Good Calories, Bad Calories
Gary Taubes Knopf Publishing Group, 2007 Reviewed by Kerry Neville, MS, RD Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson
The book is based on the premise that almost everything the public has been told about the tenets of a healthy diet is essentially wrong. It claims nutrition, public health and medical authorities embraced a national nutrition policy evolved from unproven hypotheses linking fat and cholesterol to heart disease despite clinical evidence to the contrary. Current advice, according to the author, that "fat is bad for us, carbs are better and that the key to a healthy weight is eating less and exercising more has resulted in epidemics of obesity and diabetes."
The author's position is there is no solid scientific evidence demonstrating saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease, salt causes high blood pressure or fiber is a necessary part of a healthy diet. Instead, he argues, most health problems are due to the refined carbohydrates we eat and it is the type of calories we eat, not the amount. Hence, there are good calories and there are bad calories.
There is no "diet plan" with menus and food lists in this tome (460 pages with a 60-plus page bibliography). But underlying the reams of scientific studies Taubes cites to support his positions is that the only way to lose weight and improve health is to eat fewer carbohydrates, change the type of carbohydrates you eat or even eat no carbohydrates at all. The best diet, according to Taubes, is one that is heavy in protein and fat and very low in carbohydrates.
Nutritional Pros and Cons:
The book is intended to compel consumers to make rather major changes in their diets, by severely restricting or eliminating carbohydrates and increasing intake of fat and protein. While it's hard to argue with advice that cutting back on refined carbohydrates and sugars in the diet could be beneficial for many people, whole grains, fruits and vegetables - rich in carbohydrates - also provide an abundance of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals - that many prominent researchers believe offer protection against disease. Avoiding whole-grain foods, most fruits and certain vegetables could leave a nutritional void in your diet.
Low-carbohydrate diets are difficult to follow and even more difficult to stick with permanently. That said, there is some scientific evidence showing the benefits of low-carbohydrate diets in weight loss.
Taubes backs up his recommendations with clinical studies to support his points, which are well taken. But one could argue the other side of the nutritional coin with studies that support current dietary recommendations in favor of a diet moderate in fat, protein and carbohydrates.
Good Calories, Bad Calories provides food for thought on how our country's nutrition policy came to fruition and the scientific evidence (or lack thereof, according to Taubes) that was used to form the basis of nutrition recommendations, from those of the American Heart Association to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Taubes presents compelling research findings that runs contrary to much of what is used as evidence supporting current recommendations for a healthy diet.
Good Calories, Bad Calories
The book is not an easy read for most consumers, with its multitude of study results laid out in great detail, along with the back-and-forth theories and politics associated with nutrition advice. It's interesting and thought-provoking to read about research showing the "flip side" of nutrition recommendations. But the reader needs to balance the evidence Taubes presents against the research findings that do support current nutrition policy.
Nutrition is a continually evolving science. Keeping an open mind to all research - whether or not it may support our own theories and beliefs - helps add new pieces to the puzzle of figuring out the best diet to prevent disease. And it's part of what makes nutrition so fascinating.