Lowcarbarama is a gathering place for links and pointers to all sort of things relevant to low-carb: articles, blogs, interviews, Web sites, forums. It's a place for commentary on health and nutrition in public policy, the sciences and the media. Comments are welcome anytime, regardless of the post's date.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gary Taubes and exercise

New York magazine recently published an excerpted chapter from Good Calories, Bad Calories here:


The article is titled "The Scientist and the Stairmaster."

Here's a point many people miss: Taubes is not promoting a theory. He is reporting on the results of scientific attempts to find a link between exercise and weight loss. So far, scientific studies have not found evidence of a strong causal relationship. Taubes is just the guy with the nerve to say that out loud.


David Brown said...

There's quite a controversy as to the efficacy of exercise for weight control. Proponents of the exercise hypothesis often refer to the National Weight Control Registry and associated research articles as proof of the benefits of the high exercise, low calorie approach.

But those who insist that exercise is essential for weight loss often fail to mention that "98% of Registry participants report that they modified their food intake in some way to lose weight." It is quite likely that many of them improved the quality of their food intake by cutting back on or eliminating refined carbohydrates and adding fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains to their dietary regimen. These changes alone would result in lower insulin levels and promote weight loss. Add exercise (94% increased their physical activity) which further reduces insulin levels and, in many cases, more fat is removed from fat stores.

It's interesting that the founders of the National Weight Control Registry do not provide statistics as to how many members consume a low calorie, low fat diet. What they say is, "There is variety in how NWCR members keep the weight off. Most report continuing to maintain a low calorie, low fat diet while maintaining high levels of physical activity."

The Registry was established in 1994 and is currently tracking less than 6,000 individuals. Most of these individuals signed on before low-carbing became popular. Prior to the year 2000 the overwhelming majority of individuals trying to lose weight were inundated with negative messages about fat in general and saturated fat in particular. Thus, the low-carb (usually Atkins) approach was viewed with suspicion by nearly everyone who tried it because of the high percentage of fat intake allowed. No wonder so many did not stick with the program.

Even today, most health organizations and government agencies demonize saturated fat despite the fact that research over the past five decades has consistently indicated that saturated fat is not a health hazard.

An important consideration in both weight control and overall health is the fact that there are tremendous variations in both biochemical and physiological makeup that determine the sort of approach that will be effective for any given person. Some people achieve weight loss simply by cutting calories; others simply by exercising more. Still others modify their diets and lose weight with or without exercise. Then there are those who switch to the vegan approach and find success. And, finally, there are those who find that lowering their overall carbohydrate intake and increasing protein and/or fat intake helps them control their weight.

All of these elements work for certain individuals. But exercise is not an essential ingredient in the weight loss formula unless carbohydrate intake needs to be compensated for.

David Brown
Kalispell, Montana
Nutrition Education Project

lowcarbarama said...

Great comment, David. Very interesting info on the NWR. As well as on the (seeming, anyway) conundrum of exercise and weight loss.

Did you see Taubes on the Larry King Live show? When Dr. Mehmet Oz brought up the National Weight Register, Taubes practically laughed him out of the studio.

Thanks for visiting!

David Brown said...

I did see that show. I don't remember Taubes laughing about the registry. He did, however, smile a little when Dr. Oz mentioned being hungry all the time and having to consume nuts throughout the day to assuage his hunger.

I hope you can find time to explore the saturated fat controversy. It's far more important than the exercise controversy.


lowcarbarama said...

David -- any suggestions for names of or links to more great articles and books that explode the saturated fat myths would be greatly appreciated! This site is still very new, and much is missing, for sure. Thanks again for reading and commenting. :)

David Brown said...

For information about saturated fat I suggest you Google the following:

Saturated fats: what dietary intake?

Corr: The low fat/low cholesterol diet is ineffective.

Re: Saturated Fats and Heart Health - Share the Wealth

PCC Sound Consumer | The surprising truth about saturated fats

Jeff S. Volek articles

Stephen D. Phinney articles

or just Google this combination of words: saturated fats truth benefits

I've been trying to stir things up here in Montana by confronting nutrition educators with the truth about saturated fat. For what it's worth, here is my latest message:

Dear _________:

I am a nutrition science analyst residing in Kalispell, Montana. I have two goals. I'm working for improvements in the quality of our food supply and for a some changes in the current nutritional guidelines used by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

Regarding current guidelines, if there's a doctrine that has achieved universal acceptance in the political arena, in public health, in medicine, and in the commercial sector, it's the idea that saturated fat is an artery-clogging health hazard.

Over the past five decades this idea has spread about the globe. Here in the USA it has both undermined the health of Americans and caused politicians to squander unimaginable sums of taxpayer dollars. Arguably, it is the major reason why vascular diseases remain the number 1 cause of death in many developed countries.

This doctrine is also largely responsible for the current epidemic of type 2 diabetes among young and old alike. As for obesity, fear of developing clogged arteries prevents many from consuming the amount and kinds of fats that would promote weight loss.

Who adheres to this doctrine? Just about everybody; all the major health organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Diabetes Association, federal government agencies such as the FDA, CDC, USDA, NIH, and HHS, the food manufacturing, sweeteners, and edible oils industries, vegetarian activists, and the CSPI. In addition, most schools of public health teach that saturated fat is a health hazard. Here is some documentation from various websites:

(Note: The following are merely examples of statements made by the organizations mentioned above. I don't expect you to click on the links unless you are curious to see those statements in context.)

Health Organizations

American Medical Association

"The Council is deeply concerned about any diet that advocates an 'unlimited' intake of saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods."

American Heart Association

"Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and/or cholesterol, such as whole-milk dairy products, fatty meats, tropical oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and egg yolks. Instead choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol."

American Dietetic Association: Nutrition standards ...)

"Although intake of fat and saturated fat has declined, it still is consumed in amounts that exceed recommendations."

"Healthy, growing children need a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and/or legumes, and low-fat dairy products to achieve a dietary pattern that maintains appropriate blood cholesterol levels and optimal energy."

American Diabetes Association

"Everyone (emphasis mine) should eat less saturated fat. Saturated fat can raise your cholesterol level which increases your chances of having heart disease."

Government Agencies:

Food and Drug Administration

"Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol increase total and low-density (bad) blood cholesterol levels and, thus, the risk of coronary heart disease."

U.S. Department of Agriculture

"Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than other forms of fat. Reducing saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories will help you lower your blood cholesterol level."

Health and Human Services: New Dietary Guidelines

"Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol..."

Center for Disease Control

"Although the findings in this report indicate a decline in the mean percentage of total fat energy intake derived from total dietary fat and from saturated fat, these intake levels remain higher than the year 2000 objective."

"The findings in this report can assist in tracking progress toward achieving the goals of public health initiatives aimed at reducing and modifying total dietary fat and saturated fat intakes."

National Institutes of Health

"These are the biggest dietary cause of high LDL levels ("bad cholesterol"). When looking at a food label, pay very close attention to the percentage of saturated fat and avoid or limit any foods that are high. Saturated fat should be limited to 10% of calories. Saturated fats are found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats."

(Note: the above statement is blatantly false. Excessive refined carbohydrate consumption is the major cause of high LDL levels.)

Vegetarian Activists:

Physicians for Responsible Medicine

1. A Vegan Diet: Avoiding Animal Products
"Animal products contain fat, especially saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, and certain forms of cancer. These products also contain cholesterol, something never found in foods from plants."


"Well-planned vegetarian diets provide us with all the nutrients that we need, minus all the saturated fat, cholesterol, and contaminants found in animal flesh, eggs, and dairy products."

Center for Science in the Public Interest

"Senators Harkin and Murkowski plan to offer their school nutrition bill as an amendment to the Farm bill."

"Notably, the soft drink industry and many major food manufacturers are supporting, not opposing, the Harkin-Murkowski amendment. The amendment also is supported by 100 organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, American Dental Association, National PTA, American Association of School Administrators, and the American Federation of Teachers."

"The amendment also would set limits for calories, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in school snacks."

Harvard School of Public Health

"Saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol because they tend to boost both good HDL and bad LDL cholesterol. The net effect is negative, meaning it's important to limit saturated fats."

Journals and mainstream press:

"The Journal of Nutrition"

"Saturated fat (SF) intake contributes to the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality."

"Science Daily"

"Dr. Carter emphasized he does not advocate strict low-carbohydrates for long-term weight management. Such diets may adversely overload the kidneys with protein and lead dieters to consume more artery-clogging saturated fats and cholesterol, he said."

Back to my comments:

As far as I can tell, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services is still using the Cardiovascular Disease State Plan adopted and implemented during the Racicot administration. The main focus is toward reducing cholesterol levels. Here are some excerpts from the report:

On page 13 one reads, "In 1999, Montanans who participated in a CVD telephone survey and who had high cholesterol were asked how they planned to decrease their cholesterol levels.The most common responses were to reduce their fat intake and increase their exercise levels."

On page 22 one reads, "Educate patients who have high cholesterol or who have had a myocardial infarction about the AHA and National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines for managing high cholesterol."

Page 27 "HP2010 Objective - Fat intake: Increase to at least 75% the proportion of persons aged 2 and older who consume no more than 30% if calories from fat."

Page 28 "Promote 1% (milk) as the standard to be served in Montana Schools."

As it has become increasingly apparent that government agencies at the federal level are either controlled or heavily influenced by special interests such as the food manufacturing, edible oils, sweeteners, and beverage industries, I suggest that MSU help the Montana Department of Health and Human Services develop its own dietary guidelines and strategies for prevention of chronic diseases based on the best science available. Current recommendations aimed at persuading Montanans to eat fewer calories (by restricting fat calories) and exercise more (MT NAPA) reflect an inadequate understanding of factors such as biochemical variability and fat and carbohydrate metabolism. When time permits, please take a look at this podcast (The Quality of Calories: What Makes Us Fat and Why Nobody Seems to Care) of a recent lecture by science writer Gary Taubes delivered at the University of California Berkeley. I also encourage you to read the book (Good Calories, Bad Calories) which will take considerably more time as it consists of 550 pages of text and 100 pages of notes.

At the grass roots level there are a number of us attempting to re-educate the public regarding what constitutes proper and appropriate nutrition. Except for the fat vs carb issue, our message differs little from what is currently being taught by dietitians and nutritionists in public health.

David Brown
Nutrition Education Project

lowcarbarama said...

David, thanks so much for the many suggestions. I will follow up with links as time permits.

Do you or your project have a Web site where we could learn more about your work?

David Brown said...

No, I don't have a website. I'm afraid it would steal too much time away from my research and educational efforts.

One of my projects involves monthly messages to more than 120 Montana lawmakers both senators and representatives. It's a sort of lobbying experiment that I conduct from my home. My aim is to help lawmakers become more nutritionally savvy; something we all need.

I also send E-mail messages to hundreds of others. Mostly, I share information that has helped me better my understanding of nutritional issues.


David Brown said...

I took your advice and set up a blog at: http://nutritionscienceanalyst.blogspot.com/

Thanks for your help.