Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review of Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes

We are witnessing the unraveling of three pseudo-scientific scams:

  • efficient market hypothesis [1,2]
  • global warming (now "climate change") hypothesis [Crichton]
  • saturated fat / heart disease hypothesis [1,2]
In each case, publicly funded researchers fell in love with a plausible idea and pushed it on the public, despite mounting evidence that it was wrong, and at great cost to society.

Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories is the story of how this happened in the area of nutrition. It used to be well known that high carbohydrate diets caused obesity - see for example William Banting who wrote a low-carb dieting booklet in 1863.

Then people like Ancel Keys developed the hypothesis that saturated fats in the diet raise cholesterol and cause heart disease. If you lower the amount of dietary fat, you're going to be eating more carbohydrate. So for the past fifty years, the establishment "consensus science" has been high carbohydrate diets. And we've seen the results: obesity, heart disease, cancer.

An unbelievable amount of money has been wasted trying to prove that eating saturated fat causes heart disease or that high carbohydrate diets prevent it. Even more money has probably been wasted trying to find cures for diseases caused by high carbohydrate consumption.

The three pseudoscientific scams strongly argue against public funding of science. The anti-saturated fat / high carbohydrate mistake strongly argues against the government making nutritional or scientific recommendations.



Anonymous said...

"The three pseudoscientific scams strongly argue against public funding of science."

So does Atlas Shrugged. But that's supposedly a childish book whose ideas you're supposed to transcend once you're no longer a teenager.

Anonymous said...

That book is pushing 10 yrs old. I know it sounds cliched, but these days health science really is developing on Internet Time.

My go-to guys are Dennis Mangan and Ivor Cummins.

Also a soft-spot for Richard Nikoley for his work promoting gut biome health. He doesn't do much anymore, but his archives are full of great info that's still relevant.

CP said...

Notice I posted a review of one of Mangan's books.

Taubes' book is interesting not as a diet prescription (Mangan is much more concise and therefore useful) but as a history of a very harmful pseudo-scientific scam.

The point of my review was that the saturated fat hypothesis is in the same category as EMH and climate change.

CP said...

Read Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthrough if you need more on public funding of science.

The point of Meyers' book is that almost none of the dozens of most important medical breakthroughs over the past century or so, especially in pharmaceuticals, would have been found by the current medical research system. Huge projects with NIH or other government funding are not what led to breakthrough discoveries. Physicians and scientists tinkering with accidental (serendipitous) discoveries is what has led to breakthroughs. Taleb sees a pattern in the researchers' stories:

The discoverer is almost always treated like an idiot by his colleagues. Meyers describes the vicious side effect of "peer reviewing".
Often people see the result but cannot connect the dots (researchers are autistic in their own way).
The members of the guild gives the researcher a hard time for not coming from their union. Pasteur was a chemist not a doctor/biologist.
Many of the results are initially discovered by an academic researchers who neglects the consequences because it is not his job.

Anonymous said...

Not only does climate vary, but the variability itself is subject to change. Ten degree swings over decade have happened, and when that happens once, usually happens ten or twenty times over the following millenia. Fortunately we have not had anything as bad as that in recent millenia, but during Roman times it was substantially warmer than today, and wheat grew in what is now desert, today’s deserts were the breadbasket of Europe, and during the little ice age, it was mighty cold, and the deserts were bigger.

CP said...

Also, Taubes' book had some interesting facts I'd never heard of. For example, "high blood sugar and/or high levels of insulin work to increase the body's requirements for vitamin C."

From the book:

The vitamin-C molecule is similar in configuration to glucose and other sugars in the body. It is shuttled from the bloodstream into the cells by the same insulin-dependent transport system used by glucose. Glucose and vitamin C compete in this cellular-uptake process, like strangers trying to flag down the same taxicab simultaneously. Because glucose is greatly favored in the contest, the uptake of vitamin C by cells is "globally inhibited" when blood-sugar levels are elevated. In effect, glucose regulates how much vitamin C is taken up by the cells, according to the University of Massachusetts nutritionist John Cunningham. If we increase blood-sugar levels, the cellular uptake of vitamin C-will drop accordingly. Glucose also impairs the re-absorption of vitamin C by the kidney, and so, the higher the blood sugar, the more vitamin-C will be lost in the urine. Infusing insulin into experimental subjects has been shown to cause a "marked fall" in vitamin-C levels in the circulation.

CP said...


"[T]here is significant reason to believe that the key factor determining the level of vitamin C in our cells and tissues is not how much or little we happen to be consuming in our diet, but whether the starches and refined carbohydrates in our diet serve to flush vitamin C out of our system..."

CP said...

From Taubes:

"In 1963, Walter Bloom... published a series of articles on starvation therapy for obesity, noting that total starvaion -i.e., fasting, or eating nothing at all- and carbohydrate restriction had much in common. In both cases, our carbohydrate reserves are used up quickly, and we have to rely on protein and fat for fuel. When we fast, the protein and fat come from our muscle and fat tissue; when we restrict carbohydrates, they're provided by the diet as well."

And then from my Happy Accidents review:

"The other key insight from the book... is that medical discoveries are incredibly slow to be put into practice. Ignaz Semmelweis discovered in 1847 that medical students in Vienna were killing women with puerperal fever by conducting autopsies and then examining patients without washing their hands. Doctors were offended and it took decades for them to finally wash their hands."

CP said...

Something else interesting:

"The idea that obesity in humans is caused, as it is in animals, by a defect in the homeostatic maintenance of energy distribution and fat metabolism - that we overeat because we're getting fat, and not vice versa - barely survived into the second half of the 20th century, although the evidence has always supported it.

This homeostatic hypothesis effectively vanished from the mainstream thinking on human (as opposed to animal) obesity with the coming of WWII. The war destroyed the German and Austrian community of clinical investigators, who had done the most perceptive thinking about the causes of obesity... In the U.S. it resulted in a suspension of obesity research that had lasted for most of a decade."

Just one of the many ways in which war is destructive.

I wonder how long it will take for low carbohydrate diets to become mainstream?

The result should eventually be a much higher demand for good quality meat and fats, and a much lower demand for refined carbohydrates and unhealthy oils. It would be bad for the high margin makers of junk food that Buffett likes, bad for the "healthcare" (sickness) industry.

Anonymous said...

Not sure govt got all that far behind efficient markets, and govt--after some effective regulatory capture by the better-organized carb industry--has moved back into anti-carb. Also on climate change, the science is far from settled one way or another. Natural variation does not preclude human effects. And look at incentives: on one side there's an argument that "elites want to tax and regulate us," which seems possible but also overbroad and tendentious, on the other, "Giant, rich, well-organized regulatory-capture institutions wish to sow uncertainty through their own pseudo-science to avoid regulation."

CP said...

Al Gore thought that he was going to make a fortune on a carbon taxation scheme:

Look into "Blood and Gore".

Anonymous said...

@CP: Interesting. Might be the first time anyone has referred to Al Gore as a charismatic presence! That certainly is plausible as far as it goes, but I don't think a $200 million fund (or even the entire US solar industry) compares to XOM, BP, COP, Koch, Aramco...Plenty of misrepresentations on all sides, but I think a closer eye on incentives and on the skeptics' appeal to natural oppositional tendencies (just as the pro-changers appeal to certain liberal tendencies) is worthwhile. Everyone, after all, has charts.

CP said...

"According to his financial-disclosure forms, Gore was worth between $1 million and $2 million when he ran for president. Gore declined to discuss his personal finances with me, but published estimates of his net worth are in the hundreds of millions."

"Silver Spring Networks is a foot soldier in the global green energy revolution Mr. Gore hopes to lead. Few people have been as vocal about the urgency of global warming and the need to reinvent the way the world produces and consumes energy. And few have put as much money behind their advocacy as Mr. Gore and are as well positioned to profit from this green transformation, if and when it comes."

Thank you Al Gore and David Blood for pointing out there is still time to hit it big in green investing. Unfortunately, I ignored Mr. Gore's similar advice some years ago and missed the chance to get in on the ground floor of green-energy gold mines such as Solyndra, Abound Solar, A123 Systems, Beacon Power, Nevada Geothermal Power, Range Fuels, Nordic Windpower, etc.

Anonymous said...

Once again, I'm not saying Al Gore has no stake in this--we agree! I'm saying others have much, much larger stakes and many more levers. Do you disagree? In the past decade, Exxon has spent ~$150 million on lobbying (and much, much more on PR) and made a bit of money in oil and gas too. Again: do you disagree?

CP said...

Are you one of the "scientific consensus" people?

Try some of this:

"Nothing about climate science reeks more of confirmation bias, than the changes scientists make to their own data sets over time. They all show exactly the same pattern of monotonically cooling the past and warming the present, regardless of the instrumentation."

"In 1978, NOAA showed 0.6 degrees global cooling since 1975 at the surface and in balloon data. The cooling was present in both hemispheres."

"Evidence is overwhelming that the US used to be much hotter. Prior to 1960, the frequency of hot days in the US was much larger."

"In 1976, the CIA said that global cooling was one of our greatest national security threats."

"Satellites are far more accurate at measuring global temperatures than the severely flawed surface temperature record. NASA claims global warming is rapidly occurring, but satellites show very little warming this century. What could possibly motivate the US Space Agency to ignore their own satellites?"

Anonymous said...

"We are going to control concentrations of atmospheric gases on a planetary scale, and global climate dynamics, via things like hopelessly complicated, stupid, and impossible global agreements that never work; but, granted, they do get a lot of self-important windbags to meetings in cool places like Paris and Morocco and with big group photos that must look good to some people. Not me, I think they look like garden-variety liberal saps who keep going to the same stupid pointless meetings, with vast billowing clouds of hot air and dust, promising to do the same things that never happen. Yet, they keep going. Watch, we will have ‘Rio 2018′ and ‘Durban 2019′ and ‘Tiburon 2020′ on and on. Nothing ever happens but an agreement to have the next meeting in a cool destination. But, we cannot build a wall and stop immigration — even though most nations in the world (e.g., Mexico!) do it easily."

Anonymous said...

@CP: As I've said, the science seems to me to still be out. You have not addressed the question: do you think the large oil & gas cos have any incentive to sponsor and promulgate research--selective, flawed, or otherwise--which calls warming/climate change into question? If you don't think so, or if you've examined the evidence and concluded this hasn't taken place, fine, but you're bafflingly unwilling to answer this. Do you consider yourself free from confirmation bias?

Anonymous said...

Normally I don't go for videos, but Ivor I make an exception for. His stuff on the CAC test is very compelling. He also has a big presence on Twitter and Mombook.

Oddly enough, Twitter makes it reasonably easy to follow folks w/o having an account, or letting it take over your life. Just type in the person's handle and scroll through their time line. I do this for him, Dennis, and a few others. You can look at just their original posts, or their posts and their replies to others' posts.

On Vit C, maybe it's saying the same thing, but I've heard it put the other way around, that Vit C increases glucose uptake into fat cells (decreases insulin sensitivity). The notorious fruit juices do a double-whammy on kids today. The additional Vit C makes all the sugar in them even more pernicious.

Anonymous said...

Carbs are okay to consume if your insulin sensitivity is high enough that your body metabolizes them efficiently. Check out the Tim Ferriss podcast with strength coach Charles Poliquin. He says you have to deserve your carbs. If you are above 10% body fat as a male or 15% body fat as a female, you will be too insulin resistant and therefore should not eat any carbs because all the glycogen will go to fat storage. Once you hit 10% body fat as a male, the glycogen from the carbs you eat will go straight to your muscles to be used for fuel.