Thursday, November 08, 2007

The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering

So I'm in the middle of reading Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories. I am likely to be reading it for some time, as it is astonishingly detailed. All that medical-history research I did for Miss Fairweather now feels like practice for this book. But no matter; it's riveting reading. Explains a lot of things I had only suspected or heard alluded to.

I confess, also, that I am reacting to the book rather as a hyperactive Christian would react to, say, The Bible Code or the latest LaHaye dissertation, which is to think here, at last, is the incontrovertable evidence that we were right all along!

Even though I know it doesn't work that way. Forget science: health is a religion and always has been. A quick look at the reviews on Amazon is confirmation: the believers will believe more strongly; the anti-fat, anti-meat crowd will just be further alienated.

It's kind of alarming how people talk about diets in terms of ethics. "Raising meat uses up too much land and energy! We shouldn't be living so well when the rest of the world is starving! Meat is murder!" I've actually seen people claim that the book of Genesis forbids eating meat, which is... um, no. God is pro-barbeque, trust me on this.

And dieters flagellate themselves just like the faithful in the face of disaster. I can't tell you how many women I know who are fat and tired from starchy diets and inadequate protein (or worn down with fatigue and stress from letting life batter them while they wait for Jesus to make it better), with brittle hair and nails and smiles, who just insist they feel so much better since they went vegetarian (since I put my trust in the Lord!). They sincerely believe that 1100 calories a day will make them slim, healthy and happy, if they fill up on water and fiber (if I just keep praying about it), and they just know that thirty pounds (massive debt/brutal husband/parasitic daughter) is going to drop off as soon as I get back to being really good about cutting out the fat (getting active in the church) again.

Funny side note--the folks I know who are most hard-core vegetarians tend to be kind of indifferent about religion--or embrace a feel-good amorphous "spirituality" instead of a particular faith. I wonder why. Maybe it's just the crowd I hang out with.

Ok--y'all know I hate evangelism. I shall strive not to wave the Taubes book in the face of all the rice-eaters I know. But here on my own blog, I will testify! And I will not be ashamed! The truth will set you free!

The 11 Commandments.... um, Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories: (taken from the publisher's site--and even I have trouble grasping some of these, despite my own observations about exercise)
  1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.
  2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
  3. Sugars—sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.
  4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.
  5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.
  6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.
  7. Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.
  8. We get fat because of an imbalance—a disequilibrium—in the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.
  9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.
  10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
  11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.


Joy Marchand said...

AMEN, sister. :) In the last 9 months I've lost 40 pounds on a diet of beef and pork, seafood, poultry, vegetables, limited dairy and fruit, nuts and plenty of oils. Low to no-use: refined sugar, bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, soft drinks (any kind), milk, caffeine, alcohol and meats containing nitrates. As soon as the target weight is reached (might take a while, considering I've taken up strength-training and there will be a period of transition between fat and muscle) I'll be working in beans and lentils and things like that.

I gave up toast and lost almost 8 dress sizes. Good riddance, I say.

Holly said...

Joy, that is wonderful! I'm so pleased for you, congratulations.

Ironically, (in light of all this anti-religious sarcasm) there is a whole-grain bread that I rather like. It's called Ezekiel sprouted grain bread and they have it at whole foods and in "health" sections of the bigger grocery stores, in the refrigerator case. It's only something like 7 net carbs per slice, with high protein and fiber. It's kind of rugged in texture but I like it. /end plug

Anonymous said...

I resist any impulse to quibble over the conclusions of Mr. Taubes. Any "supporting evidence" I might have is merely anecdotal, not reams of scientific studies.

An observation: several years ago I read "The Great Hunger," a history of the Irish potato famine, by Cecil Woodham-Smith. The staple diet of the Irish peasant in the 1840's was potatoes and buttermilk. This constituted a scientifically balanced diet. A workman could surround fourteen pounds of praties a day; seven pounds at one sitting.

Taters, spuds, whatever-CARBOHYDRATES!!!!

So why weren't the Irish blimped out like estivating toads? They worked; twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day, from can-see to can't-see. Their situation was rather well summed up in the song, "The Hiring Fair." Here are a few lines.

I worked on Grady's farm til I looked an awful sight.
Me bones were pushin' thru me skin,
For I worked from morn til night.
One day I died and passed away
And Grady gave a grin.
"He'll make good fertilizer
"And there's plenty more like him."

NK Shapiro said...

As for why the Irish weren't "blimped out" on a diet of potatoes and buttermilk -- we don't necessarily know that many of them weren't. But as Taubes addresses in the book, cultures that eat mostly carbohydrate yet remain lean are cultures where food is scarce due to poverty (this certainly was the case in Ireland in the 18-19th century among those potato-eaters) and the calories consumed are chronically low. Because if people aren't given enough to eat, whether the food is carbs or fat/protein, they will be lean. (They'll also be malnourished on the nutrient level if all they're getting is simple carbs, which is why a low-calorie carb-rich diet is not a recipe for weight-loss, as Taubes shows.) The amount of work (exercise) really isn't a factor.

I've read the entire book, and believe me, all the quibbles people are bringing up are thoroughly addressed in it, in a way that goes beyond the bulleted list of conclusions reproduced here.

Holly said...

Grr. I tried to post already and it lost all my comments. But here's the gist of what I said:

"The staple diet of the Irish peasant in the 1840's was potatoes and buttermilk. This constituted a scientifically balanced diet."

I hope that last sentence was typed with tongue-in-cheek, SG.

That there are peoples in the world who appear to exist on starchy diets without becoming fat is one of the criticisms used against the low-carb proponents.

I think we can safely agree that the Irish peasants you speak of were in fact STARVING, undernourished, and worked to death, much like the residents of the Nazi death camps, who were likewise fed gruel of potatoes and bread. Those conditions are not going to make anyone fat.

Of more interest to me are the seeming paradox of the modern Chinese, who eat a great deal of rice but mostly stay slim--at least until they get older and posperous. The older generations of Chinese, when they see a plump, pretty girl, say she looks like the first daughter-in-law of a wealthy family. Even the Chinese get fat if they live a luxurious lifestyle, although there is still disagreement over whether it is the diet or the lack of exercise that does it. There was a famous martial artist in the early part of the last century, who was an undefeated champion fighter and very trim until he was appointed bodyguard to the Emperor. Once he went to live in the palace, he quickly got fat.

My Sifu, Sit, is highly critical of the idea that rice makes you fat, but then he is also critical of the idea that we should have no fat in our diets. He will tell you about the cooking-oil rationing of the 60's(?), when everyone got thin and sick because they did not have enough fat in their diets.

Of course, Sit is quite fit and spends several hours a week training in kung fu. He's quite the generous eater, but he cooks all the meals in their house and prepares everything fresh. They eat a good balance of meat, vegetables, and rice, all cooked in oil. I suspect that eating one's starches with plenty of water, as is the case with well-prepared rice, lessens the impact of sugars getting into the blood. I have read that eating plenty of fiber has the same effect.

I am fairly sure, too, that whole-body exercise, such as that in farm-labor and martial arts, has a markedly different effect on the body and its metabolism than the body-sculpting exercises we do in the gym. I have felt the difference in myself; I used to lift weights and run before I started tai chi, but the martial arts have had a much more profound effect on my body, both in its shape and in its health.

But what one eats is definitely the biggest factor. There have been several instances in my life where I did not change my exercise level, only changed what I was eating for the better or worse, and experienced a weight change. When I was 25 I gave up french fries and soda, without changing anything else, and lost 8 pounds in three months. That was before I'd even heard the low-carb theory, I just knew they were excess calories with little nutritional value.

I'm still not finished with the Taubes book, but I think he addresses some of these paradoxes in the third section. I think the most salient point of the book is that more research needs to be done before any broad-sweeping recommendations are made to the public.

In the meantime, I will keep going with the lifestyle that seems to be serving me well.

Holly said...

Welcome Nancy, thanks for commenting. We must've tried to post at the same time and that's why my comment got bumped.