Re-thinking our ideas about diet

January 9, 2009

Over this last year, I’ve turned over just about everything I thought I knew about diet. This change in perspective has resulted in about a 10% weight loss and a very significant reduction in body fat. I’ve eaten probably healthier than most for some time now, so I wasn’t coming from a far-off extreme (this blog might just be kinda boring that way). For example, I gave up soft drinks, most juices and limited my candy intake several years ago. Although for a long time after that, I’d indulge shortbread cookies, peppermint patties and chocolate pudding on a regular basis (ahhh, good times).

However, one book changed my life (cue the daytime drama strings): Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It was recommended to me by a pretty authoritative source. He said I just had to read it. Of course, he didn’t warn me it was 600+ pages of very well written, but dense material that has the ambition to recount all the major events over the last 150 years of dietary research.

I read it in a week. I was just riveted.

Here are just a few of the dietary sacred cows (or was it paschal lambs) that were sacrificed:

  • The widely held belief that consuming dietary fat is the reason people get fat is not supported by the scientific evidence
  • The equally ‘common sense’ notion of caloric balance (in order to loose weight, one has to burn more calories than one takes in via food) is at best flawed and, at worse not at all supported by the evidence
  • The causal relationship between high cholesterol (especially high LDL) and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) has not been proven and does not exist. Note the word ‘causal.’ While there may be correlations with high LDL (it’s consensus now that there is no correlation between high total cholesterol and arteriosclerosis), the relationship is not causal.
  • The scientific consensus of the 1st half of the 20th century was that the primary culprit for people getting fat is the consumption of easily-digestible carbohydrates (breads, pasta, sweets, soft drinks). That consensus was overturned in the 2nd half of the 20th century not because there was clear scientific evidence for a change, but for various other reasons tied to several individual and industry self-interest.

      An excellent summary of the book and its findings may be found on what is becoming one of my favorite blogs on diet- Dr. Michael Eades’ blog Protein Power gives you a great take on the book.

      So what’s the bottom line. I’m saying that what has worked for me over the last year is to strive to completely eliminate the following foods:

      • Bread, and everything else made with flour
      • Cereals, including breakfast cereals and milk puddings
      • Potatoes and all other white root vegetables
      • Foods containing much sugar
      • All sweets

      I did decide to go a bit further for a period of time and also eliminated all grains (corn, etc.) from my diet. The net (over about a 6 month period) was to reduce my body weight about 10%, reduce my triglycerides about 30%, increase my HDL by 25%. Now, I do have to add the caveat that this was also during a time where I was putting significant emphasis on getting my vitamin D level to an optimal range (while remaining on my regular supplement regimen). So I expect that my supplement regimen also played a factor, but even with that, these are very impressive (albeit a sample size of 1) results.

      While the evidence continues to mount, I’m not expecting a sea change in the popular mind about this. However, you can be on the vanguard and when your friends and family catch up in about 10 years, you can welcome them with open arms (that won’t have to reach so far to get around them).

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