About the SA Blog Network



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

Mummy Says John Horgan Is Wrong about Fat and Carbs in Food

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

I was struck today by the juxtaposition of two recent articles here at In “Thin Body of Evidence,” John Horgan expresses his skepticism about journalist Gary Taubes’s claims that carbohydrates, not fat, are the cause of obesity, heart disease and other health problems faced by many Americans. In “Mummy Says Princess Had Coronary Disease,” scientists who performed a CT scan on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy express their puzzlement that this ancient princess had advanced atherosclerosis (hardened arteries) despite her civilization’s “healthy” diet that included wheat, barley, bread and beer—and only small amounts of meat.

Atherosclerosis is linked to high blood levels of triglycerides (a type of fat molecule) and low levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. Eating a lot of carbohydrates (such as wheat, barley, bread and beer) is well known to raise triglycerides and lower HDL. Eating fat (such as found in meat) counteracts these effects, raising HDL and lowering triglyceride levels. The Egyptian princess’s diet, therefore, is the perfect recipe for high triglycerides and low HDL—and for atherosclerosis.

These facts about diet and blood lipid levels are not controversial—they have been known for decades and verified repeatedly by scores of studies. So why were the anthropologists surprised by the mummy’s atherosclerosis? And why is Horgan resistant to the idea that carbohydrates cause obesity and desease? The answer lies in two all-too-human tendencies: over-reliance on personal experience and resistance to information that contradicts our beliefs.

Horgan and the anthropologists who studied the mummy are falling victim to their preconceived notions about nutrition—that whole grains are healthy and animal fats are dangerous. They can hardly be blamed; those ideas have been trumpeted as truths for three decades in this country. But those notions were never based on good science, and now evidence is mounting that they are just plain wrong. Taubes details that evidence masterfully in Good Calories, Bad Calories (Knopf, 2007) and Why We Get Fat (Knopf, 2010).

Yet even with such a large body of research pointing to carbohydrates as the root of many medical evils, the Horgans out there can’t see past their own experience. Their high-carb diets never caused them to get fat; therefore, carbs must be fine. I don’t need to point out to the readers of this site how unscientific it is to hold up one individual’s experience—a case study, if you will—as a refutation of carefully controlled studies. Besides, the health effects of a high-carbohydrate diet often are not visible as weight gain—that Egyptian princess, no doubt thin as a rail (have you ever seen a fat mummy?), had a level of atherosclerosis that today would have doctors scrambling for a bypass operation. I have a hunch that if Horgan compared his blood lipid profile to Taubes’s, he would not be so quick to write off Taubes’s diet as “gross.”

I am not trying to single out Horgan—on the contrary, I think he is just one of many, many people who are struggling to make sense of the fact that what they have believed about diet and health for most of their lives is measurably wrong. And he’s in very good company. I stumbled on a survey a few months ago that found that most doctors don’t know which dietary component—protein, fat or carbohydrate—raises blood levels of triglycerides, and thus increases the risk of heart disease. It’s carbohydrates, of course. But like so many other findings that contradict the idea that whole grains are heart-healthy, it has been forgotten or ignored.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I started delving into diet and health studies in an attempt to battle my own obesity, which had plagued me my whole adult life. My reading led me to believe that sugars and grains in my diet were the culprit and, sure enough, once I cut those out and increased the amount of animal fats in my diet, I lost 50 pounds. (I always had and continued to eat a lot of vegetables, too.) I have never felt more energetic or clear-headed.

So, yes, my personal experience tells me Taubes is correct, just as Horgan’s experience tells him Taubes is incorrect. But, importantly, I would not have had my experience if I had not read the nutrition literature with an open mind. I look forward to the day when everyone, even those without pressing health concerns, can take their blinders off, relegate personal experience to second fiddle, and accept what the research is really saying. Only then will we be able to reverse the skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in this country.

Image courtesy of iStockPhoto / barol16

Rights & Permissions

Comments 43 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. jtrouch 2:24 pm 05/19/2011

    Hooray for GOOD science! Nicely stated Karen. It’s about time we use data to resolve an outcome instead of the reverse. Animal fats feed the brain and most of our existence. Bravo to your insight and concern.

    Link to this
  2. 2. ravenrose 2:52 pm 05/19/2011

    Brilliantly written. This is a great short piece to send to your friends, associates, and doctors who aren’t up to date with the important thinking in this crucial area. Thanks for the good work!

    Link to this
  3. 3. blk 4:56 pm 05/19/2011

    Was there an analysis done of the mummy that definitively found that her diet was the same as a typical Egyptian’s diet? Throughout history the diets of elites are often far different from the average person’s.

    In particular, the wealthy have always had more access to rich foods, fatty meats, beverages with higher alcoholic content, more sugar, as well as salt and other spices. That means they often suffer from diseases that peasants do not. For example, gout is often referred to as the rich man’s disease, and involves excessive inflammation, which is linked to the same kinds of problems the mummy had.

    The mummy article explicitly stated this, but Ms. Schrock has chosen to completely ignore that.

    It is completely unscientific to make any assumptions about what the mummy ate without any evidence. Analysis of teeth and bones might provide some information about her actual diet. Until such evidence is forthcoming, any conclusions about what caused the mummy’s disease are completely without merit.

    Link to this
  4. 4. hanmeng 5:37 pm 05/19/2011

    I hate this, because I love carbs.

    Link to this
  5. 5. kschrock 6:26 pm 05/19/2011

    Hi blk: You’re right that the Egyptian princess could have eaten a richer diet than her contemporaries. Or, as the article about the mummy stated, she could have had a genetic predisposition to heart disease. But my point is, why are we searching for these explanations when a simple, obvious answer is staring us in the face? Egyptians are thought to have eaten a lot of grains; grains are carbohydrates; carbs, when comprising the bulk of a person’s diet, are well known to cause the kind of blood lipid profile associated with atherosclerosis. Of course nobody can say for SURE why this princess had atherosclerosis, but I’m disturbed by the fact that the most scientifically supported explanation — the link between her probable diet and her disease — was overlooked. To me, that ignorance is part of a dangerous trend when it comes to nutrition and health.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Marc Barre Levesque 6:39 pm 05/19/2011

    *False dichotomies, False polarization effect, and confirmation biases?*

    "why is Horgan resistant to the idea that carbohydrates cause obesity and disease?"

    Do you mean to say "too much carbohydrates cause obesity and disease", and how much "too much" is, depends on the kind of carbohydrates ingested and individual physiology.

    "Horgan [... is] falling victim to their preconceived notions about nutrition–that whole grains are healthy and animal fats are dangerous."

    Is he? Maybe some people are but I don’t think he is from what I read, what have you read?

    Too much animal fats, or too much fats in general, also cause obesity and disease, and how much "too much" is, depends on the kind of fats ingested and individual physiology.

    "…different diets work for different people" –Horgan

    Link to this
  7. 7. Max Redalia 1:48 am 05/20/2011

    Of course obesity is caused by eating animal fats!

    That’s why the Inuit, who eat so much whale, seal, reindeer, salmon and walrus are the fattest people in the world.

    Oh, the Inuit AREN’T the fattest people on the planet? Well, which ARE the most obese nations in the world? Eight South Sea Island nations, like Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands, Niue and Tonga… followed by the United States of America. We’re number nine.

    But I’m sure if we just eat more high-fructose corn syrup… I mean "CORN SUGAR," we can be number one! USA! USA! USA!

    Link to this
  8. 8. nixxer 9:14 am 05/20/2011

    It’s disingenuous to ask this question when for years people have been hammered over the head with the notion that fat is what was the root cause of heart disease and obesity.

    In fact, it was Gary Taube’s article, "What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?" in the New York Times Magazine from July 7, 2002 that started the popular reassessment of the impact of fats in the first place.
    That was only 8 years ago, and it wasn’t exactly embraced at the time. The stigma built up around fats will take a long time to overcome.

    His recent article on carbohydrates is equally important I believe. However, most people aren’t just going to through out what they’ve heard for years on the basis of a couple of articles. It’s the scientific community’s job to push this information out and popularize it.

    It took a long time to demonize fats, but once that was accomplished it took hold; now the damage must be undone.

    Link to this
  9. 9. xahrx 9:20 am 05/20/2011

    It would be nice if Taubes didn’t really on outdated studies which themselves rely on self reporting for calorie intake, which is known to be wildly inacurate. Not to mention that at base all this nonsense about good vs bad calories implicitly tries to violate the laws of thermodynamics. Taubes and his ilk and their ‘research’ have been trounced more times than can be counted. Here’s one example:

    The potential HEALTH benefits of various diets for different individuals can be argued ad nauseum; the basics of physics, at least this particular law, are pretty much settled. So unless you are carrying some kind of space-time rupture in your stomach which is funneling in matter and energy from a parallel universe, the bottom line is if you’re overweight it’s because you eat too damn much. Be it from carbohydrates or fats or protein, if you are in a calorie surplus you will put on weight, if you are in a deficit you will lose weight. The macronutrient composition of any particular diet will just affect health and perhaps the ease or difficulty of maintaining equillibrium because of the potential effects on appetite and satiety. There is no mystery here. If you want to lose weight find the dietery approach that makes it easiest for you to not eat so much. If that’s low carbohydrate, so be it. You’re not cheating the laws of physics and performing magic by avoiding french fries or sugar, you’re just making a reasonably healthy eating decision which also happens to effectively limit your calorie intake.

    Link to this
  10. 10. alkwi 9:43 am 05/20/2011

    Well put xahrx.

    I can’t take an opinion on nutrition seriously from anyone who thinks Taubes details evidence "masterfully".

    Link to this
  11. 11. xriddle 9:57 am 05/20/2011

    I love how a fat person loses 50 pounds and then pontificates diet advice to the world…. Wow Is anyone allowed to write an article on SA? How about doing some real research … here is a start..

    A full rebuttal of Taubes and his ridiculous claims: | Your daily dose of Tech News

    Link to this
  12. 12. David Bishop 10:06 am 05/20/2011

    People resist the idea because the answer is too simple. "Fats" are better than "Carbs". So lard is better than a banana? It’s not that easy.

    It’s not the broad category of "Fats" vs "Carbs". This is why the opinions shifts back and forth between proteins, carbs, fats, etc. over the decades. It’s not these categories but the TYPE of food. Eat good food. Period. Not something made in a factory. Twinkies: out. Soda: out. Standard pizza with refined grains and loads of cheese: out.

    Eat healthy food: the right meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lots of water. Don’t eat crap. Exercise.

    It really isn’t rocket science, but when we make one food group "bad" and the other one "good" just so we have another excuse to eat junk, we lose.

    Link to this
  13. 13. gagan 10:42 am 05/20/2011

    Have you even read the studies you are citing? They are not saying replace carbs with protiens, instead replacing carb with polyunsaturated fats. There is a big difference. One of the cheapest and ethical sources of polyunsaturated fats are seed, nuts, avacados, olive oil etc.

    I wonder if the editor sits on the board of Fast Food Restaurant Lobby?

    Link to this
  14. 14. warmfuzzykitten 11:38 am 05/20/2011

    The Ornish diet is the best-studied of them all and has proven cardiovascular health and weight benefits. It is a high-carb, no fat, no meat diet.

    At the opposite spectrum is the Atkins diet, a no-carb, high fat, high protein diet. Not as rigorously studied, but in the studies that exist Atkins has been shown to have cardiovascular health and weight benefits.

    What these two wildly different diets have in common are: They both promote exercise (Ornish adds meditation or yoga). They both restrict sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup and alcohol.

    Without getting sidetracked in the controversial alcohol debate (a little is good, more is bad), it might seem to an impartial observer that the villains aren’t either carbs or fat, but sugars.

    Link to this
  15. 15. missquo 11:42 am 05/20/2011

    I agree with David. We spend too much time demonizing fats and carbs. The fact is, if you eat too much fat, or carbs, or protein, your diet is out of balance, and especially if you are getting your fat and protein from animal sources, you are going to be suffering from heart problems (cholesterol) right along with those carb-eaters with high triglycerides.

    If you have been eating no fat all your life in an attempt to be healthy, realizing you need to change is a good thing. If your choice is animal fats, do it in moderation, but the better choice as mentioned above is nuts and seeds (mine is avocado!). Keep your carbs to things with high nutritional value (leafy greens, for example) which will keep your body happy with fewer calories.

    Link to this
  16. 16. ralphSci 1:06 pm 05/20/2011

    As far as i can determine from looking at sites such as NIH, high glucose DOES NOT CAUSE atherosclerosis, but increases the risk and contributes it. In one link accessed through this article,, it clearly states that a diet higher in fat leaves one with a higher glucose level than does a high carb diet. Other research articles i’ve found, such as indicate that whole grain intake resulted in reduced cartoid intermedial thickness in a group of over a thousand people (that’s a good thing). As usual in these discussions, i’m left confused. On a personal level, i’ve tried high animal protein, high-fat diets and watched my cholesterol level rise through the roof. Still, i keep experimenting.

    Link to this
  17. 17. DCHealthnut 1:28 pm 05/20/2011

    As Taubes explains "masterfully" indeed, fat formation is not determined by "thermodynamics." It is basically controlled by insulin. The "calories in, calories out" paradigm of weight control is as misguided as the discredited notion of "dietary cholesterol causes blood cholesterol." Before dismissing Taubes, it really makes sense to read him.

    Link to this
  18. 18. ralphSci 1:58 pm 05/20/2011

    Just to clarify – in a couple of the links in the article, one study showed that carbs elevated triglycerides, but ONLY in those that had high triglycerides BEFORE the study, another showed that high fat increased blood glucose MORE than high carb – it’s blood glucose that’s associated of increasing the risk of atherosclerosis according to the NIH.

    Link to this
  19. 19. TTLG 2:26 pm 05/20/2011

    The bit about the Egyptian mummy is non-science. One example proves nothing. If the Egyptian high-carb diet was the direct cause of hardened arteries, then most mummies of middle-aged or older people would have them, not just one. Is that the case? Moreover, bread has been a major part of the diet of westerners for many centuries–which is why we call a family’s main wager-earner the "bread winner". So if there is a one-to-one correlation, it should also show up throughout western history, not just recently. Same sort of thing for China: a person’s source of income is referred to as their "rice bowl", so the same sort of characteristics should be found.

    Given the amount of hype and untrustworthy articles on the subject, I cannot blame the general public for their skepticism.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Trose 3:13 pm 05/20/2011

    xahrx and alkwi,

    I may not agree with everything that Taubes says, but I have to mention that Taubes does not try to violate the laws of thermodynamics. He has an undergraduate physics degree. He understands why people would think that his ideas in good calories vs bad calories would violate the 1st law specifically, and he explains why they don’t.

    His main point, with respect to the 1st law, is that there is no arrow of causality.

    dU = dQ-dW

    dU = change in internal energy = amount of energy reserves(fat, muscle) lost or gained

    dQ = heat added to the system = energy from digesting calories eaten

    dW = work done by the system = calories expended by exercise + calories to keep the body heated to ~98.6 degrees, + calories needed for digestion + calories used to keep many other processes in the body running

    Most people think about weight gain as if the right side is controlling the left side of the equation. If you have lower dQ (eat less) than dW (the amount of calories your body has burned) then your dU will be negative and you will have loss some energy reserves.

    If you look at the equation as if there is no arrow of causality from the left side to the right side (ask a physicist, there isn’t), then you could say that if dU is negative, then dW must be larger than dQ. You could also say that if something was controlling dU (such as hormones) then perhaps the left side of the equation could be causing changes in the right side of the equation…changes such as your body temperature rising, your body wanting to burn more calories so becoming more active, etc.

    This is completely plausible within the laws of thermodynamics.

    Link to this
  21. 21. Trose 3:19 pm 05/20/2011

    Woops, I meant to say that "If you look at the equation as if there is no arrow of causality from the RIGHT side to the LEFT side"

    Anyway, people will get the point that the equation itself does not imply an arrow of causality either way.

    Link to this
  22. 22. espayna 3:59 pm 05/20/2011

    On February 27,2011 after a visit to the Doctors Office and reviewing some Blood test results, which were not very good, I upon my Doctors suggestion went nearly completely to a Vegetable and Meat and Fish Diet. No Processed Foods, No chips, NO CORN, No Beef Jerky, No white Bread, Cereals, Helpers, etc. etc. Breaksfast is Oatmeal and Cinniamon, Lunch is homemade defatted Soup, chicken and beef or Progress Light Sodium, and an Apple. Dinner is Broiled or Roasted Fish, Beef, Chicken and various Vegetables,,No Turkey…Today I weighed in 22 pounds lighter and my blood chemistry was in better shape than it has in years. A number of Lumps and polyps have also disappeared from my body…and I feel good. I was aided by the Glycemic Diet obtained from Common Sense….So I agree with Mr. Taube’s Diet suggestions..I am not a scienctist but if their feeding Chickens, Cows, & Pigs grain & corn and it fattens them up, I suggest there is a corelation of some kind between grains especially commercially processed grains and fat..I was surprised to read on the Glycemic diet that Corn is a no, no, but it does contain sugar…I bascially avoided any and all food items that I possibly could that my body turns in sugar of any kind…and have been very successful..

    Link to this
  23. 23. jhaselti 6:50 pm 05/20/2011

    Scientific American, you are great at finding gurus who are willing to comment on popular topics. You are also great at stimulating debate. But you are not so great (it seems to me) at identifying true experts on such topics. I’d hope that as America’s premier magazine for popularizing science, you’d try to set a better example. Please put more emphasis on the science and less on the popular. Thanks.

    Link to this
  24. 24. zstansfi 8:44 pm 05/20/2011

    Excellent job. You’ve lined up a bunch of red herrings all in a row and knocked each one down!

    The developing consensus is that both carbs and fats are healthy when consumed in moderation and unhealthy in excess. This IS what the research is really saying. And this is the exact claim that others make when criticizing the Atkins’ diet/Taubes’ novels on the topic. Incidentally, this is the idea that John Horgan attempted to make. Not that carbs > fats. But that a diet which consists entirely of high fat foods does not make sense with what we know about metabolism. Acidosis, anyone? The fact that you read otherwise either demonstrates incompetence on your part or the more likely possibility that you have an agenda to push.

    And, honestly, who brought the mummy into this? Geez, what a ridiculous argument.

    Link to this
  25. 25. willtounderstand 9:56 pm 05/20/2011

    I would like to point you to a journal article I recently read that debunks the myth that "A calorie is a calorie" and would otherwise violate the laws of thermodynamics:

    Long story short, calories in foods are calculated by basically incinerating them and measuring the heat differential. There are some shortcuts for this process but that is the basic idea. This doesn’t make sense because your body is not an incinerator. Instead it breaks foods down into smaller components and those are then processed through many different metabolic pathways and subsequent chemical reactions. It would be quite strange if all these chemical reactions had no difference in energy consumed or generated. We also know from the second law of thermodynamics that no machine is 100% efficient and humans are not magically excluded from this. Is it really so unreasonable that metabolizing one kind of nutrient is more or less efficient than metabolizing another kind?

    Second, I also came across another interesting research article in which four groups of mice were placed on different diets and they came to the conclusion that mice on a ketogenic diet (very low carb, high fat) lost the same amount of bodyweight at 100% caloric intake as the other group of mice which were on a 66% caloric intake restricted diet. This article can be found here:

    Having read Good Calories, Bad Calories I did notice holes in some of the arguments and I think Horgan may be valid in saying "Different diets work for different people". However, the human is a very complex machine with millions of chemical processes going on and I’d like to see both sides try to avoid jumping to conclusions. Further study is required on all fronts.

    Link to this
  26. 26. fantasticfour 10:33 pm 05/20/2011

    I have only scanned the comments here, quickly, but it seems to me that everyone is neglecting what is probably one of the key points here: EXERCISE. We’ve all seen cartoons of Mummies and ancient royalty figures in which they are shown to be relaxing on a couch or chair, being fed fruits and breads while being fanned, and having slaves entertain them. Is there any reason to suspect this was not accurate? There are just as many people/cultures who THRIVE on starchy/carby whole food diets, throughout history and in the present. I see vast evidence to suggest that "processed carbs" cause obesity and disease, but that’s quite different from having unrefined carbohydrates/starches as a part of a well-balanced diet (which definitely included meats, in the case of egyptian mummies, probably exotic snakes!) The debate about "meat, fat, carbs" will carry-on, I have no doubt, but people seem to be neglecting what is likely the most vital change: Human beings used to MOVE 10 hours a day, pretty much every day…that’s our heritage. Our diets changed all the time because our location and climate changed, but our activity level was a constant. Seems likely to me that since we’ve gone from "10 hours a day of variable exercise" to "lucy to fit a 30-minute-walk-to-the-store" into our schedules, THAT is the main culprit in terms of these illnesses.

    Link to this
  27. 27. VeroniQue 10:39 pm 05/20/2011

    Excellent article Karen – saved me from constructing a Letter to the Editor. The vacuity permeating Horgan’s was quite a concern. Such writing is fine & expected for Huffblogs & their ilk, not for readers of ScAm (though from these "comment/ers" it appears that online readers are quite a different pool to probable print subscribers).

    Link to this
  28. 28. amberifical 4:41 am 05/21/2011

    So, studies showing that people who are vegan live longer, on average, than most people who eat meat are completely inaccurate?

    Link to this
  29. 29. iWind 10:19 am 05/21/2011

    One dead Egyptian princess says John Horgan is wrong – and two billion East Asians say he’s right…

    After Horgan’s unusually well-balanced article, this was a real let-down. Going to great lengths to explain how others are reluctant to accept evidence contrary to what is claimed to be their beliefs, only to cherry-pick whatever evidence supports your own claim, shouldn’t even have passed your own little internal editor.

    It’s quite easy to grow fat on meat, I managed 5 kg in a week not long ago, and I didn’t force myself, but that’s anecdotal. In fact compared with the massive evidence of worldwide statistics, controlled scientific dietary studies are generally little more than anecdotes.

    This is fine – as long as you don’t contradict more reliable data this may give you valuable insights into the specifics – but if a study or a theory claims that a diet rich in carbohydrates (without further qualification) makes you fat and/or is bad for your health, then, no matter how well designed and executed it is, it can be dismissed as easily as claims that the Earth is really flat, and that you’ll fall off the edge if you go beyond the lands where there be monsters.

    There are areas, where even extraordinary evidence would not be enough.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Mundasingh123 1:36 pm 05/21/2011

    Hi ire butter and mashed potatoes good fats ? They dont come under animal fats ? do they add to the waistline

    Link to this
  31. 31. fred hahn 4:48 pm 05/21/2011

    Good article Karen. I blogged on this very issue.

    Link to this
  32. 32. fred hahn 5:10 pm 05/21/2011

    The question is why? Why does someone who is obese eat too much? Does a 7 foot tall, 10 year old kid eat too much? Well, he sure eats more food than most 10 year olds. But would you say that he’s 7 feet tall because he over eats? Of course not. Yet, he does overeat. If you own a restaurant and it suddenly became packed and you wanted to know why, what would you say if someone told you your restaurant was packed because more people came in the door than before? You know that, you want to know WHY. That is exactly what you are saying when you say that fat people are fat because they eat too much. This tells us nothing.

    Link to this
  33. 33. khklein 9:28 pm 05/21/2011

    If this article is about personal experience, which it seems to be, I recently cut out animal fats from my diet, increased carbs from plant sources, lost 25 pounds and am close to the weight medical charts recommend. I have been able to maintain this almost ideal weight for more than two years. In my experience, fat is fat, protein is protein and carbs are carbs. It just makes sense to get your fats and carbs from plants instead of trying to justify raising and killing animals which is a tremendous burden on the planet. I don’t consider the above statements to be fact, unlike the article. I hope my experience can be considered with the rest of the evidence that a plant based diet is more healthful than an animal based diet and we can work towards a planet that that is friendly and considerate of all living beings.

    Link to this
  34. 34. lcuddy 9:38 pm 05/21/2011

    I grow tired of seeing people labeling Taubes’ claims "ridiculous" by pointing to this weightology weekly link. The writer there uses a lot of charts and, admittedly, some truthful science. But his/her conclusions should be called into question because the writer is still operating under the calories in/out model. Here are just two examples from the article:

    "One problem with refined carbohydrate is a problem of energy density. With refined carbohydrate, it is easier to pack a lot of calories into a small package."

    "… if you’re on a low carbohydrate diet, you still need to eat less calories than you expend to lose weight."

    These quotes, as the entire linked article, assume the calories in/out paradigm to be true (an assumption this Sci-Am article is calling nutritionists out for). Taubes provides a convincing argument against this model based on logic and evidence. Where is the evidence that calories in/out is true? I’d like to see someone answer that question without simply restating the law of thermodynamics…

    Link to this
  35. 35. danielbrown 3:23 am 05/22/2011


    A big part of the argument in the anti-carb camp is that thinking of obesity in terms of thermodynamics is too simplistic.

    It turns out that fat tissue is an active endocrine organ, and the more fat tissue you have the hungrier you will be. Also, carbs don’t give one the same feeling of satiation as protein and fat do, causing one to eat more.

    Its not as simple as calories in/ calories out. Different calories impact our eating behavior in different ways.

    A big part of the anti-carb argument that Taub admittedly didn’t make clear enough in his work, is that a high carb diet is necessarily a higher calorie diet because of carbs don’t satiate the way protein and fat do.

    Link to this
  36. 36. Ungolythe 2:48 pm 05/22/2011

    In the mid nineties I was a participant in a study on the effects of diet and mild exercise on people who work on nightshift. The microbiologist conducting the study gave us some dietary guidelines that certainly seemed like commone sense and still does. We kept a journal of everything we ate and he would give us advice on a weekly basis. He preached eating lean meats in smaller proportions that we were used to. He told us to minimize very fatty foods and very processed carbs. We could go to a place like Wendy’s and order a grilled chicken sandwich but we were advised to not eat the bun because of the carbs. Foods like brocolli and spinach which are nutrient dense were stressed. If we were to eat bread it had to be dense, whole grain bread and we were still advised to limit that. The crux of the diet plan was one of balance. Yes, the protein and heme iron found in certain meats are good for your body but you don’t need to eat a 16 oz. steak. Another idea in the diet was to consume quite a bit of calories. This was counter-intuitive but the idea was to eat 5 smaller meals a day, eat nutrient and calorie dense foods like yams. But it was a must to engage in some form of physical activity to build up some muscle and stamina. The idea being that by gaining muscle you will burn more of the calories you are consuming. Severely restricting your calorie intake would induce metabolic changes where your body will also burn fewer calories. This along with some mild exercise actually produced some good results. We lost some fat, gained some muscle and our overall "bad" cholesterol levels decreased. So perhaps the idea isn’t so hard after all. Eat good nutrient dense food, exercise more, stay away from overly processed foods like white bread and donuts and eat smaller portions of lean proteins.

    Link to this
  37. 37. Dasein 4:11 pm 05/22/2011

    "My reading led me to believe that sugars and grains in my diet were the culprit and, sure enough, once I cut those out and increased the amount of animal fats in my diet, I lost 50 pounds. (I always had and continued to eat a lot of vegetables, too.) I have never felt more energetic or clear-headed".
    How many calories were you ingesting before and after?
    How active were you before and after?
    While on the whole I agree with you, there are so many other factors, tha t I cannot share your conviction.

    Link to this
  38. 38. Dasein 4:12 pm 05/22/2011

    How do you eat a grilled cheese without eating the bread??

    Link to this
  39. 39. Cramer 5:03 pm 05/22/2011


    Carbs with a lot of fiber are filling. Oatmeal does this very well (typically about 15% fiber by weight).

    Link to this
  40. 40. robert schmidt 9:50 pm 05/22/2011

    The day is not too far off that you will be able to buy a device that you stick your finger in and it will tell you what you should eat. By passing light through your tissue it will be able to read the various components of your blood and suggest that you need more; carbs, fat, protein, vitamin c, calcium, etc. Still, you’ll have to chose to eat that and not another bag of chips or candy bar. Still, it would take some of the gues work out of this being human stuff.

    Link to this
  41. 41. beabinag 2:59 am 05/24/2011

    khklein, the idea that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie is a very wrong and diminishes a lot of fundamentals of biochemistry. We have a very complex system of metabolism that utilizes different food sources in different methods of action. A carb is a carb, a fat is a fat, and a protein is a protein – but they are VERY different chemically and what each macronutrient does to our body, and now we are seeing the unfortunate outcome of diseases that are caused by our dysfunctional metabolism to carbohydrates due to over consumption.

    Link to this
  42. 42. KazLaJauna 12:24 pm 06/16/2011
    This is a classroom lecture from Stanford University (2008) about the "Battle of the Diets" where Atkins came out way ahead of all the low fat/high carb diets in lipid panel correction! If you want to be educated you have to be willing to learn.

    Link to this
  43. 43. KazLaJauna 12:31 pm 06/16/2011

    But is your lipid panel improved? The studies are now showing that low fat/higher carb diets are actually raising your triglycerides and lowering your HDL cholesterol, both of those cause heart disease and clogged arteries. Skinny but sick.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article