Scientific American: Which One WIll Make You Fat?

The September 2013 issue of Scientific American was all about food. There were some solid articles including one on page 26 by Gary Stix entitled The Case for Milk Is Going Sour. This article cites milk's association with IGF1 and cancer.

However, the worst article of the bunch was by Gary Taubes entitled "Which One Will Make You Fat?" In this article, Taubes describes how he has organized a $40M study to determine what causes fat accumulation: excess calories, or too much carbohydrates. The study will take overweight and obese people who eat 35 percent fat and jump them up to 80 percent fat (yikes - keep the defibrillator handy) and see if they gain or lose weight. However, the key phrase that caused me to respond is here: "The idea is not to test whether this diet is healthy or sustainable for a lifetime..." Here is my response:

The Wrong Question

The right nutrition question is “What should we eat to have the longest, healthiest life?” Instead, author Gary Taubes is asking “What should we eat to lose weight?” There are many ways to lose weight, and still be sick and die. I know this first hand after losing 25 lbs. and then suffering cardiac arrest. The Arnold Foundation doesn’t need to spend $40M to show that you can lose weight with a high-fat low-carbohydrate Atkins-type diet. That has already been proven. Many Atkins dieters lose weight and then die of heart disease. Taubes’s ill-conceived study isn’t even designed to measure health or longevity. So when his study shows that one can lose weight with an low-carb diet, he will argue that obese people should go on a low-carb diet because obesity is correlated with many fatal diseases. However, a low-carb diet changes that correlation. There are plenty of thin people who die of heart disease. Remember Jim Fixx?

When you ask the right question, the answer is clear. In my intense study of research results ( a consistent pattern has emerged. A whole-food plant-based diet low in fat and high in carbs results in the total elimination of heart disease and dramatic reduction and/or reversal of type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and about 30 other diseases. And as a nice side effect, obese and overweight people lose weight, often in a dramatic fashion.

Applying $40M to nutrition research could be a great thing. But under Taubes direction, it will most likely result in a confusing and misleading result because it is asking the wrong question. And Taubes chose to name his new non-profit organization The Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI – pronounced new-see) that is similar to the name of my older non-profit organization The Nutrition Science Foundation (NuSci – pronounced new-sigh). Despite the similarity, I hope that the public will turn to NuSI if they want to lose weight, regardless of the health consequences, and that they will turn to NuSci if they want a long healthy life.

John Tanner, Ph.D.
Director, NuSci, The Nutrition Science Foundation
(626) 872-4050

Note: An edited-down version of my above response appeared in the January 2014 printed issue of Scientific American and on their web site.

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