In the interest of full disclosure, I'll start by saying I received an advance copy of the book Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, by Gary Taubes, to review; my acceptance of an advance copy came with no strings; I was neither asked to write a review nor was it implied if I chose to, that it be positive.
That said, it's a good thing I received an advance copy - with over 600-pages of content, notes and bibliography, it's a dense reading adventure!
That's not to say it's difficult to read or understand; quite the contrary, I found it to be well-written and a compelling page-turner. Then again, this is the genre of writing I enjoy most - content that is well researched and strongly supported with references, citations and evidence...so you can imagine my excitment as I opened my copy and dug right in!
I was not disappointed.
I've held my review up until today as I was interested in watching how the media was going to play the release of the book. I wondered, would the various shows and articles encourage their viewers and readers to read the book, or would they seek to discredit Taubes to discourage any real discussion about his positions presented and the research he believes supports them?
Save for a couple of appearances and reviews, the silence around the release of the book is deafening. Taubes appeared on Good Morning America last week. The GMA website provides an excerpt from the book to read online and a video clip from the on-air segment (on same page), along with an area to leave comments. Later (same day) Taubes was featured on Nightline. The Nightline website provides a transcript of the show, a video-clip of the segment and an area for comments too.
This week, the Lifestyle: Health & Fitness section on Reuters published its review titled Count your calories.
In the Reuters article we find a glimpse of what is the at the heart of the book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" examines an alternative hypothesis to the calorie- and fat-centric idea through decades of literature and clinical data on diet and obesity, Taubes says. It's another way to explain observations about diet and weight gain, he says, one for which strong data existed. "If we had taken this other fork in the road," he asks, "what would we have come to believe?"
The book is, in a word, a masterpiece; not because I think Taubes is right with all his conclusion, but because I feel he took the right approach to evaluate the science - he approached the research from the perspective of a skeptic; that despite his own beliefs at the start, he was going to let the data speak for itself and take him where it led from hundreds of studies published over the last century.
Before I continue with the review of the book, let me say that I believe good science requires one be a true skeptic; a good researcher, a scientist, then is not a proponent of any particular point of view, but remains cognizant of the fact that trials finding support for or refuting a hypothesis are both valuable in our quest for understanding; that seeing and believing the data, both in support of or refutation of a hypothesis, is the primary goal in scientific inquiry.
Simply put, letting the data speak for itself and remaining skeptical that your own belief in a hypothesis may in fact be wrong, is an important part of the process in scientific discovery; if one cannot remain open to the idea a hypothesis may be wrong, one cannot reject hypotheses that fail when put through the rigors of testing.
Which brings me back to the book.
Taubes tackles a number of issues in the book, notably the history of how we got where we are today with public health policies and dietary recommendations, and why, even without good science to support our policies as they developed, they were formed and promoted as fact to the population at large.
He then tackles what was two competing hypotheses at the time we hit the crossroad in our search for understanding how diet plays a role in disease: the diet-heart hypothesis and the carbohydrate hypothesis.
He asked, "If we had taken this other fork in the road, what would we have come to believe?"
The only way to begin to answer that question is to set aside what you think you know, set aside preconceived notions and dig into Taubes book.
It's rich with citations for studies lost in the noise and debate; filled with data and findings that for too long collected dust until he brushed them off for a second look; and leaves the door wide open for us to begin to really examine all the data we have.
The full weight of the evidence, Taubes contends, led him to conclusions he did not anticipate himself at the start; conclusions that are controversial but open-ended for more discussion, interpretation, analysis and trial.
Perhaps you too may find yourself in the same predicament at the end of Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease; until you read it though, you just can't know, can you?
I highly recommend the book, for those who firmly hold carbohydrate restriction is scientifically valid and for those who firmly hold limiting dietary fat is scientifically valid.
At the end of the day our quest isn't to prove what is believed right, it's to discover what is rightly to be believed.
Taubes doesn't just argue that what we're told is wrong, he provokes us to examine our beliefs about a healthy diet by providing a wealth of data from hundreds of studies reviewed in his research in writing the book to argue the validity of the scientific process. That is, he presents a compelling arguement that the supportive data used to maintain the status quo of the diet-heart hypothesis and our current dietary guidelines is not as sturdy as we're led to believe, and makes the case that for well over a century there has been, all along throughout the last century, the competing alternate theory, the carbohydrate hypothesis, that has been ignored despite compelling data.
No matter what one currently believes, this book is an eye-opening examination of the science and the history that led us to where we are today; a compelling review of the weight of the evidence from both sides; and a resource rich with citations that allow us to begin examining and questioning the validity of our beliefs in the connections between diet and health.