Insulin MoleculeIn the first of several posts on Gary Taubes’ new book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, I focus on the very brief introduction to the book where he sets out his central premises that explain the central issue raised in the title: why *do* we get fat?

They are stated very simply. So simply they may be hard to grasp. Here they go:

  1. When Insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue; when these levels fall, we liberate fat from the fat tissue and burn it for fuel
  2. Our insulin levels are effectively determined by the carbohydrates we eat – not entirely, but for all intents and purposes.

Simple, right?

What’s missing: talk of calories expended or calories consumed. the need for fat-burning exercise, staying just a little bit hungry all the time. All these assumptions will be addressed systematically, but the two paragraphs above essentially explain the ‘Why" to the whole getting fat thing.

There is one more section in the introduction that bears pulling out here:

The science tells us that obesity is ultimately the result of a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one – specifically, the stimulation of insulin secretion caused by eating easily-digestible, carbohydrate-rich foods

Just like the body ‘grows’ early in life in response to hormonal cues (i.e. the presence of growth hormone), fat tissue ‘grows’ later in life in response to hormonal changes (principally, insulin).

Next Post: Section 1: dismantling the going assumptions


I’ve been scolded repeatedly over the last month or so about the unconscionable neglect of my blog. What can I tell you? Well, I’m back now!

Not that I’ve been waiting for an excuse to blog. There has been a lot to say, just hadn’t gotten around to saying it. However, the big impetus for me has been the release of the most anticipated book on nutrition in the last couple of years. I’ve posted regularly on the work of Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories. At the risk of repeating myself, GC, BC was a turning point for me in that it opened my eyes to a completely new way of looking at diet and nutrition, and did so in a thorough and convincing way. While the book was not a diet book (no recopies there) I changed my diet to adhere to the general principles laid out in the book (eating meats and leafy vegetables until satisfied, eliminating sugars and starches, limiting fruit, etc.) and lost 20 pounds without any additional changes (i.e. no exercise).

While I still recommend GC, BC, it is admittedly a challenge to take on. It’s over 600 very densely-packed pages with lots of biology, biochemistry and medical terminology. Of all those to whom I’ve recommended the book, only a handful (3?) have reported they actually read it. Given it was so important and influential, Gary (we’re on a first-name basis, these days) got repeated requests for a ‘readers-digest’ version of GC, BC that more people would actually read.

In December, the much anticipated condensed release of the last ten years of Gary’s work was published:

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Borzoi Books)
The much-anticipated condensed version of the groundbreaking work begun almost ten years ago with his New York Times "Big Fat Lie" article and the epic "Good Calories, Bad Calories."

For all the times I’ve recommended GC, BC, replace that recommendation with Why We Get Fat. Not only is the book much more condensed and simplified, it also has the benefit of the previous three years since GC, BC was published. The message is essentially the same – just re-emphasized:

  • The principal driver of fat storage is chronic insulin elevation and chronic insulin elevation is driven by consumption easily-digestible carbohydrates
  • The presumption ‘calories-in, calories-out’ is the principle explanation of why we get fat is an over-simplification and says nothing about a causal relationship between what we eat and why we get fat

That’s enough for this post as I plan to have a series of posts on this book planned. It’s that important.

More very soon.

First of the passel of ‘sugar’ books I heartily recommend:

Beat Sugar Addiction Now!: The Cutting-Edge Program That Cures Your Type of Sugar Addiction and Puts You on the Road to Feeling Great – and Losing Weight!

Wish authors didn’t have to play the tabloid headline game with their book titles. Makes serious books look silly. This one is pretty serious.

While the author does focus primarily on the syndromes and conditions that emerge out of sugar addiction, there’s also a *lot* of really great education about what happens to your body hormonally and metabolically and when you consume sugar (of course, when I say ‘sugar’ I mean the whole gamut of sweeteners). He offers a useful breakdown of ‘types’ of sugar addiction that relate to specific responses (adrenal fatigue/distress, yeast overgrowth, etc.). He also approaches the issue from the specific medical conditions. This section I found especially useful and insightful. If any of these conditions means anything to you, you ought to consider reading this book:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia
  • Depression
  • Diabetes/Metabolic Syndrome
  • Heart Disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome/Spastic colon
  • Migraines and Tension Headaches
  • Obesity
  • Sinusitis

Another general area I appreciated was the way he encouraged the use of appropriate dietary supplements, acknowledging that when you’re trying to right a listing ship, you need to take more activist measures than ‘staying the course.’ Diet alone – especially given our modern patterns of food production/distribution/consumption – just won’t do it. One can imagine it might be a little too much for some, but I believe he erred in the right direction.

While I heartily recommend the book and I learned *a lot* reading it, as is my wont, there are a few things I’d change:

  • It’s great that he references the importance of vitamin D for overall health and specifically as it relates to the conditions that are associated with high sugar intake. His advice, though, is pretty lame. He basically says ‘don’t be afraid of the sun.’ Which is fine if you live in a non-industrialized location the tropics and you are regularly outside in the mid-day throughout the year. Most of the readers of his book would see no appreciable improvement in their vitamin D status by taking his advice. He’s clearly not up on the research in that area (see more).
  • Surprised that he is totally supportive of various sugar alcohols (erythritol especially) as sweetener alternatives. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but it surprised me nonetheless.
  • Gives processed fructose a free ride by not citing the highly toxic effects of processed fructose (see Dr. Lustig).
  • He cites a number of published studies and books, but did not take the trouble to include a bibliography or a list of references to the studies cited. In some cases, I was not able to find the studies he cited in either Pubmed or PLoS. I find that more than a little suspicious.

Even with these reservations, I strongly recommend the book. You will certainly learn something new.

UPDATE: Just happens my good buddy, Jimmy Moore, just recently interviewed the author and the audio may be obtained here.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I committed to continuing down this path on sugar. Given there are so many books on the subject, I thought it would be good to just start with the body of work that’s already out there.

First two books I decided to tackle are Sugar Shock and Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Diet (see my previous post for a bit more info in each).

This one is going to be short and sweet. A tepid thumbs up on Sugar Shock, Dr. Gott, not so much.

Sugar Shock reads like a collection of Cosmo articles. Most of the topics are handled as stand-alone bits that you can just jump into at any point and read, which has its advantages if you’re reaching out to those (like Cosmo readers … sorry) who are not likely to read a full-length narrative on a subject area this involved. The flip side of that advantage, though, is that you wind up covering a lot of the same ground over … and over … again. Not really my cup of tea.

Taking it in the context for which it was intended, though, the author manages to get a lot of really useful information into that format. For example, her emphasis on the ‘see-saw’ nature of insulin and glucagon (both secreted by the pancreas, with the former promoting fat storage and the latter promoting fat mobilization) is one that the big boys (Taubes, Bowden, Weston, etc.) only gloss over. That was a good takeaway. Ms. Bennett also includes some very useful tables. One that leaps to mind is one that describes the various types of sweeteners out there and what their respective pros and cons (mostly cons) are. I’d take the time to read this one.

Dr. Gott, on the other hand, is stuck in the lipid hypothesis and is clearly not up on the latest clinical research on diet. This is even the case related to the research that supports his approach. My personal ‘net’ takeaway is he advises both a low-carb (although he would be loathe to refer to it that way) *and* a low-fat diet. That simply is not a workable, long-term approach to nutrition, in my opinion.

Not that I’m saying he is not having a positive impact on his patients. Just getting the sugar and white flour out goes a very long way. It’s just that most of the rest of his advice is coming from a 25-year-old time capsule.

Just picked up Beat Sugar Addiction and it’s looking very promising. That’ll be the next one I take on.


Truth and deep truth

October 25, 2010

There are times when a passage just stops me in my tracks. This happened tonight as I was reading a book that, it can be fairly said, has nothing to do with this blog (or if it did, it so blindly accepted the caloric balance premise that it was laughable – but I digress).

Neils BohrThe book is Decoding Reality: the universe as quantum information by Vlatcko Vedral. If the title intrigues you, I think you’ll find it a worthwhile read. The main idea of the book is that the existence of the universe may be expressed as information and that information is the only ‘thing’ that does not require another ‘thing’ for it to exist. I’m sure the author would laugh that one off pretty well, but if you do read the book, please let me know if that’s not an apt one-sentence summation.

Back ‘on topic’ for this ‘off topic’ post: it’s not all the absolutely mindboggling things the author wrote, it’s his quote of Neils Bohr that stunned me:

A shallow truth is a statement whose opposite is false; a deep truth is a statement whose opposite is also a deep truth

… and so you may fairly ask what is such a quote doing on a health blog – I don’t really have an answer – except to say it echoes a recurring theme I play and re-play in my thoughts a lot. It’s a variation on the idea that ‘within every great truth lies a paradox.’ If that is true, then those who tend to see paradoxes as mere contradictions are at a severe loss.

Maybe it’s the germ of the next blog that has been gestating for a while, who knows. Hope somebody gets as much out of it as I did.

A Sugar Reading List

October 24, 2010

My recent post on sugar got me thinking more seriously about the topic – just as I’ve noticed my stress-related consumption of the poison has taken an upward trend as of late (another topic actually, perhaps a post …).

So I raided my local library’s shelves for all the books currently available on sugar (online holds are a great thing) that might help me with this series of posts.

Here are a few of them for your consideration. In the coming weeks, I’ll pick a few and write more in depth posts on each.

Suicide By Sugar: A Startling Look at Our #1 National Addiction
My first glance at this one shows that there’s a lot of focus on the addiction element of the problem, given the author self-identifies as a recovered sugar addict (having ‘kicked it’ in the 1970’s).
Potatoes Not Prozac, A Natural Seven-Step Dietary Plan to Stabilize the Level of Sugar in Your Blood, Control Your Cravings and Lose Weight, and Recognize How Foods Affect the Way You Feel
Again, heavy on the addiction/sensitivity angle. While I’m not a big fan of potatoes as a rule, I’m inclined to think that they top a daily dose of prozac. this
Get the Sugar Out, Revised and Updated 2nd Edition: 501 Simple Ways to Cut the Sugar Out of Any Diet
Heh. Sugar and it’s Kissing Cousins, is a title of one of the chapters.
Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Diet
Don’t know Dr. Gott from Dr. John, but I figured I’d take a look at what he has to say. The "No Flour, No Sugar" part intrigued me.
Sugar Shock!: How Sweets and Simple Carbs Can Derail Your Life– and How YouCan Get Back on Track
A couple of my favorites, Nicholas Perricone and Stephen Sinatra lent hands on this one, so it started out as a favorite. After a quick scan, I find that it takes on the ‘sugar is natural’ argument head on and highlights how traditional sugar is no less processed than it’s more modern ‘kissing cousin’ HFCS.
I think this one goes to the top of the list.
Beat Sugar Addiction Now!: The Cutting-Edge Program That Cures Your Type of Sugar Addiction and Puts You on the Road to Feeling Great – and Losing Weight!
This one is sitting at the library waiting for me, so I haven’t peeked at it yet.
The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program
Same author as ‘Potatoes not Prozac.’ Will pick this one up once it becomes available. As of this writing, I’m in position six on the hold list.

Well, it’s always a good time to think about vitamin D, but since we’re heading into November fast, its now that those great vitamin D levels of the summer (that is, if you actually got out into the sun this summer) start waning. Vitamin D is used in a myriad of mechanisms throughout the body. Since you’re been paying attention to this blog, you know how important it is.

The ‘new’ things in this post aren’t all that different than what you’ve been hearing me harp on for months now, but I did come across a few things I hadn’t seen:

Keep that 25 (OH) Vitamin D level above 40ng/ml. You can thank me later.