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Author: Carbs have led to obese America

Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 9:09 p.m. CST; updated 10:47 a.m. CST, Friday, November 14, 2008

A slew of scientific evidence, more than 50 years of it, allows you to take out the steak knife and eat up, according to author and science journalist Gary Taubes. But put those potato chips away.

Doctors, students and those with an interest in nutrition packed Monsanto Auditorium on Thursday afternoon at MU to hear Taubes tell them about the root of the obesity epidemic, the reason people get fat.

"I'm here to convince you that many of your cherished preconceptions are incorrect," Taubes said with half a smile.

Taubes' work is controversial for ruffling broad medical opinions that seemed to be set in stone. Those opinions, derived from sins of gluttony and sloth, Taubes said, are that we live in a toxic environment that "encourages overeating and physical inactivity."

"But I don't buy into the overeating theory," Taubes said. To him, the obesity epidemic is caused by hormonal or metabolic defects in the human body and the dangerous effects of carbohydrates, not fat.

He provided many examples, one being the wide presence of obesity in impoverished areas.

The problem is not in the amount of calories, Taubes said, but in the kind of calories a person eats. He insists on the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet made famous by Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1970s.

It's the same argument he made in his New York Times Magazine article, "What if It's All Just A Big Fat Lie?" in 2002, and then in his book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" in 2007.

In his study of more than 50 years of medical research on the subject, Taubes found that a high caloric intake is not the cause of obesity but the symptom. He compares the process to that of a growing child.

"A child doesn't grow because he eats more," he said. "A child eats more because he's growing."

Similarly, obesity is a disorder of fat accumulation rather than intake. Fat cells are not "garbage cans" for ingested calories, he said, but fat will accumulate no matter what calories are taken in when there is an imbalance of hormones.

The cause of the imbalance: carbs.

Insulin, the hormone most responsible for fat distribution, is released as a result of blood sugar levels, which are raised by the intake of carbohydrates. A high level of insulin causes abnormal distribution of fat.

"It's not the brain that makes a person obese," Taubes said. "It's the body."

Christopher Hardin, chairperson of MU's Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, introduced Taubes on Thursday.

"This kind of presentation increases the dialogue," Hardin said. "The more discussion we get, the closer we'll get to solving the problem. We need to raise the profile of this issue in the community."

Hardin also discussed the future economic hardships of a continuing obesity epidemic.

"If we don't take care of it now, we'll pay for it in less than a generation, and it'll make the 'bailout' plan look like nothing," he said. "There are red issues, there are blue issues — this is a purple issue."

But Hardin's not completely sold on Taubes' arguments.

"He raises some good points, but it's an over-simplification, I think," he said. "But it's healthy to challenge the paradigms because when you come back to them later, you have a clearer understanding of the issue."

Dr. Gil Wilshire of the Boone Hospital Center, though, is passionately sold on Taubes' doctrine.

"What people believe to be true about (low-fat diets) is pure dogma, all incestuous references," he said. "They have all referenced each other's positions since the 1960s when, really, there was no data."

Wilshire said there are "a few enlightened" young doctors who understand the benefits of the low-carb diet and that in 10 or 20 years, the public will catch on. He was thrilled with the fact that Taubes had caused an overflow of the auditorium.

"People at the university here are a little uncomfortable because it's rattling their cages," Wilshire said.

Dana Carpender of Bloomington, Ind., another low-carb believer and the self-described world's best-seller of low-carb cookbooks, also spoke passionately about the subject.

"The way people believe in the established ideas feels like a religion," Carpender said, "but their science doesn't bear any weight."

"It's wonderful to see Taubes' science," she said. "People say, 'Atkins, he's a quack.' But the science is right here, and it works."


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Comments

Mary Kolk November 14, 2008 | 11:52 a.m.

Gary Taubes is right on. My husband is a type 2 diabetic and has been for over 25 years. Diagnosed in his early 40's he faithfully kept his doctor appointments, took his medication and grew progressively worse. He sent him to an endocrinologist who put my husband on 5 units of insulin. A year and a half later he was on 43 units of insulin a night, morbidly obese, his blood sugars were still sky high, the neuropathy in both his feet was getting unbearable, he was unable to walk more than 75 feet without sitting down, he was depressed and his idea of working around the house was picking up the remote and changing the channels. I had lost him as a partner and my best friend. The doctors told him to lose weight and exercise. But, they never told him HOW. He tried all of the calorie counting, smaller portions, etc. but nothing worked and he was gaining weight all the time - especially after being on the insulin injections.

About 8 years ago, I picked up a book by Dr. Richard Bernstein (Diabetes Solutions) and read about people who were just as bad as my husband until they went on a low carb lifestyle. A low carb lifestyle means a total change in how you live, eat and exercise. Nearly 6 years ago my husband went on a low carb lifestyle. Within 2 weeks of making this change, I could see my husband's personality coming back. He was laughing again! We began going to the gym and slowly walking the track. Within a few months he was walking a mile a day!!!! An accomplishment that when compared to the man he was, rivaled the Lazarus miracle. His weight began to drop, his blood sugars began to drop as well. Within 3 months he was completely off of insulin and has NEVER gone back.

When he sees his doctor now, the doctor is taking him OFF of medication instead of adding new and/or more potent meds.

My husband lost a total of 80 pounds within 9 months. That was nearly 6 years ago. He’s kept the weight off the entire time. We are true believers of Gary Taubes, Dr. Bernstein, Dr. Jonny Bowden and Dr. Atkins.

My husbands fasting blood sugars each morning are now typically 90 to 95. Before his fasting blood sugars were 150, 180, etc. His HA1c is now 6.5% instead of the 11% it was.

We hold seminars around the area telling people about low carb lifestyle. We want others to know what we know and have them confront their doctors with this information.

My husband's doctor calls him her "poster child for diabetes" She says that if she could get all of her diabetics to do what the did she would be a happy doctor. Doctors, you have to tell people about low carb, you need to study Gary Taubes book, Dr. Bernstein's books and Jonny Bowden. Do NOT Treat diabetes without reading these books. Medication is important but it should be used as a total last resort if and it's a big if low carb lifestyle doesn't work for them.

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