to; it certainly does not apply to me. Read this post from a few weeks back and then tell me if you think I am “in bed with the food industry”: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/?p=6708

      As for the science. What do you make of the chart showing that carbohydrate intake in 1909 was the same as in 1997? If carbs in and of themselves are the problem, wouldn’t it only make sense that the obesity rate in 1909 would have been the same as what it was in 1997? Gary Taubes and other low-carb advocates dismiss fiber as meaningless, but the main difference between carbohydrate intake in 1909 and 1997 was the amount of fiber consumed. Therefore, blaming carbohydrates in general (rather, than say, the massive increase in added sweeteners) is disingenuous and inaccurate. It absolutely blows my mind when I hear people tell me they shun brown rice and oatmeal because “they are fattening”.

    19. Brad F said on June 28th, 2011

      I am familiar with the science of nutrition well, and have a background in this domain.

      Putting those issues aside, being a first time visitor to your site, I was dismayed by the opening characterizations, not so much of Gary Taubes personally, but by the generalized notion that degrees and background equal expertise.

      Its a case by case examination, and while you may disagree with Taubes (I am agnostic on his work), he has put forth years of study in this area. Does not make him right, but gives him a credible voice–one of many in the evidence hopper.

      Presidents dont need law degrees, nor any degree for that matter (Truman, Lincoln); journalists dont need degrees in the science in which they engage (Samuelson–WaPo); and certainly a host of entrepreneurs and computer scientists are bereft of card carrying credentials.

      They may be the minority, buy nonetheless, their numbers are hefty enough that to pay short shrift to hard work and scholarly activity (we can disagree collegially on Taubes’s bonafides), is to deny voices that need hearing. Taubes is far from a kook.

      Again, I want to emphasize that science, not personality drives my pursuit of knowledge. I want to hear and read all credible sources.

      Brad

    20. Sumner Brooks, MPH, RD, CSSD said on June 28th, 2011

      Andy,

      I love your post. Thank you!

      Day in and day out I help confused, exhausted, frustrated clients turn around the strict, low-carbohydrate, fad-diet mentality in attempt to get healthier and lose weight at the same time. I have worked with countless individuals who in the past were doing everything in their “will power” to avoid carbohydrates based on bogus nutrition information and getting no where with weight change goals. It is unfortunate that such a bad wrap has been given to fruits, vegetables, and grains. America is a unique example in the world where so many thousands of people face starvation. We have the resources and available food supply here to consume a nutrient dense diet, yet people are so obsessed with weight that some will say or do anything, or make any claim (including avoid fruit!) to get slim. It saddens me when I hear that people are missing out on required nutrients, not only fiber, but antioxidants, phytonutrients, essential fatty acids (yep, find those in grains too!) and the body’s most preferred source of energy for the brain, carbohydrate.

      Yes, we are all unique, and we all may have different ideal level of carbohydrate intake. Finding that suggested level is exactly what we, as RD’s, do to help support a patient’s nutritional needs. I am proud to do what I do for a living as an RD, and, quite frankly, when I see a person improve their blood cholesterol, reach a healthy weight for their body, and feel energized to move and stay active, that is enough proof for me that carbohydrates do a body good!

      Andy – your post is great and I’m going to continue to share it with my followers and readers as well. Thank you!

    21. Andy Bellatti said on June 28th, 2011

      Brad,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s not necessarily that an academic background and expertise automatically make someone “right” (they do not). However, I think it needs to be recognized that relevant backgrounds and experience provide helpful points of reference one can draw upon. I am not implying Taubes is “a kook”, but I do believe that if someone is going to state that nutrition science has a huge flaw (Taubes’ main argument — that calories are completely irrelevant from a weight standpoints — is one that takes on a central pillar of nutrition), we do need to look at where that person is coming from.

      As I have told other commenters, I am *not* saying that the only people qualified to talk about nutrition are RDs. There are many individuals in the field of nutritional science (who are not RDs and don’t even have a degree in nutrition but have studied medicine, public health, biology, biochemistry, etc) who I look up to and respect.

      There are some fields where talent and skill can trump credentials. For example, I do not believe a journalism degree is necessary to practice journalism (and I say this as someone who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism). I am not offended by journalists who don’t have a degree, because in my mind, the skills that are needed are ones that can be fostered with experience (in the same way that, say, many talented singers have never taken professional voice lessons, or someone can write fiction without having a degree in creative writing).

      However, there are areas where credentials and/or experience are crucial. Would you have a root canal performed by someone who had never gone to dental school or practiced, but had only acquired knowledge by reading how a procedure is done? When you choose a surgeon, do you not look for someone who has experience and knows what they are doing?

      I bring up the issue of experience because I can’t help but wonder if Gary Taubes’ take on this issue would be different if he had spent, say, five years working with patients (whether in a clinical or outpatient setting) in matters of nutrition.

      I don’t understand why it is considered “offensive” to point this out. How many hospitals would hire a doctor who has not gone to medical school or completed a medical internship, solely based on the fact that they had spent ten years reading about medicine? It is not to say that one’s sought-out knowledge is “incorrect” or “meaningless”, but I do believe an academic background and experience have meaning.

    22. Brad F said on June 29th, 2011

      I think my point speaks for itself. We are not talking about dentists, flying planes, or hitting baseballs.

      Scholarly (cognitive) domains are very different than those that require mechanical skills. In those cases, I cannot disagree, but that is not the case here.

      As a clinician, and one with a good deal of experience, I dont believe an investigator necessarily requires patient contact to research and produce meaningful work–especially if that work is contingent on appraising literature bases and current state of “x” science. My opinion.

      Also, I clicked through links above. Methods in their (WHO/CDC) data acquisition difficult to find, particularly carb intake across last century (data from 20s, 30s equivalent to 80s and 90s?), and in difft countries.

      Does not make your conclusions incorrect of course, but knowing the variability we see in other assessments–health outcomes (SMRs, infant mortality, etc), and the usual issues in variability of technique, methods, difficult to nail down exact trends. Just a point of caution–i left tables asking as many questions as when I began.

      ANyway, thanks for your time.
      Brad

    23. Jim Anderson said on July 2nd, 2011

      You state that “blaming all carbohydrates for current obesity rates is grossly misguided, to say the least.” I agree. Oddly, Gary Taubes also agrees. Here is what he says on page 134 of Why We Get Fat: “Not that all foods that contain carbohydrates are equally fattening. This is a crucial point.” He goes onto say that refined grains, liquid carbs, and starches are the main culprits in weight gain. Leafy green vegetables, with their carbs bound up with fiber, are not a problem, except for people with extreme sensitivity to dietary carbohydrates.

      No doubt you have your differences with Taubes, but this “all carbs are equally bad” line is a straw-man.

      As a rhetorician, I give some credit to the professional credentials of an author, but I give even more credit to a well-informed argument. Unless lay people are supposed to treat scientists like priests, that is how it must be.

    24. Steve Parker, M.D. said on July 2nd, 2011

      I doubt that Mr. Taubes will respond here, so I’d like to quote from his “Why We Get Fat” book:

      “Not that all foods that contain carbohydrates are equally fattening. This is a crucial point. The most fattening foods are the ones that have the greatest effect on our blood sugar and insulin levels. These are the concentrated sources of carbohydrates, and particularly those that we can digest quickly: anything made of refined flour (bread, cereals, and pasta), liquid carbohydrates (beers, fruit juices, and sodas), and starches (potatoes, rice, and corn).”

      Regardless of anyone’s credentials, I think he’s right about the cause of many, probably most, cases of overweight and obesity.

    25. Connie said on July 2nd, 2011

      I love this post, I hate how a study can be broken down into a paragraph and then put in the media as a headline and people just take it as fact. Thank you for doing the leg work on the potato’s are bad headlines that are sure to come.

    26. Andy Bellatti said on July 4th, 2011

      Steve,

      What I find interesting, though, is that Gary Taubes has never condoned people eating oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, or fruits. He has flat out said that those foods are responsible for weight gain. As I have written in this post (and many others), I definitely think this country’s high intakes of sugars and refined grains are behind rising rates of obesity and disease. However, unlike Gary Taubes, I would never tell someone to, say, choose bacon over a banana or a steak over a brown rice pilaf.

    27. Andy Bellatti said on July 4th, 2011

      Jim,

      In his blog, though, Gary has stated that if he eats more than a handful of blueberries a day (meaning, if he eats, say, half a banana or an apple), he gains weight. He is not just saying “instead of a glass of apple juice, eat a whole apple.” I have yet to hear Gary Taubes say something like “I don’t have an issue with an oatmeal and strawberry breakfast, my issue is with Pop-Tarts”.

    28. shandor said on July 6th, 2011

      All this talk about insulin response is really misdirection and nonsense. You are not going to gain weight in a calorie deficit no matter what your insulin is doing. The evil carb/insulin argument is like saying that your bank account will go up, even when you overspend consistently, because of how you react emotionally to your account balance. Fruit doesn’t make you gain fat unless it puts you in a surplus. For Taubes to claim he gains weight if he eats fruit means he is either micro managing his weight on a daily basis ( which is meaningless do to glycogen and water balances that can shift dramatically) or he is eating more. If he is shunning carbs he probably perpetually depleted, so this would make sense.

      The idea of science was mentioned. Taubes ignores most of the science and cherry picks what fits his agenda.

      Read the following: weightology.net/?p=265

      Carbs or insulin fairies or voodoo do not violate the laws of physics or get around energy balance.

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