Nutrition & Exercise #9 – Looking for refutation

Posted: January 31, 2011 in Nutrition & Exercise

Nutrition Action Newsletter is a publication which I have always respected.  I do have subscription.  The first article attempting to refute Taubes’ ideas was in a Nov. 2002 issue in response to a New York Times article written by Taubes.  You can find the article on line HERE.

The questions which they address in the article are, unfortunately the wrong questions.  One of the things they dwell on is that Taubes is underhandedly supporting the Atkins diet.  When investigating the original article in question, it seems that mention of the Atkins diet was actually demanded by the publisher.  Although the Atkins diet is mentioned in the new book, it is never endoursed.  It is mentioned in passing and as part of several studies, as the Atkins diet is probably the most obvious example of a low-carb diet.  The fact is that Taubes has tried to steer away from diets and towards science.  He clearly states that “Why We Get Fat” is not a diet book, but rather tries to examine and explain the scientific principles behind fat.

A second question in the nutrition Action Newsletter included the following quote:

“If you believe Taubes, it’s not the 670-calorie
Cinnabons, the 900-calorie slices of
Sbarro’s sausage-and-pepperoni-stuffed
pizza, the 1,000-calorie shakes or
Double Whoppers with Cheese, the
1,600-calorie buckets of movie theater
popcorn, or the 3,000-calorie orders of
cheese fries that have padded our backsides.
It’s only the low-fat Snackwells,
pasta (with fat-free sauce), and bagels
(with no cream cheese).”

I can’t say whether this would be true or false based on the original NYT article, but I can say with certainty that it is grossly unfair based on the new book.  This is criticism which reduces very specific and detailed scientific explanations to so much (high carb) porridge.  The quote contains no fewer than three complete fallacies.

Words like “preposterous” and “completely ridiculous” pepper the rest of the article.  There is more emotion than there is science.  And the actual scientific statements only manage to quibble with the details of Taubes’ arguments, never dealing with the core concepts.  Even the graph provided is deceptive.  It is included to contradict Taubes’s statement that we’ve been on a low fat diet and it hasn’t worked.  In fact, the graph clearly indicates that all forms of fat consumption have decreased except for salad and cooking oils, and shortening, – all of which can be easily linked to use with carb based foods (i.e. fries, doughnuts etc.)

Even if there are a few interesting questions raised by the Nutrition Action Newsletter, it is unfortunate that it turned itself into an attack on the Atkins diet, rather than attacking the science.  Then again, it is actually a decade old.  A lot of the studies that are reported by Taubes were conducted after this date.

I guess I’ll try to find something more recent, but I do have to say that this round goes to Taubes.


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