Gary Taubes’s Berkeley Talk

Gary Taubes spoke at Berkeley a few weeks ago; the title of his talk was “The Quality of Calories: What Makes Us Fat and Why No One Seems to Care” (webcast). Did you know that the last edition of Dr. Spock’s baby book advocated a vegan diet? One of many fascinating details. Also this:

There’s a group at the University of Cincinnati that did an Atkins vs. low-fat study and they found that the Atkins people lost twice as much weight and they liked the diet much better. I was interviewing the dietitian who did the study. She had agreed to talk to me but she was very hesitant — she didn’t offer up any information. Finally, at the end of the interview, the one thing she offered freely: I asked her who funded it and she said the American Heart Association.

I said, “Well, I have to give them credit for funding it.”

She said, “Don’t. They funded it because we proposed it as a study that would refute the benefit. And when we found that the Atkins diet really worked and worked better than the low-calorie diet, now we’re trying to get money to look further into it and they won’t give it to us.”

Thanks to Dave Lull.

14 Replies to “Gary Taubes’s Berkeley Talk”

  1. The Atkins diet helps people lose weight, but so do chemotherapy, depression, and amphetamines. Just because something helps you lose weight doesn’t mean it´s healthy. In this particular case, Atkins causes ketosis, a state akin to starvation.

  2. You’re confusing two completely different things: ketosis and ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous condition, ketosis is simply how our cells derive energy from fat (as opposed to sugar.)

  3. It would guess that the body is probably pretty well adapted for ketosis. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors must have experienced periods of low food intake and starvation quite frequently in which they would live off of accumulated fat and muscle stores. People with poor tolerance for this state were probably weeded out of the genetic pool a long time ago.

  4. “Chemotherapy, depression, and amphetamines”? Not to mention famine. These strike me as fundamentally less healthy than avoiding bread, desserts, and pasta.

  5. Reliable evidence (ie, not the discredited slanting of the China study) would be delightful – if hard to find for such a claim.

    And ketosis is the default metabolic state if you lay off the potatoes, pizza, muffins & cookies.

  6. For a Vegan/PETA member who takes great care to hide that fact, you’re very interested in my affiliations. I’m just a guy who knows that carbs are sugars, and I’m doing my best to avoid them.

    Your arguments are all of the hoary Vegan propaganda pieces (though you don’t reveal your agenda.) And Atkins was not obese and died when he hit his head. A google search immediately reveals that (and the orchestrated PETA campaign to smear him.)

  7. Tom: Carbs are not sugars, but the reverse is true, sugars are carbs. Take a physiology class, for God’s sake. All this bullshit about my “agenda” is just that, bullshit. I don’t belong to any animal rights group, and I’m not “taking great care” to hide anything. I am a vegetarian, if that floats your boat. The fact is, it’s irrelevant, we’re talking about diet and nutrition, not me. As far as being interested in your affiliations, you’re the one that brought it up.

    Seth: I think you know very well that the Atkins diet is about a lot more than avoiding white flour and sugar, as you imply.

    “The most frequent complaints with low-carb diets are constipation and headache, which are readily explained by the lack of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, Astrup said.

    Also, bad breath, muscle cramps, diarrhea, general weakness and rashes are more often reported on low-carb diets than on low-fat diets, Astrup found.

    “The majority had some of these side effects in the Atkins group. In the control group, almost nothing,” he said.

    These side effects are consistent with carbohydrate deficiency, because the brain and muscle do not get enough sugar from carbohydrates to maintain their normal function, Astrup said.

    “We have known for many years that there is a minimum intake of carbohydrate necessary to maintain the normal function of your body and that is approximately 150 grams a day,” he said. “But, if on the Atkins diet you go down to 20 to 30 grams in the induction phase, then maybe go up to 100 grams, still you are far below what your body needs.”

    The body can coast along for a while with the carbohydrate stores in the liver and the muscles, but eventually problems start to occur, Astrup said.

    “I think these symptoms are signs that something is wrong,” Astrup said. ”

    Great: constipation, bad breath, diarrhea, weakness, just what Dr. Atkins ordered. There is no way that this diet is healthy.

  8. It has nothing to do with Atkins; he’s simply a symbol for the consumption of animal flesh. The PETA/Vegan endgame is outlawing meat consumption, and they’ll never get there if they can’t bury the fact that chronic carbohydrate consumption makes people sick.

  9. Dennis, carbs are sugars. Some are simple sugars like glucose, others are complex sugars, a/k/a starches. Thanks for the ad hominem, though.

    You brought up the question of my name and affiliations, and you’re more than a vegetarian:

    “for many years now I’ve refrained from reading books, and even most articles, in support of animal rights, for the simple reason that I know in advance that I am going to agree with nearly everything said. I gave up eating meat fifteen years ago, and for a number of those years, including now, I’ve been almost entirely vegan, that is, I eat no animal products whatever and avoid things like the use of leather and anything else in which animals are cruelly used.”

    (And if you can’t even be bothered to read something that supports your position, I suppose it’ll be a cold day in hell before you read Taubes!)

    Anyway, re: the study you quote, you certainly had to Google past a ton of pro-low-carb results before you found that thing. It’s no surprise you had to settle for some guy doing a meta-analysis. Meta-analyses are notoriously unreliable because they’re so easy to slant to fill an agenda. One simply cherry-picks the studies that prove one’s point, mixes them all together without noting that they have all been done to different standards, or have tiny populations, or aren’t blinded at all. All these deficits are conveniently hidden when they’re dumped into the meta-blender.

    They are so misleading that scientists have organized to create protocols under which meta-analyses can be trusted. Look into “Cochrane Collaboration” if you care to learn more, or start here:

  10. Also from the article cited by Dennis:

    “More people stayed in the low-carb group than in the low-fat group, so you’ve got to wonder how severe those side effects were if more people kept to the low-carb diet,” said William Yancy, a Duke University researcher who conducted one of the major studies that Astrup reviewed.

    Certainly I have found a low carb diet easier to adhere to than a low fat one. And I’ve experienced essentially no side effects. In any case, healthy is a relative judgment, not an absolute one. Perhaps there are unhealthy side effects from a low carb diet, but they have to be weighed against the effects of obesity, both physiological and psychological, and the relative efficacy of different diets at promoting weight loss.

  11. I tried the Atkins diet few years ago out of sheer curiosity – I was not overweight. I found it easy to stick with, did not experience any untoward side effects (headache, constipation, etc.) and had one unexpected yet gratifying benefit – an absence of flatulence. Once I began to eat carbs again – gas. Sigh.

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