Nutrition & Exercise #8

Posted: January 30, 2011 in Nutrition & Exercise

Like a good novelist, Taubes saved the most critical pieces of info to the end of the book, capitalizing on the suspense connected to the cholesterol and sodium questions.

To prove his point, Taubes had to address two issues.  The first one was to connect carbs to fat accumulation and obesity.  I think that I’ve shown in the previous entry that he has succeeded on doing this.  (I will add an entry at the end of this summarizing the whole thing from a reasoning and validation point of view.)  The second point that he had to address was the question of meats, fats and cholesterol.  His premise is that eliminating both carbs and meats/proteins from a diet is unrealistic.  He asserts that, as long as you keep carbs at a minimum, you can eat sufficient meats and fats to make sure that hunger pangs don’t derail your diet.  So, the question remains, won’t high protein, high fat diets put you at higher risk for heart disease.

Taubes follows his previous pattern and starts with anthropological and cultural research.  He argues that human life developed on a high meat, high fat diet, and it would be odd if we haven’t evolved a tolerance for it.  He also argues that the low fat, carb oriented diet imposed by nutritionists about fifty years ago, oddly corresponds with the increase in obesity.  While there is some truth to both of these arguments, they are not very compelling (-not nearly as much as the similar evidence that he provided when linking carbs to overweight-) and I was really hoping for something better.

In the end, I was not disappointed.  Taubes continues to site study after study to demonstrate that there is little evidence linking the reduction of fat intake to lowering cholesterol and, in turn, lowering the incidence of heart disease.  A huge, definative study, done in 2001 demonstrates the differences between four carefully monitored diets.  It spanned 6 years and followed almosst 50 000 women.  The end result was to show no significant causal relationship between a high protein, high fat diet and coronary problems.  (The fact that no relationship was shown resulted in the people interpreting the study claiming that it was “inconclusive” rather than admitting that they may need to reassess their ideas.)  A quote from Taubes states:

” A more insidious problem is that all involved – the researchers, the physicians, the public-health authorities, the health associations – commit themselves to a belief early in the evolution of the science, arguably at the stage at which they know the least about it, and then they become so invested in their belief that no amount of evidence to the contrary can convince them that they’re wrong.  As a result, when trials like the Woman’s Health Initiative find that eating less fat and less saturated fat has no beneficial effect (at least for women), the authorities don’t respond by acknowledging that they have made an error all along.  Dong so might make then (and us) question their credibility…”

Another study done in 2007 carefully compared four different diets, one of which was an Atkins-like diet, while the others were variations on more traditional fat reduced diets.  The results were striking.  Amoung these diets, the Atkins group had the highest degree of weight loss, double the increase in good cholesterol, double the decrease in triglycerides and a slight increase (less than 2%) in bad cholesterol.  (Worth noting, the most traditional of the diets also had a slight increase in bad cholesterol, insignificantly less than the Atkins results.  The only diet which had an overall bad cholesterol drop was one that involved meditation.)

An important point, often ignored by doctors and nutritionists, is that “good cholesterol” is fast being recognized as the best way of predicting cardiac and other metabolic issues.  If good cholesterol is low, this usually corresponds with health problems, and when it is high it seems to be a good indication of health.  Studies have shown that carbs tend to reduce the good cholesterol and increase the bad.  Furthermore, not all cholesterol is created equal.  Apparently there are different types of bad cholesterol, determined by the density of the particles.  High density, small particles have been shown to be the culprits in arterial build up, while low density, “fluffy” bad cholesterol particles do not seem to significantly contribute to this problem.  The size of the cholesterol particle seems to vary according the the level of triglycerides.  Carbs tend to elevate triglycerides, therefore producing smaller, denser, more dangerous cholesterol particles.  Proteins and fats tend to reduce triglycerides, therefor encouraging larger, less dense cholesterol particles.  Once again, the research tends to indicate that carbs are more harmful than fats in producing dangerous cholesterol and promoting heart disease.

Finally, there seems to be a connection between high triglycerides and liver function along with kidney function.  This relationship has an effect on sodium absorption, meaning that carbs may make it more difficult for a body to absorb salt, leading to high blood pressure.

Taubes has definitely met his obligation to provide scientific research, data and explanation for his claims.  The reasoning and evidence behind the link between carbs and fat retention, and for debunking the link between fat and cholesterol risks is carefully, clearly and professionally laid out for all to understand.  Any argument against his claims or in favor of an opposing nutritional perspective has an obligation to refute the provided evidence or provide alternative evidence.  So far, I’ve not seen that on any Internet sites that I’ve investigated.  When Taubes was facing Dr. Oz on the Larry King show, it was pretty clear that Oz had not read his book, -which is unforgivable considering the circumstances and the wealth of scientific information in it.  Dr. Weil, who supported Taubes on the show, clearly had read the book.

So, the next and final step is to look at criticisms and see whether they can compete.  Oh, …and of course to see whether it actually works.  I’ll step in the scale in three or four days and let you know what’s happening, -not because you really care, but, hopefully, because it is the ultimate test of this whole issue.

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