The “fat is bad myth”

December 12, 2010

Gary Taubes, an award-winning journalist and professional writer, wrote a groundbreaking book entitled, “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.   While the book is a little dense with scientific references and technical language, if you are serious about healthy living, you HAVE to read this book.

The basic premises of the book are quite simple, but very counterintuitive and counter to what most of us have been taught.

First, Taubes argues that the dramatic increases in diabetes and heart disease in western cultures is not due to increased consumption of saturated fats or cholesterol, but is in fact due to the significant consumption of processed carbohydrates.

Second, Taubes claims that the correlations between LDL and HDL cholesterol levels (in addition to consumption of foods containing cholesterol) and likelihood of heart disease are not only incorrect, but potentially dangerous.

In the book, Taubes examines both the science and history of the western understanding of nutrition.

This book defies our traditional understanding about diet, weight control, and disease. For ages, we have been taught that fat is bad for us, carbohydrates are better.

But these views were countered by Taubes who argued that the real problem lies in refined carbohydrates, especially sugar because of their dramatic and long term effects on insulin.

By focusing on good calories and cutting out the bad calories in our lives, it would be easier to lose weight and stay healthy. Good calories came from foods without easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars.

These foods are meat, fish, fowl, cheese, eggs, butter, and non-starchy vegetables. On the other hand, bad calories came from foods that stimulate excessive insulin secretion, thus, making affecting our bodies’ abilities to manage excess weight and increasing the risk of having chronic diseases.

These foods are the all refined and easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars. The main point here is not how much vitamins and minerals they contain, but how fast they are digested by the human body. Examples of these include bread and other baked goods, potatoes, yams, rice, pasta, cereal grains, corn, sugar, cakes, ice cream, candy, soft drinks, fruit juices, bananas and other tropical fruits, and beer.

Taubes emphasizes that the scientific research supporting the hypothesis that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease is suspect – often starting from the assumption that this must be true.

In fact, he concludes dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not have a direct correlative relationship with heart disease.  He argues that refined carbohydrates are much more to blame because of their effect on the hormone insulin.

Actually, the more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates are and the more fructose they have, the greater their adverse effect on our health, weight, and well-being.

Sugar, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup in particular, are harmful to our body because glucose from these sugars raises insulin levels and the fructose they contain overloads the liver.

In addition, other chronic diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases in the modern times are likely caused by refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars. Much of this stems from research into the history of these diseases in cultures – compared to their diets.

He further concludes that exercise alone does not make us lose excess fat, which is obviously contrary to what we know. According to the book, exercise makes us hungry, thus, we eat more foods. If we consume foods that increase our insulin levels, we’re likely to cause the hormonal imbalance that results in the body storing up calories as fat. But when insulin levels are dropped, our bodies begin to burn fat for fuel. Furthermore, by stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. Therefore, he stresses that the fewer refined carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.


Taubes, G. (2007). Good Calories, Bad Calories. United States: Alfred A. Knopf.


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