Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Good Calories/Bad Calories?

My friend Lisa has become a disciple. No, not of Jesus the Christ but of a book called Good Calories/Bad Calories. It’s a best-seller, written by a Gary Taubes.

Taubes is no slouch or shill for the next best diet. According to his bio on Amazon, he “is a correspondent for Science magazine. The only print journalist to have won three Science in Society Journalism awards, given by the National Association of Science Writers, he has contributed articles to The Best American Science Writing 2002 and The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000 and 2003. ”

The premise is (quoting from Amazon.com) that “everything we believe about a healthy diet is wrong,” and, in regard to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes, “the problem lies in refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, easily digested starches) and sugars–via their dramatic and long term effects on insulin, the hormone that regulates fat accumulation–and that the key to good health is the kind of calories we take in, not the number. There are good calories, and bad ones.”

Lisa is thrilled with this book and its approach because, as she lives on cream, butter, and animal protein (including the fat) she’s dropping weight, body fat, and clothing size. Her blood pressure has gone down and she’s anticipating a lowering of her cholesterol and LDLs. (I’m eagerly awaiting that result.)

Still quoting from Amazon.com, here’s a listing of the “good” calories and “bad” calories.”

Good Calories
These are from foods without easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars. These foods can be eaten without restraint.Meat, fish, fowl, cheese, eggs, butter, and non-starchy vegetables.

Bad Calories
These are from foods that stimulate excessive insulin secretion and so make us fat and increase our risk of chronic disease—all refined and easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars. The key is not how much vitamins and minerals they contain, but how quickly they are digested. (So apple juice or even green vegetable juices are not necessarily any healthier than soda.) 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.

Kathy again: I struggle with the notion of loading my diet with animal fats while minimizing what I consider healthy starches, such as peas, yams, potatoes, and oatmeal. As a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and the wife/cook for a man with cardio-concerns, I can’t envision a healthy diet without whole wheat or pasta, or without oranges and bananas.

I checked in with my own expert, my sister Janice Freeman.(http://cookwellbewell.blogspot.com/ ) She's a scientist, medical expert, and fitness trainer in her own right. Here’s what she told me:

…I suspect the "scientific' studies quoted in the book are observational or epidemiological. The problem with those kinds of studies is that they can only show correlation, not cause and effect. And the same is true of meta analysis of studies designed to study a particular question, where some one uses the data to try to answer another question. These were the kinds of studies that led us to believe for so many years that post-menopausal estrogen supplements protected women from heart disease. There is great (unintended) bias in such studies. In the case of estrogen, it was probably due to the fact that women who took estrogen replacement took better care of themselves in general. It was not until the first double blind, placebo controlled study of (matched) post menopausal women with and without estrogen replacement was done that the medical community learned that correlation was not cause and effect. And although the famous Framingham study showed higher cholesterol is associated with higher heart disease risk, it was not until the landmark West of Scotland study (double blind, placebo controlled, 5 years), that the medical community became convinced that statins helped prevent heart attacks, even if the individual never head a heart attack.

It is very easy to mislead even relatively scientific minds when quoting "studies." Unless there is a 10 year study of high protein vs. food pyramid eating and weight control, no one can claim to be superior. I am familiar with the good cal concept, and know some people who have tried it. It actually leads to calorie restriction, since people get very tired of so much protein. It is a strain on the renal system when protein is continuously converted to glucose for fuel; the by products that need to be eliminated tax the kidneys.

Kathy again: It seems to me there’s a far larger issue at play here, one with a spiritual basis. If we believe Taubes, the human body is designed to be a carnivore.

But in the first book of Genesis we’re told:

29Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so.

This posits us before the fall —humans and animals alike—as vegetarians. The first animal in the Bible was not killed to feed Adam and Eve, but to cover their sin. We see Daniel and his friends prove a diet of vegetables and water to make them vigorous with health but Peter’s vision releasing Christians of Jewish descent from dietary strictures. While the Lord instructed the Israelites to commemorate the Passover with unblemished lamb and bread without yeast, Jesus celebrated the coming fulfillment of this meal with what Taubes might consider "bad calories" --bread and wine.

I’m rooting for Lisa as she works her way to blooming health. No way am I a vegetarian but the notion that bacon is healthier than cheerios just rattles me. I remain convinced of two things.

First, common sense in enjoying all of creation's bounty and giving thanks for that bounty is good.

And second, the path to good health is always broader and smoother when you take a dog along.


Janice Freeman said...

Speaking of how humans are designed, a Cardiologist at Yale told me many years ago that if you examine the human mouth and teeth, they are designed for "grinding," meaning that our many molars are ideal for helping us eat fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains. We do not have a mouth like that of the true carnivore, who's large canine teeth are ideal for (hunting) and ripping and tearing meat.

And I need to repeat, it is not how you take off the weight that matters, but rather finding the foods and menus that you can feel satisfied with forever, so that you can keep it off. Both Lisa and I are proceeding without the solid science, since the study will never be done (10 years is a very long time). We are doing what works for us. But what's more important is the long term, and the survey I quoted in "The 4 Healthy Habits" found that people who have maintained a large weight loss for 5 years plus, are eating a food pyramid diet.

David Brown said...

Your sister Janice said, "…I suspect the "scientific' studies quoted in the book are observational or epidemiological."

Janice needs to read the book to find out what kinds of science Gary Taubes actually utilized in researching his book. It is not as she suggested.

But you don't need to rely on Taubes to get to the truth about what constitutes a proper and appropriate diet. Just Google Laura Corr, Jeff Volek, Nutrition and Metabolism, saturated fat benefits, Saturated fat: what dietary intake?, or saturated fat truth.

Most people (and this unfortunately includes most scientists) are easily persuaded to embrace consensus of opinion in the teeth of evidence that that consensus is incorrect. This is done through persistent repetition of the desired doctrine. For example, the notion that saturated fat causes clogged arteries has does not have any experimental evidence to back it. While it's true that excessive fat intake can accelerate the onset of heart disease, it's also true that when refined carbohydrates are restricted and adequate supportive nutrients accompany high saturated fat intake, arteries remain clear. This has been both demonstrated in animal experiments and observed in population studies (Google Re: Saturated Fats and Heart Health - Share the Wealth).

Finally, It's important to acknowledge that dietary intake of nutrients must be tailored to individual needs, not some theoretical scientifically determined ideal. I suggest you read "Biochemical Individuality" by Roger J. Williams, PhD to learn more about biochemical and physiological variability.

Elsi Dodge said...

I am a disgustingly sensitive hypoglycemic (inverse of diabetes). I cannot eat anything that elevates blood sugar level quickly, because my over-achiever body immediately and enthusiastically drowns me in insulin, and I end up on the edge of insulin shock (not fatal, but far from fun, trust me!).

So I eat no sugar, not even natural sugars. Almost no carbs. Enormous amounts of protein. Don't know if it's generically healthy or not, but it keeps me functional.

As a special ed teacher, I always had to explain to my students why I could eat snacks during class but they couldn't. They could all explain blood sugar and insulin production after a few months with me. One year a boy was furious with me because he was missing recess (a little matter of finishing a math page, as I recall). In his ensuing fury, he shrieked, "I HATE YOU! I'LL KICK YOU!! I'LL HURT YOU!! I'LL PUT SUGAR IN YOUR CHEESE!!!!"

And I had to turn away so he couldn't see my laughter.

Pam Halter said...

I believe we all need to know our bodies. What foods harm us. What food help us.

I can't tolerate a low carb diet. I gain weight, am grouchy and tired. What works for me is moderation, smaller portions and plenty of exercise.

Now if I could only convince my mouth to be satisfied with less food and my body to crave more exercise! HA!