A new book by Gary Taubes is making me ponder what I know about eating, weight and disease. In “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” Taubes asserts that there’s no scientific evidence that cholesterol and fat cause heart disease, or that overeating and laziness cause obesity. Nutrition, he says, purports to be a science but functions like a religion, where theories are not tested but become cemented into dogma.
The Eisenhower Paradox: Ike dieted after his heart attack, exercised and ate no fat, yet his cholesterol kept rising and he died of heart disease.
The book’s title is misleading, making it sound like a new diet fad. Barbara Ehrenreich says it might be called “The Great Low-Fat Diet Hoax.” Since the 50s, Taubes writes, scientists, the AMA, the surgeon general, the American Heart Assoc. and the USDA have urged Americans to eat less fat and lower their cholesterol to prevent heart disease. In fact, since the 60s, Americans have made an effort to eat less fat and there’s been a 30% reduction in high cholesterol levels, yet the incidence of heart disease has not gone down, and obesity and diabetes have risen at alarming rates. One in three Americans today is clinically obese.
Taubes advances the alternative hypothesis: that carbohydrates, especially starchy foods and sugar, are the cause and should be limited. But he acknowledges that there’s no scientific evidence yet to support that theory either.