The big fat surprise

In his capacity as a full service operation, Glenn Reynolds has occasionally cited science writer Gary Taubes and linked to his book Why We Get Fat. Taubes recommends a low-carb/no-carb diet, as some of the popular diet books do, both for reasons of weight control and overall health.

Inspired by Taubes, I’ve been following a low carb diet for 18 months. It has worked for me, but I’m not sure how long I can stick with it. Ice cream is my favorite food and I find it difficult to walk through the bakery section of the grocery store without crying. I even gaze longingly at the bakery items at SuperAmerica from time to time. So far, however, (mostly) so good.

Taubes’s first book on diet issues was Good Calories, Bad Calories. He returned to the subject in Why We Get Fat to condense his survey of the research and focus on obesity.

Taubes is a formidable science writer. His approach is serious and methodical, taking account of the changing nature of the conventional wisdom and the studies that have supported it. The approach is occasionally boring, although Taubes is an excellent writer with a flair for interesting anecdotes that illustrate his thesis.

In chapter one of Good Calories, Bad Calories, for example, he relates President Eisenhower’s struggle with a low-fat diet following his first heart attack at the age of 64 in 1955. Eisenhower rigorously followed a low-fat dietary regime to decrease his cholesterol. As his cholesterol continued to increase, however, Eisenhower became so agitated and angry (annoyed in part by the diet itself) that his physician lied to him about the results.

Where does Taubes come up with a story like that? His footnotes cite Clarence Lasby’s 1997 book Eisenhower’s Heart Attack: How Ike Beat Heart Disease and Held On To the Presidency, published by the University of Kansas Press. When Taubes can locate the intersection of diet and the presidency, I declare that he is a man after my own heart (no pun intended).

Taubes disputes the connection between dietary fat and high cholesterol. He challenges the thesis that dietary fat is detrimental to our health. He rejects a balanced diet. He advocates a high-fat diet. He opposes dieting. He doesn’t object to exercise, but he asserts that it makes you hungry. It’s almost funny. He is the dietary equivalent of politically incorrect.

Now comes journalist Nina Teicholz with today’s number one story at the Wall Street Journal site: “The questionable link between saturated fat and heart disease.” Taking off from a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, Teicholz writes: “The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.” Teicholz has her own book on the subject coming out this month.

Like Taubes, Teicholz appears to be a sober writer. I don’t think Taubes is ever intentionally humorous in either of his two diet books. For the humorous take we go to Woody Allen, who gives us something like the condensed version of the Taubes doctrine in Sleeper (clip below).

Responses