Good Calories, Bad Calories

A few days ago I came across a reference to this book and it sounded interesting and I picked up a copy. Well, I can now say that this book may well change my life.

I’m about 40 pounds overweight. I do overeat occasionally, and don’t get as much exercise as I should, plus I have hypothyroidism, so there are several reasons for my weight problem. Nonetheless I mostly eat what I thought was healthy – breakfast is usually coffee and a bowl of granola, lunch is typically a whole grain vegetarian wrap (usually some kind of Indian lentil curry with rice), and with dinner being my main mean – a first course of salad, followed by a varied main course – pasta with pesto, salmon, or pizza are perennial favorites. Finally I tend to have a desert – typically ice cream of frozen yoghurt.  Between meals I usually have one or two energy bars (usually Bora bars) and tea or coffee.

Sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it? Apart from the pizza and ice cream, I usually keep my saturated fat intake low (I take a statin to control cholesterol too). I favor whole grains, avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and have recently been using Agave syrup as a sweetener. I’ve thought that diets like Atkins could work but believed that while they could result in weight loss they were otherwise unhealthy. So I’ve come to accept that I’m overweight and that it would be a challenge for me to lose weight, and attributed that to genetics and my thyroid primarily.

This book gives an awful lot of credibility to Atkins and other low carb diets. In particular, it singles out fructose (and HFCS) as particularly bad. Something I did not know is that fructose actually has a low glycemic index. I dug out my copy of the wonderful On Food and Cooking and looked up Agave syrup, which I had been using because it was a “low glycemic sweetener”. And guess what – it is basically worse than sugar, as it is a mix of glucose and fructose (just like regular sugar is) but with about a 70% fructose content instead of 50%!

Good Calories Bad Calories is not a book with an agenda. It is not trying to sell you on a particular diet. It is an extremely detailed analysis of the research on nutrition, diabetes, etc, that has been done in the past 50+ years (as well as pointing out much that should have been done but hasn’t). It shows how the standard dietary advice that has been fed to US citizens since the 1970’s is wrong, and how that advice is really the misinformation that comes from a small clique of east coast academics who have dominated the journals and conferences and ridiculed all those who question their rather dubious wisdom. After reading this book you will wish some of these academics were charged with crimes against humanity, for that is what they have committed.

I can’t begin to do justice to the depth and detail of this book, but here are some of the conclusions reached:

  • neither dietary fat nor excess calories are the cause of “diseases of civilization” like obesity; instead it is carbohydrates to blame for heart disease, diabetes and possibly Alzheimer’s, via their effect on insulin secretion (insulin is the primary regulator for fat storage);
  • sugars are particularly harmful, especially glucose and fructose together;
  • exercising to burn more calories than you consume does not result in weight loss – it results in hunger – while eating excess calories doe not result in weight gain any more than it does height gain;

This is enough to make me want to go on an Atkins or similar diet, although I can’t see how I will pull that off with my wife; she considers herself vastly more knowledgeable than me in these areas (she has formal training in sports medicine and nutrition) and has railed against Atkins before – she doesn’t disagree that Atkins can result in weight loss but she believes it is very unhealthy and I would get immense resistance. But that is a different challenge. Anyone who has weight issues or suffers from diabetes should read this book and draw their own conclusions.

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