This quote has stuck in my head since I first read it in an opinion piece in the New York Times last year (June 30th 2012). The full title of this article was, “What Really Makes Us Fat.” It was written by the acclaimed and controversial science writer Gary Taubes. The full sentence containing the quote is: “From this perspective, the trial suggests that among the bad decisions we can make to maintain our weight is exactly what the government and medical organizations like the American Heart Association have been telling us to do: eat low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diets, even if those diets include whole grains and fruits and vegetables” (my emphasis). I like the quote ‘cause I think it’s kinda edgy, even “snarky.”
Taubes didn’t write this piece for me in my situation. I have been a diagnosed Type 2 diabetic for 27 years (probably, therefore, 35 or 40 years). He is addressing the many who have gained a little weight and may also be starting to have blood pressure and cholesterol issues. The fact is that many, like me, who first became “fat” in our 40s, will develop Type 2 diabetes. Many who are even a little overweight, or slightly technically “obese” (by BMI measurement) will have developed Metabolic Syndrome and not even know it. (See The Nutrition Debate here #9 for the indications.) This, however, is exactly the population that is most likely to contract one of the myriad Diseases of Civilization – heart disease, stroke, some forms of cancer, and even dementia. It may start with high blood pressure, high cholesterol (especially in combination with low HDL and high triglycerides), and maybe even fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
It is now widely thought that this syndrome and all of these diseases are related to the Western Diet that we have adopted. That is why we are hearing the advice “eat more whole foods,” including more “whole grains and fruits and vegetables.” The thing is, whole grains and fruits and vegetables are all carbohydrates. Taubes’s point, I think, is that if the “healthy, non-diabetic” population continues to eat these “low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diets” to maintain our weight, that it would be a “bad decision” because it is a “carbohydrate-rich” diet.
With this statement Taubes reminds us of his second of 10 “certain conclusions” in his epic tome “Good Calories-Bad Calories”: “The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis – the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.” Boy, does he nail it! You should really read all 10 of his conclusions, maybe a couple of times. I listed them all here in The Nutrition Debate #5.
Now, for the “healthy” individual – that means, with no weight, no blood pressure and no cholesterol issues – eating whole grains and fruits and vegetables in moderation, without refined carbohydrates and excessive simple sugars, is okay. And for a fair-sized portion of the population who may not be genetically predisposed and susceptible to the metabolic derangement, it may also make no difference to you. But, the official advice is one size fits all and if you are overweight and slowly gaining, and are starting to have blood pressure and cholesterol issues, you would be among the ones for whom, to maintain your weight, it would be a “bad decision” to do “exactly what the government and medical organizations like the American Heart Association have been telling us to do: eat low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diets, even if those diets include whole grains and fruit and vegetables.”
Neither Taubes (not that I speak for him) nor I, of course, are saying that you should stop eating whole grains and fruits and vegetables unless your metabolism is already deranged or in the process of derangement. But if it is, as mine certainly is, you really have no choice if you want to regain, to the extent possible, and maintain “your” homeostasis. For me, I have virtually eliminated all grains and almost never eat any fruit (just a few berries wreak havoc with my blood sugar for days). The only vegetables I eat are low-glycemic ones with dinner, usually tossed in butter or roasted in olive oil. This is admittedly extreme, but necessary for me to deal with my broken metabolism as a 27 year type 2 diabetic.
If you are prediabetic or have self-diagnosed Metabolic Syndrome (if your doctor never told you!), you will only need to moderate your intake of carbohydrates, especially the refined ones (as in bread, pasta and cereals!) and the simple sugars (as in fruit and honey!). If you do, and you substitute healthy saturated (e.g. coconut oil) and monounsaturated (e.g. olive oil) fats, I am confident you will eat less, lose weight and have healthier blood lipids (including higher HDL and lower triglycerides). Supplementation with a 1-gram fish oil tablet twice a day, and avoiding foods fried in corn or soy bean oil, or baked goods made with them and HFCS, will also help a lot. To do all this you will need to go against the advice of “the government and medical organizations like the American Heart Association” that Taubes mentions.I know that’s going to be tough: Do what I say, or do what the government and the AHA tell you to do. Right? But, if you are getting ready to jump into the fray and you need to gird your loins, read The Nutrition Debate #1 through #5 for added support. You can also find an index of all the columns I have written in the upper right-hand corner of the blog.