The Quality of Calories: What Makes Us Fat and Why Nobody Seems to Care
By Gary Taubes
Review by Tim Boyd
Gary Taubes gave this presentation at UC Berkeley in November, 2007 in an attempt to challenge the paradigm accepted among experts on why we get fat. The current paradigm states that in order to lose weight, we need to eat less and exercise more. Mr. Taubes has noticed that we’ve been trying that for one hundred years and it isn’t working.
Taubes examines other popular theories that attempt to explain obesity. The first is genetics. That one is quickly disposed of by looking at how fast obesity rates have shot up in recent history in the U.S. In less than a generation, obesity rates skyrocketed. Nobody believes human genetics can change that fast.
So, is excess weight due to excess prosperity? Do we get rich, then start eating too much rich, fatty food and play too many video games? Many seem to think that is what happened in the U.S. Taubes spends some time surveying evidence to refute that theory from around the world. “Fat Louisa” was a Pima Indian living in 1902 who was significantly overweight. So were many of her people at that time. They lived on the government reservation and were destitute. Before confinement to the reservation they were a very affluent people and almost never overweight. After a fairly detailed tour of the world, looking at Sioux, Zulu, Apaches, African-Americans, Bantu, Cherokee, Jamaicans, Europeans and many others, a pattern emerges. Being poor is much more commonly associated with being obese than being rich and having unlimited access to rich food full of saturated fat. So much for the prosperity-equals-obesity theory.
After examining in detail the science of fat metabolism, Taubes suggests a theory that fits all the facts. Studies show that under certain circumstances animals can eat unlimited quantities of food and not gain weight. Under other circumstances, they can eat almost nothing and get fat. Something controls fat accumulation independent of how much is eaten or how much exercise is done. That something is insulin. He notes that insulin production is triggered by carbohydrate intake, not fat. Counting calories in a reducing diet doesn’t work because all calories are not equal.
Taubes has spoken with experts who have published the details showing the connection between carbohydrates, insulin and weight gain. He asked what makes us fat. He got answers like: we eat too much; we’re too sedentary. Old habits and paradigms are apparently hard to break. Gary Taubes presents very well and is very interesting. I give this presentation a thumbs up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2009.