Good Calories, Bad Calories

After a period of reading another couple of books, I have just picked back up on Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories once again over the last couple of days.

You know what? This is an amazing work on general grounds. Taubes is a consummate and meticulous advocate of the scientific method; i.e., you first form a hypothesis and then do your honest, dead level best to refute it. To the extent you fail time after time, the hypothesis gets stronger and stronger because you are systematically eliminating everything that can be speculated to count against it. It's the only valid way to do science. You can't "confirm" a hypothesis in the sense of coming up with conditions under which it holds, for no matter if it holds under a million such conditions, you need but one to obliterate it.

The depth and research into this book is amazing. No wonder it took five years to write. In a nutshell, you have the Ancel Keyes fat-cholesterol-heart hypothesis that just won't die, which is itself based upon his flawed Seven Countries Study. From the Wikipedia article:

These studies found strong associations between the CVD rate of a population and average serum cholesterol and per capita intake of saturated fatty acids. Then, as now, critics have rightfully pointed out that this "strong association" vanishes when data from other countries are added to the mix and there have been allegations that Keys "cherry picked" the data to support his hypothesis.

I might have to eventually go and create a table to keep track of it all, but since then, there is study after study after study, and not for the purpose of attempting to falsify the flawed, cherry-picked study, but rather to "confirm" it. And how do they attempt to do that? By designing other flawed studies with multiple factor variation, i.e., so that a failure to confirm can be attributed to ambiguity. Even then, they have not been able to confirm anything. Those studies that fail to find any correlation between fat, cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and so on are "disappointing." Those that show higher fat consumption correlated to lower heart disease and cancer (such studies exist) are dismissed. They may show up in a journal, but never get reported in the mainstream. If by chance they do, they are attacked vigorously by the "medical" establishment. Over and over.

Anyway, that's my report after only getting about a third of the way through. But I do agree with one blogger who wrote that Taubes ought to take on anthropogenic global warming next. Principally, it is the exact same thing going on.

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Richard Nikoley

I started writing Free The Animal in late 2003 as just a little thing to try. 20 years later, turns out I've written over 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from diet, health, philosophy, politics, social antagonism, adventure travel, expat living, location and time independent—while you sleep— income by geoarbitrage, and food pics. I intended to travel the world "homeless," but the Covidiocy Panicdemic squashed that. I became an American expat living in Thailand. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. ... I leave the toilet seat up. Read More


  1. Kyle Bennett on April 28, 2008 at 20:14


    Read this:

    Not much that's new, but more detail. And it shows that the idea is slowly breaking into the mainstream. Ancel Keys has a lot in common with Rachel Carlson.

  2. Richard Nikoley on April 28, 2008 at 22:29


    Not sure if you have GCBC, or plan to read it, but all those studies are covered in pretty good depth by Taubes. That, and more.

    Right now (I can't put this thing down), I've been reading excerpts from journals of physicians who worked in the far corners of the earth in the 1800s and very early 1900s when there were still lots of peoples untouched by western civilization. These physicians note, over and over, covering years — sometimes decades — seeing ZERO cases of cancer, and we're talking populations of tens of thousands. Also, no appendicitis, ulcers, diabetes, GI stuff, and a whole host of other diseases. Virtually none.

    You can read quotes by researchers as early as 1913 that CONCLUDE that the simple, common denominator problem all boils down to refined carbs.

    To them, I suppose, it was obvious. Here, they were exposed to populations of tens and hundreds of thousands virtually free of all the diseases they had gove to medical school to treat. Must have been dramatic.

    Taubes' is a work of lost knowledge. No; suppressed. I can't for the life of me understand the motivation. The agricultural industry? Doubtful. How about the fact that you get 8-10 times the calories per acre by eating the grains than by feeding the grains to animals and then consuming the animals? Certainly, if everyone suddenly dumped refined carbs and wanted to eat meat, the geopolitcal implications would be staggering.

    You know what I think it is? Doctors want to "practice" medicine, they don't want to be nutritionists. They are conditioned to think that the best strategy is to manage health problems with drugs, not avoid them in the first place.

    That said, the drug strategies ought to be pursued. I'd be perfectly happy to be able to eat what the hell I wanted, in whatever quantities and take a pill of inject some nanites to make everything hunky dory.

    Until then, well, you know what I'm up to.

  3. Justin on April 29, 2008 at 09:49

    I never would have predicted that GCBC would be such a riveting read, but for me, I could hardly put it down. And like you said, Taubes is incredibly thorough leaving no stone unturned.

    Anyway, armed with the knowledge I gleaned from Taubes, I can actually explain in detail many of the reasons that low-carb is the way to go. I've already loaned the book out to a sibling and bought it for another.

    I think it's a "must read" for diets.

    And I, too, had the thought that Taubes should tackle global warming next.

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