Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About Itby Published 28 Dec 2010
|Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.pdf|
An eye-opening, myth-shattering examination of what makes us fat, from acclaimed science writer Gary Taubes.
In his New York Times best seller, Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes argued that our diet’s overemphasis on certain kinds of carbohydrates—not fats and not simply excess calories—has led directly to the obesity epidemic we face today. The result of thorough research, keen insight, and unassailable common sense, Good Calories, Bad Calories immediately stirred controversy and acclaim among academics, journalists, and writers alike. Michael Pollan heralded it as “a vitally important book, destined to change the way we think about food.”
Building upon this critical work in Good Calories, Bad Calories and presenting fresh evidence for his claim, Taubes now revisits the urgent question of what’s making us fat—and how we can change—in this exciting new book. Persuasive, straightforward, and practical, Why We Get Fat makes Taubes’s crucial argument newly accessible to a wider audience.
Taubes reveals the bad nutritional science of the last century, none more damaging or misguided than the “calories-in, calories-out” model of why we get fat, and the good science that has been ignored, especially regarding insulin’s regulation of our fat tissue. He also answers the most persistent questions: Why are some people thin and others fat? What roles do exercise and genetics play in our weight? What foods should we eat, and what foods should we avoid?
Packed with essential information and concluding with an easy-to-follow diet, Why We Get Fat is an invaluable key in our understanding of an international epidemic and a guide to what each of us can do about it.
"Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It" Reviews
I was attracted to this book, because it contains some interesting ideas, like "we don't get fat because we overeat--we overeat because we get fat." There may be some truth to this concept, and for me, it was the highlight of the book.
After that, though, the book goes downhill. Like a lead weight. Basically, Taubes recommends a diet very similar to the Atkins diet: meat, fat, and some green leafy vegetables. Yes, you can lose weight on this diet, but then you have to stay on it forever. Taubes is honest, when he writes that this is not a diet book, one that you follow for a while just to lose weight. Instead, it must be a long-term, total lifestyle change. And there's the rub. It is very very difficult to stay on such a regime for the long term. People feel sick and constipated on this type of regime. And, Taubes really gives short shrift to the many medical problems that will ensue.
For example, Taubes does not even mention the extra strain put on the liver and kidneys. Since someone following this regime will be eating TEN TIMES more protein than is needed, the excess protein has to be metabolized by the liver and kidneys. Yikes!
As another example, this sort of diet is not a good long-term solution for diabetics. Dr. Atkins admitted as much, in his second book. And there have not been many good studies of the circulatory health of people on this diet; Only one has been done (Fleming RM. The effect of high-protein diets on coronary blood flow. Angiology. 2000 Oct;51(10):817-26.) and the conclusions are that blood flow is impeded, and artery disease increases.
So here we have a journalist who is giving nutritional advice. He has never treated a single patient, and he is ignorant of the long-term effects of the regime he espouses.
Gary Taubes, the author of Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, wrote a moderately lengthy article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on April 17, 2011, with the title “Is Sugar Toxic?” The evidence seems to be accumulating steadily that the amount of sugar that the average American consumes is profoundly unhealthy, and the article does a very good job explaining why.
I’m not sure if that article covers the same grounds as this book, but I can very briefly recap the article:
• Increasing sugar consumption is highly correlated with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and some cancers.
• Granulated “table” sugar—sucrose—consists of one molecule of glucose bound to one molecule of fructose; that pairing is easily broken, leaving one molecule of each. High-fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”) consists of roughly half each of those same two molecules, and all the evidence is that there is no caloric or metabolic difference between the two forms. Plain corn syrup, on the other hand, is effectively just glucose—no fructose.
• Glucose can be metabolized by any cell in the body whereas, with few exceptions, fructose must be metabolized in the liver. Therein lies, apparently, a key difference. When the liver is presented with fructose, it preferentially metabolizes it, dramatically elevating insulin and related hormones.
• A high steady intake of fructose (either from sucrose or HFCS) means that insulin is elevated too often, leading to insulin resistance.
• Fructose is also sometimes thought of as the fruit sugar. Whole fruits still have fiber, which apparently slows down intestinal absorption so much that it doesn't overwhelm the liver the way a soda does. But fruit juices? Yeah, sorry — rip out the fiber and you’re once again sucking down nothing but sugar water with a bit of “health halo effect” vitamins.
• Insulin resistance is linked to heart disease (and other, related, disorders associated with a poor glycemic balance), and metabolic syndrome.
• A thickening waistline is the visible indicator of metabolic syndrome.
• Insulin is a growth factor in tumor production, which provides one likely explanation for why rising cancer levels have correlated strongly with the rise in sugar consumption for the past hundred and fifty years.
The video that Taubes links to, by the UCSF scientist Robert Listig, is also well worth watching, even if you don’t read the book. It presents the example that a teenage boy’s caloric intake, on average, has gone up in five years (from 1990 to 1995) a total of 275 calories per day. Where is that from? Not fat, so much — that represents only 45 calories out of the total. “In fact, it’s all in the carbohydrates.” That would be an increase of 228 calories per day. Where is that coming from?
Mostly soda. One can of Coca Cola or other soft drink is about 150 calories. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the other standardized container is the 20-ounce plastic bottle. Unless someone is addicted to the 44-ounce “Big Gulp” style. Or, especially disheartening: a “Texas-sized Big Gulp” is reported to consist of a 60-ounce Coca Cola, a Snickers bar and a bag of Doritos, all for 99¢.
Profoundly important, and profoundly depressing, since this trend doesn’t look likely to be reversed any time soon.
I hope the book goes into more detail on metabolic and biochemistry. I fondly remember the Krebs Cycle from my high school physiology class, and I really like knowing the science behind all this stuff.
For those of you just looking for the highlights, read the New York Times article, and then watch the video. If you can't be bothered to watch Robert Lustig's 90-minute long video, you could download a 52-minute interview with Lustig from KQED's Forum program: Sugar and Health .
Update : yet another way of getting the highlights in an easy-to-comprehend dish is to check out Lifehacker’s What Sugar Actually Does to Your Brain and Body. For your health’s sake, study at least one of these, and get that non-fruit fructose out of your diet.
Yeah I know New Directions didn't put this one out, it's not the fancy German dead white male lit I tend to like, but it does an admirable job of weaving more than a century of medical literature -- some of it German -- into a convincing argument that's at times stunning (I said "wow" aloud once or twice) and even heart-breaking on a grand scale -- for example, all those low-fat foods you see in the supermarket have extra carbs to replace reduced fats, so people buy low-fat stuff thinking it has less fat so it won't make them as fat as the full-fat stuff (makes perfect sense!), but according to the thesis of this book, the opposite is true: carbs make you fat, not the fat you consume. You'd think that shoving lard down your gullet wouldn't be better for you (your weight and your heart and triglyceride levels and blood pressure) than an equivalent amount of bread, even whole grain stuff, but it's counterintuitively true -- this book includes a few really interesting, counterintuitive, scientificially proven again and again assertions (eg, we don't get fat because our metabolism slows; our metabolism slows because we're getting fat). All of this is heartbreaking when talking about how the obesity epidemic snowballs as overweight/obese mothers prenatally increase their unborn children's insulin resistance, which leads to fatter children who more easily become obese when eating typical western carb/glucose diet, who then grow up to have metabolically worse off children, on and on (human bodies are literally snowballing thanks to carb-freaked metabolisms). The structure read sort of like a wonky thriller: initial hook followed by lots of history up front followed by pop science reviews of 100+ years of studies followed by easily vanquished anti-low carb arguments (ie, the impact of potentially higher LDL "bad" cholesterol levels) followed by a representative high-protein/high-fat/low-carb diet, which apparently is nothing new -- it's been popular pretty much forever, especially among native Americans and eskimos, as well as among 19th century physicians up till the 1960s -- only recently have we associated this sort of traditional human diet with some dude named Atkins. Sucks to have grown up during the food pyramid era, with its fattening base of grain. Recommended to me by my mama whose own mother was done in by carbs/sugars and a genetic predisposition for insulin resistance she passed down to her daughter and now to me. Easy to eat this way now that it's summer but the test will come when it's time for stouts and pizza in the fall and winter. Oh if only porters were brewed from porterhouse steak instead of grains . . . and if meat didnt come from cute cuddly animals or require massive suboptimum land used to fatten these animals with grain, land covered in ever-increasing tonnage of environmentally awful excrement et cetera etc
First Line: "In 1934, a young German pediatrician named Hilde Bruch moved to America, settled in New York City, and was 'startled,' as she later wrote, by the number of fat children she saw - 'really fat ones, not only in clinics, but on the streets and subways, and in schools.'"
Taubes takes everything that I have spent the last several years learning about weight loss, fat gain, diabetes, and eating and turns it on its head. I am not yet certain whether I am willing to buy into his arguments, but there are three things that are making me at least consider that he might be right or partially right. 1.) He begins the book by asking all readers to analyze the material (his book and any others) and to make decisions for them. Most fad diet books tend to just take the stance that they are absolutely right and never remind us to use our brains. 2.) For every argument that I came up with while reading this book, he addresses it at some point and provides data to back up his theories. 3.) I have been trying to lose weight through recommended methods (low-fat diets, calorie cutting, and exercise) for almost nine years and have watched many of my family and friends with the same struggle. I recently read that of the people currently and actively trying to lose weight, only ten percent or so will actually be successful and of those, 96% will fail to keep off the weight they lose. With chances like that, I am willing to consider a different method and give it a try.
I will also say that this book is simply a fascinating read. I don't think I have ever been so enthralled with a non-fiction book (especially one steeped in science) that I literally couldn't put it down, so this was a first for me.
I followed up this book by reading the New Atkins Diet, Primal Blueprint, and the Paleo Diet. From these four which sometimes contradict each other, I constructed a diet with unlimited meats and veggies, no processed sugars, grains, or legumes and limited amounts of nuts, berries, dairy, and root vegetables. I am exercising but only in ways that I enjoy, specifically yoga and hiking. Since Jan 2012 I have lost 24 lbs, 1 pant size, and I feel much more energetic. I have had a few slip ups, but not many and when I do eat sugar or carb heavy items I'm almost immediately exhausted and grouchy. I am at the lowest weight I have been in nine years and my success makes it much easier to stick with it. I've got 66 lbs to go and for the first time I have hope that I'll actually make it and maintain it.
An argument in favor of low-carb diets. I'm giving it two stars because I wanted to punch the author. A hint to all aspiring authors out there: if you find yourself writing, "As I said previously," 10 or more times in the first six chapters, you might be repeating yourself too much.
Taubes cites many studies, though notably almost none of them are recent. He explains why, but really makes it sound as though all current researchers into obesity and nutrition are a) idiots and b) highly invested in maintaining the calories in/calories out format of most current diets. I kept asking myself, "Why would researchers be so invested in that paradigm? Why wouldn't they want to make breakthrough discoveries? Why wouldn't they want to solve the issue of obesity and make a name for themselves?"
Although there may be some sound reasons to adopt a low-carb diet, Taubes comes across as so condescending that he lost my support.