Taubes on the Hall/NuSI Results

In a recent interview on Jimmy Moore’s Livin La Vida Low-Carb Podcast #1223, Gary Taubes talks about his (in)famous metabolic ward study with Kevin Hall, the state of his non-profit foundation NuSI, and it’s future outlook.

It’s an interesting look into Gary Taubes’ mind, as he’s fairly unguarded in this discussion.  For whatever reason, from his perspective:

  • “To me, the nutrition obesity research community is effectively a noise generating machine.” (As opposed to generating “signal”, i.e., meaningful results.)  [21:35]
  • “I would say virtually everything [went wrong with the Hall study].” [23:30]
  • “They let a $4.5M study be run by someone who […] had done maybe one clinical research experiment in his life.  So, I admire Kevin, and I think he’s an impressive guy.  But from my perspective he didn’t have the experience that we were looking for.  And it wasn’t they way we had hoped it’d turn out.” [23:45]
  • “In this field when researchers publish that contrary to the belief system of the authorities, the authorities tend to ignore it.  So, that’s why you [Jimmy Moore] and I can say things like we believe, things absolutely for certain, and everyone we know believes them, and yet it’s considered quackery by the mainstream community, which doesn’t see the evidence we see.” [24:20]
  • He doesn’t remember being involved in the design of the study’s diets.  [25:20]
  • 8 oz of sugary beverages every-other-day in the high-carb, 20% sugar diet was enough of a reduction to fix the Standard American Diet (SAD), so it was too healthy as the control diet.  [26:45]
  • Because energy balance wasn’t achieved in the run-in diet (as per study design), the experiment was a failure, and the results can’t be interpreted as planned.  [29:45]
  • There was a lot of fighting and disfunction between the investigators and NuSI, where Taubes believed he was more of the theorist, and that the investigators were more of the experimentalists/empiricists.  [15:20]

Gary Taubes doesn’t drive me crazy anymore, as I now understand his perspective, so what he said doesn’t bother me.  (I know he can’t see any evidence opposing his carb-insulin hypothesis and other low-carb beliefs.)  However, he should be careful to not just throw around blame at everyone and excuses for everything, otherwise Occam’s Razor may suggest who’s more likely to be right.  If it was obvious and simply that carbs and insulin, not calories, drove weight gain, it’d have been seen a long time ago.  No tilting at windmills required.

Understanding Gary Taubes


I’ve finally solved the mystery that’s been plaguing me for years.  You wouldn’t believe just how much time I’ve wasted obsessing over Gary Taubes, and how he could proclaim, with a straight face, that all of nutritional science is wrong, and it’s carbs that make you fat.  Almost daily, I’d ask myself, “Could he really think all those metabolic ward studies were poorly designed?”  I’d think deeply, then tentatively conclude, “There’s no way he would do this just for money.”  It wouldn’t be worth the constant ridicule from the entire scientific community.  Plus, you couldn’t convincingly fake a position for so long.  But then I’d go back to wondering how he could possibly dismiss all the published scientific studies, and so on, leaving me endlessly looping over this riddle.

As you know, I lost 25 kg on a high-carb, low-fat diet.  This is the kind of diet Gary Taubes hates.  He hates it, because he thinks it’s wrong, and the worst advice you can give to anyone.  He feels the government and “experts” have been pushing it on the public ever since they blew it on saturated fat 50+ years ago, and its unexpected consequences are the current obesity epidemic.  But don’t tell him that people got fatter because of fast food and sedentary behaviour.  He’ll tell you that exercise is ineffective for weight loss, or even maintenance, and we’re even exercising more these days, so it’s the carbs in the fast food that is the problem.  And don’t ever say it all comes down to “calories-in, calories-out”, because CICO is meaningless, and it doesn’t tell you why people are eating more calories, just that they are.  (He’ll tell you that people are eating more calories because of carbs and insulin or something.  It might take an hour to explain fully.)  And don’t tell him that there are billions of people who do fine eating a traditional high-carb, low-fat diet, like the Chinese, because he’ll tell you that they never ate any sugar.  And don’t tell him that there are traditional cultures in tropical regions that eat lots of starch (rice) with sugar (fruit), like the Thai, because he’ll probably tell you that they have specific genetic adaptations for this diet (I haven’t actually hear him say this, but I’m guessing it’d be his answer).

So, no matter what your argument that we’ve evolved eating carbs, etc., he has an answer for you.  They’re the same answers he’s been giving for 15 years, with occasional refinements.  I can pretend to be Taubes and refute each and every one of your points.  Or a bot can do it.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard as much as a equivocal concession from him that perhaps unrefined carbs are okay.

It’s all been mind-boggling to me.  Taubes has some undergraduate education in physics (he says he was a B- student, then got a C- in Quantum Physics [usually the first upper-division class], and finally changed majors to Engineering).  But he’s a celebrated, award-winning science writer.   But anyone with a science perspective, or even any common sense, would guess the carbs vs. fat question has already been studied to death, in many subtle and ingenious ways.   That’s what scientists do.  You’d think it’d have been a dead horse long ago.

But no, Taubes says that “over 80 years of experiments, 80+ studies, 4,094 test subjects, and 1.2 million subject-days” have yielded “no definitive answers” on the matter.  He emphasized this belief in the literature for his “non-profit” NuSI foundation.  Through his Energy Balance Consortium, he’d hope to conduct nusiNoAnswersa series of “Manhattan Project of Obesity” experiments, to finally determine once and for all if it was carbs making everybody fat.  Of course, as all diet-nerds know, his very first pilot study with Dr. Kevin Hall returned an answer last year that his critics expected, but that no low-carber would accept.  Even with wildly different serum insulin levels, there was no statistically significant weight loss difference between an iso-caloric ketogenic diet vs. a high-carb, high-sugar, low-fat diet in their very expensive, two-month metabolic ward crossover study of 17 young, overweight subjects. [1]  Dr. Kevin Hall then pronounced the “carb-insulin” theory of obesity “falsified”. [2, 3, 4]  Not surprisingly, NuSI subsequently lost its funding, through Taubes stays on, unpaid, seeking new wealthy investors [5].

But of course, this still doesn’t change Taubes’ mind, or even make him consider alternative possibilities (like everyone else is right).  His spin on the whole affair is that the data supports his position.  Which just left me more astounded, wondering how he could see it that way.  I never believed he could be a deliberate fraud, because those guys are so obvious.  And he didn’t seem like a total crank, because they all have tell-tale signs too.  (For example, Tim Noakes comes off as a sincere but total crank, Mark Hyman looks like a con man, I’d trust Mercola as far as I could throw him, Peter Attia is a NPD blow-hard capable of crying on cue, etc.  Without exception, they’re 100% detectable.)

But Taubes fooled me with what sounded like pleas for scientific inquiry.  This will always get a nerd’s attention.  I never believed a word he said, but he fooled me into thinking he was actually looking for an answer.  So like Lucy and Charlie Brown, he’d tee up the football of “prove me I’m wrong” in front of us, tempting us to run up and kick the ball out of the park, but he’d pull it away at the last moment, leaving us dazed and embarrassed, but more determined to try harder the next time.

Plus, there was the implied transitive law of inequality involved!  If GT was greater than all of science, and I was greater than GT, then I’d be greater than all of science.

So last weekend, I finally got my chance to kick the ball out of the park, at an intimate book-signing affair for his latest “The Case Against Sugar”.  I drove two hours north to Pasadena in the pouring rain, and arrived early enough to sit in the front row, just feet away from the object of my obsession.  There were only about 60 people in the room, and well-known skeptic Michael Shermer would interview him, followed by a 45 minute Q&A session with the audience.

Ok, honestly, even though I’d long day-dreamed about the line of questioning I’d put to Taubes given the chance, I knew I wasn’t even going to ask him a single question that day.  I knew it’d be useless.  No matter what you’d ask, he’d already have a pat answer prepared, or he’d use the same rhetorical techniques he’s used over the last 15 years.  (He’d aggressively interrupt you, pretending to be interested in some scientific aspect to consider, and end up taking over your question, etc.)  Plus, there’s always a lot of other people asking dumb personal questions, so you’d never get much time.  And I was just obsessed about his motivations, not his bad science.  And I’m a horrible speaker.

[Actually, the guy sitting next to me, Peter Voss, a stick-thin calorie-restrictor of 19 years, ended up in a mini-debate with Taubes over “calories-in, calories-out” (CICO).  Voss said you could control body weight by adjusting the calories you ate, and Taubes got slightly agitated and repeatedly told him CICO was “meaningless”, and started with the whole “let’s say you have a lot of people in the room” hand-waving analogy, making things less clear.  Gary controlled the guys question until no one knew what they were talking about anymore.  Oh, and Gary told the CR’er he could eat more if he focused on fats.]

But all during the talk, it became clear to me that Taubes was fixed on his belief that nutritional science had got it wrong, and that he’s the only person in history to review the literature and realize this, and to make a scientific argument against CICO (i.e., his 2007 book “Good Calories, Bad Calories”).  He can say this with a straight face is because he knows he’s right.  Carbs make you fat.  Plus, he’s built up a whole belief system and set of fact-twisting arguments supporting it.   He’s long done listening to any counter-evidence.  He’s worked out every reason to dismiss it all, via misinterpretation or mischaracterization, if necessary.  

Taubes literally believes that everyone else is wrong, and only he is right.   [He told us that conventional nutrition scientists all suffer from groupthink, and no one will rock the conspiratorial boat.]  Occam’s Razor tells him he’s right.  He refers to it frequently lately, because while he admits he can’t prove his assertions, he says that Occam’s Razor supports his hypothesis.  Of course, this drives me crazy, because he insanely misinterprets Occam’s Razor.  He describes it as preferring the explanation with the fewest number of elements.  And since the conventional explanation for the obesity epidemic is “complex and multi-faceted”, it basically loses by [his] definition.  Of course, Occam’s Razor prefers the explanation with the fewest assumptions, which is just a proxy for overall likelihood.  (Consider the probability that every nutritional scientist got it wrong over 50+ years, AND they’re suppressing the truth, AND no one except Taubes can see it, etc. vs. the probability that “people just like to sit around and eat”.)

For someone uniquely holding the solution to the global obesity crisis (Is it carbs, or is it sugar this time?  Someone from the audience asked him this, but I don’t remember his answer.  It must have been long-winded), you’d think that science would come running to hear the details.  Oh I forgot, there’s a conspiracy.

I don’t think Gary Taubes is a fraud, as Evelyn (aka Carbsane) has claimed.  At least not in the mustache-twirling way, scheming how he’s going to get rich by making us all believe that carbs make us fat.  He’s more of a vocal, biased partisan making a living from his passions.  I don’t have any problem with that.  (I used to worry about the mustache-twirling, but I feel better now after meeting him and seeing how he thinks.  Hint: like a lawyer who will twist facts.)  Bottom line, he’d still probably insist that carbs make us fat, against all the evidence, even if no one was paying him for his views.

Although I had plenty of opportunities to corner Taubes and waylay him with a few one-on-one questions, I completely avoided it.  I kept it to a few words in the reception line, and gave him his space as we were getting our coats. He knew I was a critic.  If he wanted to discuss anything, I’d let him initiate it.  But we let it alone.  The most we acknowledged of the multi-year, fairly personal, raging online diet wars was Evelyn.  “Who?”  “Evelyn from Carbsane.”  “Oh, Eeeviee!”  That made my trip.

Look, Taubes gets it constantly, probably from his normal-eating friends, and maybe even from his semi-vegetarian wife.  It’s not an act, or at least he never breaks character.  He’s heard it a million times before.  He didn’t need to hear it again from me.  That’s the best thing about meeting someone personally versus flaming each other on Twitter.  You recognize that the other person is a human being.  (I’m a grown-up.  I know that wrestling isn’t real.  Taubes does too.)

The summary.  Yes, he really believes it.  No, he can’t prove it.  No, he’s not listening to any counter-evidence.  No, he’ll never change his mind nor admit to even the smallest of conceptual mistakes.  Why?  Because he’s more like a smart lawyer who never breaks character, and not even close to a scientist.  Besides, there’s no going back at this point.

The Case for Kool-Aid

You’d think that every possible book about every possible dietary scapegoat has already been written.  But when you see Gary Taubes promoting his new anti-sugar book, you learn the market for this stuff is insatiable (hey, a pun!), and it’ll just never end.  Ever.  No matter what.  The material is all the same, except for the worsening world obesity statistics, and the new revisionist history chapter appended to the ongoing conspiracy against your health.  The only thing more saturated than our consumption of sugar (it may have peaked in 1999) is the market for anti-sugar books.  My guess is that John Yudkin’s “Pure, White and Deadly” was nothing new in 1972.  I’m pretty sure we’ve even recycled some of the titles a few times already such as “bitter truth”, “sweet poison”, etc.

So Gary Taubes released his “The Case Against Sugar” book on 27 December, and I thought he missed the Christmas market.  Turns out, it was well-timed for the New Year’s resolution market, and he’s been featured in a bunch of health articles lately.  I think he’s come up with the revelation that sugar is literally poison, and even a teaspoon of it in coffee is bad, and perhaps apples may not be healthy.  And while people aren’t exactly taking him seriously, neither are they laughing him off the national nutrition stage.  It’s a game we’ve been playing for the last 15 years.  He makes outrageous and scientifically unsound claims about the metabolism of carbohydrates, and we listen to him rapturously.  (Well, okay, the tide is probably turning against him since his disastrous NuSI metabolic ward experiment, his debate against Alan Aragon, and his recent online debate with Stephan Guyenet.)  At any rate, I’ve learned over the years that a crank is someone who will refute every point made against them, no matter what.  (Ok, Gary Taubes only questions every point made against him, “but how do we know that <insert your fact here>?”.)

So I don’t care what Gary Taubes says anymore.  He used to drive me crazy because I couldn’t see how someone could go around making nonsense claims like Ancel Keys, the 1980 DGAs and carbs, not calories, made us fat.  I thought that no one with a science background would do that, not even for money, not at the cost of such ridicule.  Turns out there’s a set of cranks that do so all day on Twitter.  (@GaryTaubes tweets occasionally, but he doesn’t engage any of his critics.)  I’ve written previously about why people do this kind of thing.  For whatever reason, it’s something they feel very strong (usually outraged) about, and it’s part of their person.  It’s similar to politics.  So, while you may admit fresh cinnamon rolls might taste good, you’ll correctly recognize they’re the root of all evil, etc.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I’m now drinking 2 litres of Kool-Aid every day.  However, I only use about 60g of white, refined sugar, instead of the 225g they recommend per two quarts.  So I only use 1/4 the sugar of the recipe, which is just fine for my adult tastebuds.  And I’m still baking a few loaves of white bread each week, and eating pasta, noodles, and other refined starches.  It works for me, probably because I ride a bicycle, eat low-fat with a lot of vegetables, and get a lot of genetic help.  Still, no one is forcing their “dietary dogma” on me or anything, for chrissakes.

Attending Low Carb 2016 San Diego

Just for lulz, I attended the 2016 Low Carb USA conference here in downtown San Diego.  I saw all of my “heros” (haha), especially Gary Taubes.  Yes, he gave the same talk he’s given for the last eight years, but it was different to politely experience it live versus screaming at the YouTube screen at home.

I describe some of my impressions in the video, but overall the experience was worthwhile, because I finally gained that missing piece that explains how these gurus can go on year-after-year, day-after-day, tweet-after-tweet proclaiming “carbs make you fat” against the whole body of scientific knowledge and research, and that “everything you know about nutrition is wrong”.

First, almost all of the speakers acknowledged that mainstream science holds their views to be “crazy” (Dr. Jason Fung’s words) or even in the realm of quackery (Gary Taubes’ words).  Yet overall, this group of HFLC / ketogenic diet doctors and promoters see themselves as rebels of the medical establishment, and revolutionaries against the dogma of the US Dietary Guidelines that unjustly demonize saturated fats.

Well, they actually make some valid points, but they seem more as curiosities rather than compelling arguments for ketogenic diets.  So sure, it looks like there’s some data now that keto diets doesn’t cause CVD (people have zero CAC scores to prove it; they attain a healthy weight and exercise, so it’s intuitive that it won’t kill them).  And there are some ultra-endurance runners who perform equally well while training keto.  (But, it looks like they probably use carbs in competition, and maybe even throughout the racing season.)

Of course, keto diets still haven’t found much application is sports requiring explosive performance, and if they do, people still need their glycogen stores (they do restore themselves even under a keto diet).

And low-carb diets look to me like pointless torture, compared to the many healthy ways to enjoy ad libitum carbs like bread, tortillas, pasta, and potatoes.  But many people are terrified of carbs, especially when they’re sedentary, and feel that meats are a superior choice over starches.  I say they’re overthinking their diets.

But most importantly, these low-carb gurus believe their stories about Ancel Keys, George McGovern, and the 1980 US Dietary Guidelines causing the worldwide obesity epidemic for one main reason.  They believe in their false characterizations, because they want to believe them.  It falls in line with their view of the world (especially their skepticism of “experts” and any government policy), and justifies their dietary preferences.  They don’t want to hear anything else.  But ask them what’s wrong with the way people eat, and they won’t stop talking.

Bad Science 2: The Irony

badScienceI bought Gary Taubes’ Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion back in 1990 or so.  I didn’t get around to reading it until this year, well over 25 years later.  I bought the hardcover when I was about 25 years old, and just wasn’t sufficiently cynical yet to enjoy it.  This year, I knew what it offered, and whet my chops and dug into it.  I couldn’t put it down until I read most of it a few days later.  Lots of lulz on Pons and Fleischmann, but particularly Stanley Pons.  Taubes painted him as somewhat inept, and totally out of his electrochemistry league trying to claim a breakthrough in nuclear physics.   Desperately trying to defend the impossible (significant excess heat from a simple electrochemical cell), Pons squirms to avoid the press, skeptics, and peers seeking to replicate his “results”.  Its pure schadenfreude at it’s finest.

I remember the Pons and Fleischmann premature announcement hitting the news.  I was in grad school, and discussed it with friends.  We were very skeptical of the claims, and after a day, knew it was a total joke.  And the world remembers it that way too.  Pons and Fleischmann are now synonyms for bad science, and cold fusion is the poster child for pathological science (fixed-idea cranks forever trying to “prove” their pet beliefs).

Fast-forward 30 years, and the tables have turned.  Taubes switched from reporting on science to inserting himself into what he calls one of the weakest sciences, nutrition.  He formed a non-profit (NuSI), to drive his self-proclaimed “Manhattan Project of Obesity” featuring metabolic ward studies aimed at determining once-and-for-all if it’s the carbs or the calories that make us fat.

I never understood how he could say with a straight face that “carbs literally make you fat”, or “what if everything you’ve been told about nutrition was wrong?”, or when he suggests that eating unlimited amounts of fat (in a ketogenic state) wouldn’t cause weight gain.  His talks usually involve an hour of dancing around the 1st Law of Thermodynamics.  He then points out a few small populations that he says got obese during famines.  He says that all the experiments showing that calories drive weight changes, not macronutrient composition, were done wrong.  And just about every sentence he utters makes you want to gouge your eyes out.  Especially the one about Occam’s Razor supporting his position.

But what drives people even crazier is trying to figure out why he’s doing this.  You might immediately think he’s doing it for the money, which has indeed been very rewarding for him.  But then you think no, no one would subject themselves to such ridicule for so loudly touting a simplistic idea thats been dismissed a long time ago.  In fact, he’s kept a very low profile all these years, avoiding his critics in any format (live, interview, social media, etc.), with the one-time exception of a disastrous debate with Alan Aragon.  Taubes himself says he understands why people would consider him a quack.

But can he really believe his own “Alternative Hypothesis” of obesity?  I guess you can discount all the existing evidence,  once you get it in your head that “everyone’s wrong”.  And what could make “everyone” be wrong, seeing as how science is self-correcting, and who’d miss the chance to scoop everyone with the correct solution?  A conspiracy perhaps, as members parrot the party line (“dogma”).  And why a conspiracy?  Well, maybe complacency, or group-think, or professional coercion (see “Yudkin vs. Keys”).  And who put this idea into Taubes’ mind?  Dr. Robert Atkins and his New Diet Revolution.  And why would he believe it?  Because it fit with Taubes’ own dietary biases and experiences.  So why could Taubes break the conspiracy?  Because he’s an outsider.  And wouldn’t it be great if I was right, and proved everybody wrong?

That actually makes some sense.  People will firmly retrench in their convictions when they feel surrounded by the enemy.  Then good luck trying to tell them they might be wrong.  There’s times when we’re convinced we’re right, and that everyone else is wrong.  It’s human nature, part of an independent mind, which occasionally pays off.  We trust our intuition.  And sometimes we get very stubborn.

But wouldn’t a normal person stop and think, “Can I really go against the consensus belief, and claim that all of science has it wrong, and I have it right?  On the national stage?”  Well, you need a catchy premise to pitch a book, and that kind of idea sells, so you go for it.  After all, you can’t go around promoting a book as, “well, maybe carbohydrates cause weight gain because of insulin, but maybe not”.  No producer would book you on their show, and no one would listen if they did.

So then how did it all escalate to forming your own non-profit foundation and raising hundreds of millions to actually scientifically test your hypothesis with the leading experts in the field?  Who knows.  It might have started in conversations with like-minded authors and researchers.  I guess you convince yourselves that its a good idea.  You can fund the studies you always wanted to see, and pay yourself to do it.  And the scientific community will learn something in the end, right?

But here we are, and the first results from the NuSI Energy Balance Consortium metabolic studies are out and things are looking bad for Taubes’ carbohydrate-insulin theory of obesity.  The results confirm prior studies, and what people expect, given our very evolved metabolism that can efficiently extract and store almost all the energy from our dietary fat and carbohydrate.  Just think “Twinkie Diet”, and why it works.  To a very good first-order, it’s the total calories that count, not the macro-nutrient composition of the diet.

And it looks like Taubes won’t even accept the results of his own studies.  Does that make him dishonest, or just a crank?  There are plenty of celebrity cranks (Jenny McCarthy, e.g.).  Is it the ego that won’t let them admit mistake?  That makes some sense.  They had to have a pretty big ego to first promote such an unlikely and criticized theory.  Turning back would look pretty bad.  Or they might just be convinced they’re right.  There’s enough murkiness in the details to give them eternal hope.

People have speculated former NuSI President Peter Attia quietly left his post late last year because he saw the writing on the wall.  That’s understandable, as his reputation wasn’t entirely invested into the “Alternative Hypothesis” as Taubes is.

So who will write Bad Science 2?  I doubt anyone will, because the original Bad Science probably didn’t sell very well.  As another irony, what it mostly did for Taubes was to give him writing awards and scientific credibility to write best-selling diet books.  And as Dr. Michael Eades himself says, a successful book is all about the marketability of the author, not the content of the book itself.

So what will happen to Gary Taubes?  Even if all the NuSI studies come out to totally discredit the carbohydrate-insulin theory of obesity, he’s not going to suffer personally.  He’s been heavily criticized by some, and fawningly idolized by others for the last 15+ years.  He looks just fine, maybe a little bit older.  Plus, low-carbs diets will never die, so he’ll always have a friendly audience.  What have you seen of him over the last 15 years to make you think he’ll change his mind?  Taubes will not be following Stanley Pons in exile to France.

Sure there’s people out there who think he’s acted in bad faith the whole way through this 15 year affair.  I think it’s really hard to outright lie for that long, convincingly, in front of audiences over and over.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was speaking from some type of conviction.  But I’m sure he was well aware of the money the gig was producing.  And I don’t have any problems with that, because it was all funded willingly by people who wanted to believe what Taubes was saying, and will continue to believe, no matter what his own studies reveal.

Gary Taubes Proves a Calorie is a Calorie

Well, the first long-awaited results of the NuSI metabolic ward studies comparing high-carb vs. ketogenic diets were publicly released today.   Nutrition nerds around the world hung on to every word between interviewer Dr. Yoni Freedhoff and principal investigator Dr. Kevin Hall live via Periscope from an ICO 2016 poster session.

Take note.  This is not some “bro-science” nutrition video, but a walk-thru of actual pre-publication data from the first NuSI Energy Balance Consortium paper.  This was to be Gary Taubes’ RCT-to-end-all-RCTs, nobody-has-ever-measured-it-properly-before, let’s determine once-and-for-all if a “calorie is a calorie” or if “carbs make you fat” study.

This highly controlled laboratory study will help determine whether it’s the total amount of calories you eat or the proportion of fat and carbohydrate in the diet that most importantly drives body weight gain.

The study was seriously expensive, funded in part by the NIH and by $40M NuSI donors Laura and John Arnold. It was designed to measure as accurately as possible the total energy in minus the total energy out of 17 overweight-to-obese subjects, and to measure the body composition changes (DEXA-scan) resulting from about a 300 calorie deficit under a high carb/sugar diet, and then under a ketogenic diet.

The excellent interview tells you everything you need to know.  You’ll see that the subjects lost fat quicker on the 25% sugar high-carb diet than on the 80% fat / 15% protein / 5% carb ketogenic diet (while likely insulin-resistant).  RQ charts show the subjects quickly went to fat oxidation (“fat adaptation”), and C-peptide shows a quick 50% insulin drop in ketosis.  Interestingly, subjects lost lean mass in ketosis, but not under the high-carb diet.  Dr. Hall found no metabolic advantage for the ketogenic diet, and concludes that results falsify Taubes’ carbohydrate-insulin theory of obesity (the “Alternative Hypothesis”).

Well, this is awkward.  The whole point of the creating the NuSI non-profit was to validate the carb-insulin theory of obesity, and prove that a calorie is not a calorie.  These were to be the definitive metabolic ward studies to end the low-carb vs. high-carb debate.  Well, ironically, it’s first study might just have done that.  Just kidding!  This is just another study any true believer will simply ignore.  The tweets will go on.

Gary Taubes: “Carbs Literally Make You Fat”

Gary Taubes is so obsessed that “carbs make us fat”, that he thinks we could (should) eat unlimited fat, as long as we don’t eat any carbs. Who the ^#%$ wants to do that? Sure, I like bacon and eggs, but I’d rather eat sensibly than follow some tortuous ketogenic diet that doesn’t work (see below).

I prefer to eat low-fat (< 10% of calories), knowing that I can eat unlimited carbs, exercise moderately, and not risk gaining fat. This is because the body can't readily turn carbs into fat (de novo lipogensis is slow). However, any excess dietary fat will be quickly stored as body fat.

Gary Taubes takes the same understanding of the body’s mechanisms (that we preferentially burn dietary carbs and store excess dietary fat), but reaches a different conclusion. He reasons that if you don’t eat any carbs, then you can’t store any fat. WTF?! How do you make that conclusion? This logical error is called the fallacy of the inverse (If A, then B. Therefore, if not A, then not B. Not!) Here, A = “overeating carbs AND fat”, and B = “we become obese”. So “overeating fat BUT eating no carbs” is not A, therefore not B, and we don’t become obese. Not!

Some people realise this can’t really be true, and aren’t surprised when they hear about people (like Jimmy Moore) gaining weight on a ketogenic diet (< 30g/day carbs). That's exactly what a caller to Sean Croxton's Underground Wellness podcast asked (could you over-eat fat, without any carbs, and not gain weight?). Here’s Gary Taubes’ response (starts at 4:00):

… but I do not believe you can get fatter [no matter how much fat you eat, when you eat no carbs], and for most people, probably some huge proportion, 80% – 90%, if you’re not eating carbs, your’re going to lose weight, you’re not going to gain it.

So to me, its the carbohydrates that literally make you fat. You will store the fat that you eat. See, what happens when you eat the carbs and your insulin levels go up, you store the fat, the dietary fat, while you burn the carbs. And if your insulin levels stay up, you never let that dietary fat that you stored out of your fat tissue. So the carbs are still the problem, even though the fat is being stored first.

So he understands the well-known “fat-sparing” effect of eating carbs. Carbs are preferentially burned while the fat is stored. So most reasonable people eat low fat to minimize its storage. (Our bodies were made to store fat. It’s a great survival feature.) But Gary Taubes thinks we can trick the body into not storing excess dietary fat, by not eating any carbs. Good luck with that.

Then he goes on:

And because of that, we’ve been told, “Well, since we’re storing the fat and burning the carbs, if you don’t eat the fat, or if we eat less of it, we’ll store less of it.” But the carbs are controlling how the fat tissue is holding on to the fat, and whether it’s releasing it to be burned later.

So the carbs are basically what’s regulating the insulin and the insulin is regulating the fat and the dietary fat is only a problem if you’re eating a high carb diet.

He’s saying that low-fat diets don’t work, because carbs never let the fat out of the adipose tissue. But, there are plenty of times where the body burns fat, like in between meals, during moderate exercise, while you’re sleeping, etc. Sure, if you constantly keep eating, you won’t access your fat stores, but in most normal people, adipose tissue is metabolically active. Excess fat goes in when eaten, and comes out as needed. (Hey, what would happen if you didn’t eat any excess dietary fat?)

Argh. You know, if you like bacon and eggs, then eat them. If you want to eat ketogenic, then good for you. And if you want to believe that carbs make you fat, no matter what the science says, then hopefully the low-carb approach works for you. But if you go around arguing that there’s a metabolic advantage to eating no carbs, please try listening to reason occasionally.

Carbs (Alone) Won’t Make You Fat

Click the image below to read Berkeley professor Marc Hellerstein explain that the body makes very little fat from de novo lipogenesis (DNL) of dietary carbohydrate, so carbs by themselves won’t make you fat. However, eating carbs with fat results in a “fat sparing” effect (consumed carbs are burned instead of fat), causing dietary fat to make a beeline for storage in our adipose tissue.
Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 8.19.03 PM

This pretty much explains both why low-fat (< 10%) diets work, and why low-carb’ers avoid all carbs in their high-fat diets. Both are right, kind of. The low-fat crowd knows that excess dietary fat goes right into storage. That’s right, of course. And low-carb’ers think that carbs cause insulin spikes which makes your adipose tissue store serum glucose as fat (the alternative hypothesis of obesity, aka “carbs make you fat”). But, that’s extremely overstating the effect of DNL, which is tiny (normal diets in healthy people won’t generate but a few grams of fat a day), while ignoring that fat gets stored directly as fat (the “fat sparing” effect). So carbs make the body store dietary fat as fat, not glucose as fat. Someone please tell Gary Taubes that it’s

food -> insulin -> serum triglycerides -> adipose
and not
carbs -> insulin -> glucose -> adipose

They measured DNL with doubly labeled water and other accurate means. And they’ve traced dietary fat accumulation a long time ago. This is well-known stuff by now. And yes, no-carb meals will also raise insulin levels (and glucose levels).

So, if you eat little fat, you won’t have any serum triglycerides to store as fat. It’s pretty easy to eat less than 50g of fat a day when you’re motivated to lose weight. Plus, all my biking burns way more than that. Yes, fat would make meals more “satisfying”, but it would also slow down progress to my weight goal. I can live without eating it for a while. I’m not starving. I’m eating more than 600g of carbs a day.

But people will believe what they want, and they’ll blame carbs for making them fat, mostly because they like fatty foods. Personally, I’ll go high-carb, low-fat when I want to lose weight, then go to reasonable fat (30%) for maintenance.

So I ate a huge loaf of sourdough yesterday (~ 600g), and ate a bunch of noodles and tortillas today. I ate very little fat yesterday (only some Thousand Island dressing on a salad). And of course, I rode about 240 km this weekend. Today alone, I burned 2600 calories on a 4.5 hour Moment Cycles shop ride.

I don’t mind burning off a bunch of fat while I bonk at the end of a long ride. I just don’t want to eat a bunch of fat afterwards to replace it. I collapsed at Dos Brasas at the end of the ride, and drank 3 large Diet Cokes and ate an order of 3 plain tortillas to make the last 5km home. (I only ate about 1200 calories on the ride — 1.5 bagels, a regular Coke, two packs of Shot Bloks.)