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Mummies and Carbohydrates
Old 05-24-2011, 10:02 AM   #1
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Mummies and Carbohydrates

This article from Scientific American talks about how "over-reliance on personal experience and a resistance to information that contradicts our beliefs" can cause erroneous conclusions.

Observations: Mummy Says John Horgan Is Wrong about Fat and Carbs in Food
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Old 05-24-2011, 10:40 AM   #2
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Thomas Kuhn comes to mind. Science isn't going to change its mind until the majority of scientists who were raised with the good carbohydrates theory retire.
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Old 05-24-2011, 10:47 AM   #3
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My mummy said cookies are good for you.

Interesting article and interesting source article that it critiques. And the comments are also enlightening.
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Old 05-24-2011, 11:19 AM   #4
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I eat like Taubes, but I also think that Mr. Horgan has very usful things to say. I enjoyed this Taubes article that he linked, which pretty well explains why this is no area for true-believers.

Diet - Lifestyle - Disease - Health - Medicine - H.R.T. - Hormone-Replacement Therapy - New York Times

Regarding personal experience, I think it is a good guide, provided one follows it himself and doesn't it make the basis for prescriptions for large groups of other people. IMO the main fault with much of post 1960s public health advocacy is that the "medical authorities" let arrogance and careerism run far ahead of the limits of the available knowledge.

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Old 05-24-2011, 12:55 PM   #5
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Thomas Kuhn comes to mind. Science isn't going to change its mind until the majority of scientists who were raised with the good carbohydrates theory retire.
Yes, and for very good reason. Science advances through the clash of theories. If scientists had open minds, there wouldn't be anything to fight about.
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Old 05-24-2011, 05:08 PM   #6
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Fascinating article! Thanks for posting the link.

I tend to agree with the person who responded that eating less on a well balanced diet is more important than following either a low fat or low carb diet.

Those of us who must get bloodwork done every six months for various reasons are really lucky, because we can see the results of our diet and exercise on our bloodwork values. I did notice that losing weight has improved my blood work despite not sticking to low carb (or low fat). Interesting. Perhaps a wider variety in foods has some importance to health for omnivores like us.
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Old 05-24-2011, 10:18 PM   #7
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So now we are trying to draw the conclusion that a low fat diet is bad based on what they found in one mummy?

Quote:
... performed a CT scan on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy express their puzzlement that this ancient princess had advanced atherosclerosis (hardened arteries) despite her civilization’s “healthy” diet that included wheat, barley, bread and beer—and only small amounts of meat.
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"over-reliance on personal experience and a resistance to information that contradicts our beliefs" can cause erroneous conclusions.
Indeed. Pot calling the kettle black?

And there was the runner who died of a heart attack, and that naturalist guy ("many parts of a pine tree are edible") that died of 'natural causes'. So we can 'prove' anything with a small enough sample.

I've read some of the stuff from Taubes and Atkins. What I don't get is, if what they are saying is so obviously right, why does it seem they need to cherry pick their data, and ignore anything that might conflict (Okinawa diet). I don't have any reason to favor one diet over another, so why am I not convinced?

FWIW, I just eat a mix of foods, I only limit refined carbs. I'm just not that much of a 'sweets' person. Dark Chocolate (prefer 85%), enjoyed some rib-eyes on the grill tonight with nice marbling ( no tenderizer needed), washed down with a few hoppy home brews.

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Old 05-24-2011, 10:57 PM   #8
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I think Taubes is clear that many people do fine on a high carb diet. This is obviously true, look at almost any Asian.

However, America and to a lesser extent the rest of the West is having a diabetes and obesity epidemic. There is a reason for this, and from the timing and the concurrency with low fat public health campaigns the cause is not likely to be fat.

Ha
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Old 05-25-2011, 08:28 AM   #9
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We need to start mummifying some people so future civilizations can study our diet.
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Old 05-25-2011, 08:40 AM   #10
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I think Taubes is clear that many people do fine on a high carb diet. This is obviously true, look at almost any Asian.
Well, I recall looking for that acknowledgment in the earlier books by Atkins & Taubes, and I don't recall finding it. It was one of the things that turned me off to their presentation. And as I've tried to say each time, that does not mean they are wrong, but it does leave me wondering - are they trying to hide something, why not address this? Is this an 'inconvenient truth' to their low carb pitch?


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However, America and to a lesser extent the rest of the West is having a diabetes and obesity epidemic. There is a reason for this, and from the timing and the concurrency with low fat public health campaigns the cause is not likely to be fat.

Ha
I do recall this line of thinking from Taubes, and I think it has major holes in it. Yes, there was a low-fat campaign and plenty of marketing trying to ride that train. But it is incomplete, and I don't think his conclusions follow:

1) Did people actually reduce their fat intake? Looking at Big Mac and french fry consumption, I'm not sure this was the case.

2) To the degree that they may have cut fat, did they just substitute other calories? When I was a kid, we would have been shocked at the size of soft drinks today. We probably would have thought it was a joke. I think I understand enough to see that cutting some fat, but loading up on refined carbs (likely increasing the total calorie intake in the process) is not going to lead to weight loss.

From Coca-Cola history:

Quote:
1950s … Packaging innovations
For the first time, consumers had choices of Coca-Cola package size and type -- the traditional 6.5-ounce contour bottle,
6.5 ounces! The SMALLEST cola drink you can buy at McD's today is 21 ounces, over 3x the size. People would laugh at a 6.5 ounce drink today, even 12 ounces would look puny. Personally, my favorite beverages are served in 12 and 16 ounce sizes

And I recall the standard McDonald's offering was the single burger. And we didn't order three of them. Now the standard seems to be the Big Mac, fries, huge drink, and get 'em supersized. I think calories (and likely refined sugar calories) have increased, and this is likely a bigger factor than the balance of fat to less-refined carbs.

We've had a 'get out and exercise' campaign since the Kennedy administration, and plenty of marketing support. Using this 'low fat campaign' logic, I can blame obesity/diabetes on exercise.

What I recall from Taubes book, there were tons of graphs and 'data', but it struck me as just trying to dazzle people with a bunch of important looking numbers. It never seemed to really make a case for much of anything.

It also seems to me that studies show people don't really do better long term on these types of carb restricted diets. If there is a good study out there, maybe I missed it. I'm open to these ideas, it's just that Taubes and Atkins don't package their message in a way that resonates with me, and several things about their approach makes me very skeptical. Again, does not mean they are wrong.

And of course, if an individual has evidence (blood tests, tried going on/off with consistent results) that it works for them, and they can stick with the diet, they have their answer. But if it is true for the general public, it should seem rather easy to prove to me.


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Old 05-25-2011, 09:43 AM   #11
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I think Taubes is clear that many people do fine on a high carb diet.
Ha
You are a little more ecumenical than I am. That is, I'm less accepting of other causes of obesity, attracted instead to a single theory that explains most people's obesity. Namely: although many people can eat lots of carbs without getting fat, those who are quite overweight or obese are that way because of carb consumption.

Here's a relevant excerpt from the Why We Are Fat book:
Why Diets Succeed and Fail


The simple answer to the question of why we get fat is that carbohydrates make us so; protein and fat do not. But if this is the case, why do we all know people who have gone on low-fat diets and lost weight? Low-fat diets, after all, are relatively high in carbohydrates, so shouldn’t these fail for all the people who try them?

Most of us know people who say they lost significant weight after joining Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, after reading Skinny Bitch or French Women Don’t Get Fat, or following the very low-fat diet prescribed by Dean Ornish in Eat More, Weigh Less. When researchers test the effectiveness of diets in clinical trials, like the Stanford University A TO Z Trial that I’ll discuss shortly, they’ll invariably find that a few subjects do indeed lose considerable weight following low-fat diets. Doesn’t this mean that some of us get fat because we eat carbohydrates and get lean again when we don’t, but for others, avoiding fat is the answer?

The simple answer is probably not. The more likely explanation is that any diet that succeeds does so because the dieter restricts fattening carbohydrates, whether by explicit instruction or not. To put it simply, those who lose fat on a diet do so because of what they are not eating—the fattening carbohydrates—not because of what they are eating.

Whenever we go on any serious weight-loss regimen, whether a diet or an exercise program, we invariably make a few consistent changes to what we eat, regardless of the instructions we’re given. Specifically, we rid the diet of the most fattening of the carbohydrates, because these are the easiest to eliminate and the most obviously inappropriate if we’re trying to get in shape. We stop drinking beer, for instance, or at least we drink less, or drink light beer instead. We might think of this as cutting calories, but the calories we’re cutting are carbohydrates, and, more important, they’re liquid, refined carbohydrates, which are exceedingly fattening.

We’ll stop drinking caloric sodas—Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper—and replace them with either water or diet sodas. In doing so, we’re not just removing the liquid carbohydrates that constitute the calories but the fructose, which is specifically responsible for making the sodas sweet. The same is true of fruit juices. An easy change in any diet is to replace fruit juices with water. We’ll get rid of candy bars, desserts, donuts, and cinnamon buns. Again, we’ll perceive this as calorie cutting—and maybe even a way to cut fat, which it can be—but we’re also cutting carbohydrates, specifically fructose. (Even the very low-fat diet made famous by Dean Ornish restricts all refined carbohydrates, including sugar, white rice, and white flour.* This alone could explain any benefits that result.) Starches like potatoes and rice, refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta, will often be replaced by green vegetables, salads, or at least whole grains, because we’ve been told for the past few decades to eat more fiber and to eat foods that are less energy-dense.

If we try to cut any significant number of calories from our diet, we’ll be cutting the total amount of carbohydrates we consume as well. This is just arithmetic. If we cut all the calories we consume by half, for instance, then we’re cutting the carbohydrates by half, too. And because carbohydrates constitute the largest proportion of calories in our diet, these will see the greatest absolute reduction. Even if our goal is to cut fat calories, we’ll find it exceedingly difficult to cut more than a few hundred calories a day by reducing fat, and so we’ll have to eat fewer carbohydrates as well. Low-fat diets that also cut calories will cut carbohydrates by as much or more.*

Simply put, any time we try to diet by any of the conventional methods, and any time we decide to “eat healthy” as it’s currently defined, we will remove the most fattening carbohydrates from the diet and some portion of total carbohydrates as well. And if we lose fat, this will almost assuredly be the reason why. (This is the opposite of what happens, by the way, when food producers make low-fat products. They remove a little of the fat and its calories, but then replace it with carbohydrates. In the case of low-fat yogurt, for instance, they replace much of the fat removed with high-fructose corn syrup. We think we’re eating a heart-healthy, low-fat snack that will lead to weight loss. Instead, we get fatter because of the added carbohydrates and fructose.)

The same is likely to be true for those who swear they lost their excess pounds by taking up regular exercise. Rare are the people who begin running or swimming or doing aerobics five times a week to slim down but don’t make any changes in what they eat. Rather, they cut down their beer and soda consumption, reduce their sweets, and maybe even try to replace starches with green vegetables.

When calorie-restricted diets fail, as they typically do (and the same can be said of exercise programs), the reason is that they restrict something other than the foods that make us fat. They restrict fat and protein, which have no long-term effect on insulin and fat deposition but are required for energy and for the rebuilding of cells and tissues.
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Old 05-25-2011, 10:54 AM   #12
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Almost every time I read Taubes, I start thinking yes, yes, that makes sense, and I'm getting drawn in and convinced, but then I hit a rock. He'll write something that largely rephrases what he was saying before, but goes further, and I say, wait. Uh-oh. Read this sentence again:
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(from Taubes)
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Even if our goal is to cut fat calories, we’ll find it exceedingly difficult to cut more than a few hundred calories a day by reducing fat, and so we’ll have to eat fewer carbohydrates as well.
Is it really true that you can't cut fat calories without cutting carbohydrates?
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Old 05-25-2011, 11:45 AM   #13
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...
Is it really true that you can't cut fat calories without cutting carbohydrates?
He is talking about a "serious weight-loss regimen" and uses a 50% calorie reduction as an example. If you have a diet which is 35% carbohydrate 25% protein and 40% fat, and you cut out all of the fat, you still have to cut more to get to your target.

He goes on to say that (practically speaking) it will be difficult to cut more than about 300 calories of fat. He didn't say why, but it could be that if you keep a target for protein, a concomitant serving of fat comes along with it.

I'm sure it is clear to him that you could have a diet of pure carbohydrate.
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Old 05-25-2011, 11:51 AM   #14
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Almost every time I read Taubes, I start thinking yes, yes, that makes sense, and I'm getting drawn in and convinced, but then I hit a rock. He'll write something that largely rephrases what he was saying before, but goes further, and I say, wait. Uh-oh. ....
Exactly, and the many words that T-Al quotes are full of that technique. Taubes basically has a conclusion, and just rephrases the conclusion to provide 'proof' that his conclusion is right.

Not very satisfying for someone who is a skeptic of ALL diet plans. If you are a believer, I think you just go along and nod your head, right, right, right.

So the people who lost weight on other diets did it by cutting calories? What a shock!

I'm on board with the refined carb issue. Pure sugar is pure energy with little/no other nutritional benefit and is not very filling. I don't drink sodas (diet or otherwise - sparkling water with a twist or very occasionally a splash of fruit juice is far more refreshing). I'm not yet convinced that we need to make drastic changes in our consumption of complex carbs.

I've seen T-Als list of low carb substitutes, and my reaction is "yuck!". I'd eat less calories if that was my choice also. I'd rather put in the discipline to limit portion sizes of a variety of foods that I enjoy, which are mostly toward the 'minimally processed' end of the scale. Whatever works for an individual is what counts, but it might not apply to the masses.

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Old 05-25-2011, 12:01 PM   #15
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Well, people on the board at least know what Al and I look like. We may be following a horrible plan and a stupid manipulative guru, but it seems to work well enough.

Ha
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Old 05-25-2011, 12:02 PM   #16
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He is talking about a "serious weight-loss regimen" and uses a 50% calorie reduction as an example. If you have a diet which is 35% carbohydrate 25% protein and 40% fat, and you cut out all of the fat, you still have to cut more to get to your target.


How many people need to cut calories by 50%? That seems crazy to me. I think it's far better to move towards an eating style that you can maintain long term, the weight should come down along with it. Drastic cuts in calories can cause the body to react and start conserving calories and that's a problem.

[edit/add: And why cut ALL the calories from the fat portion? Why not some from all the groups? ]

This seems typical of Taube's contrived scenarios to 'prove' his point.

So, an interesting exercise would be along these lines - outline a couple of typical daily meals that add up to 1800 calories a day, without any specific regard to cutting carbs to extreme low levels. I would cut the refined carbs for these examples, I do have a reasonable expectation that it is best to limit those.

Now, list the recommended typical low-carb diets. Add up the calories, just to see where we end up.

The low carb people may claim the low carb meals are more satisfying. I suspect that may be true in some cases, but it seems that the low carb crowd is always looking for alternates to avoid getting bored, etc. So long term, I just don't know. I can say that those 'low carb - ultra' style things they label 'beer' would have a negative satisfaction index for me. Heck, if offered a typical 'lite' beer, I'm likely to choose water over that stuff. The ultra is even worse. A Guinness is what, 130 calories? I think an 1800 daily calorie count can handle that.

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Old 05-25-2011, 12:09 PM   #17
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Well, people on the board at least know what Al and I look like. We may be following a horrible plan and a stupid manipulative guru, but it seems to work well enough.

Ha
And that is why I so often include "I'm not saying he is wrong".

But one plan 'working' does not mean that other plans could not also work as well or better. This is part of the logical fallacies that Taubes seems to throw out all the time, and it is what bothers me about his writings.

It takes some effort to monitor and maintain low carb. It takes some effort monitor and maintain portion control. I suspect that one or the other is easier for one person than another, so they can choose the path that works best for them. I guess I just gristle at Taubes 'all carbs are bad' message with funky data/analysis. I'm just not convinced by him that it is the only or best path. If it was so clear cut, I should be easy to convince. There are many things I believe quite fully, as I've been presented with solid evidence. I have no specific interest in supporting one diet over the other, so I should be an easy convert.


PS - can you provide a chapter where he explains the Asian diet and their low obesity and diabetes rates despite a diet relatively high in non-refined carbs? Maybe I missed it, and I'll see if I can read it at the library.

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Old 05-25-2011, 12:41 PM   #18
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How many people need to cut calories by 50%? That seems crazy to me. I think it's far better to move towards an eating style that you can maintain long term, the weight should come down along with it. Drastic cuts in calories can cause the body to react and start conserving calories and that's a problem. This seems typical of Taube's contrived scenarios to 'prove' his point.

So, an interesting exercise would be along these lines - outline a couple of typical daily meals that add up to 1800 calories a day, without any specific regard to cutting carbs to extreme low levels. I would cut the refined carbs for these examples, I do have a reasonable expectation that it is best to limit those.

Now, list the recommended typical low-carb diets. Add up the calories, just to see where we end up.
...
-ERD50
I'm not sure Taube's is trying to prove anything here. He is just giving an example of the difficulties encountered when formulating a diet for "serious weight loss". For what its worth, low carb diets are used to treat metabolic disorders, so there is no question that they work for that. They have also been shown to be effective for weight loss, and there is no question that they are effective there too.

You are of course correct that any diet that has a calorie deficit will result in weight loss, regardless of what you are consuming. I suppose it is not clear to me what you are objecting to.
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Old 05-25-2011, 12:44 PM   #19
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PS - can you provide a chapter where he explains the Asian diet and their low obesity and diabetes rates despite a diet relatively high in non-refined carbs? Maybe I missed it, and I'll see if I can read it at the library.

-ERD50
No; I asked him this question in a talk he gave last year at UW. One cannot live on the West Coast and not be clear that young Asians are almost all thin, and even middle aged Asian women thicken up a bit around the waist but stay basically thin appearing.

I think his career shoud be seen in context. He doesn't really need to convince people who are not fat, or who don't care about getting thinner, or who eat mostly seaweed and raw fish and boiled rice, or who follow the Kitavan diet espoused by some Swedish researcher, or who just enjoy arguing.

First, it would take a lifetime and billions of dollars to test that all out- and still many people would not be convinced. Who needs the aggravation?

If a person is fat, or has sugar metabolism issues, he/she has little to lose by trying low carb for 6 months. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig also work very well, but are a bit like waxing- it may work but a girl has to keep going back!

Speaking personally, as one who is getting up in age and has been on a very low carb diet for almost 15 years, low carb is a piece of cake. Whatever I may lose in not being able to make my cod and onions and potatoes with potatoes any longer, who the hell cares? The other day I put on a pair of 501s that have been moving around with me since I was about 30. Not crazy about the style any longer, but they do fit.

I am not a self denying man, but low carb requires very little of that anyway. Like almost anything in life, you must choose what is important, and ignore or severely downgrade other issues and constraints. An example would be your comment about beer taste. For a carb sensitive person, beer will get you sooner or later. But in a modern economy, is beer the only attractive alcoholic beverage? Is consuming alcoholic beverages the only way to relax and socialize with friends?

Ha
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Old 05-25-2011, 01:32 PM   #20
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From the applicable articles I have read, Americans (only as a society in whole) just tend to eat too much. Many other cultures tend to eat foods the health gurus deem unhealthy, but the quantity is much lower than "American" portions.

On a side note, may I recommend reading "The China Study" - another fascinating dietary-issues book!

Very interesting article T-Al! Thanks!
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