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Laura Dolson

Reader's Digest Features Low-Carb Article with Gary Taubes

By January 8, 2011

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low-carbThis morning, my husband asked whether or not I'd seen the diet article in the new Reader's Digest (my parents send us a subscription every year). Well, no, I had not, and I muttered something disparaging about the science reporting in that publication (see example here). Then he said, "it's an interview with Gary Taubes". I paused to process this and replied "well, knock me over with a feather!"

Of course, right by my side as I write this is Taubes' new book, Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. I haven't finished it yet, but it is as great as I'd hoped it would be. The Reader's Digest interview covers a few of the key points in the book, and the cover has "Eat This to Lose Weight" plastered across it, with "The New Science of Dieting" underneath.

Some quotes from the interview which I particularly enjoyed:
  • "For the most part, you can define an obese person as someone for whom eating less didn't work."
  • After pointing out that the amount of weight gain which is most common is the result of eating about 20 extra calories per day, "if practicing energy balance is the way to keep from getting fat, the question is 'why aren't we all fat?'".
  • In talking about a recent diet study (I think he was talking about this one, which he further analyzes on his blog) he points out how, as is often the case, they compare a calorie-resticted diet to a low-carb diet where people can eat as much as they want. "To me, this is the most important observation in the field of obesity research: that you can have an effective diet that doesn't restrict calories."
  • "Not everyone gets fat from eating carbohydrates...but some huge percentage of people who are fat got that way from carbs in their diet.[...] If you've been fat for a long time, getting rid of carbohydrates might not make you lean. But the leanest you can be is on the diet with the least carbohydrate.
They even include some tips on low-carb dieting. The one thing I disagree with is a statement attributed to Dr. Eric Westman (this is unusual, as Dr. Westman is one of the true lights in the low-carb world, and in general I'm in total agreement with him) that "To lose weight, most people have to stay under 20 grams of net carbs per day". I'm guessing Dr. Westman says this because so many of the people he sees have metabolisms which are pretty damaged. In the general population, people talk about losing weight with a fair amount more carb. After all, some people can lose weight on the Zone diet, with 40% carbohydrate. It all depends upon how damaged the person's metabolism already is.

Do I think the Reader's Digest is improving in its science and nutrition reporting? Although time will tell, I tend to doubt it. More likely, it's the "even a broken clock is correct twice a day" syndrome. I'd love to be proved wrong, though!

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Photo © Karen Struthers

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January 8, 2011 at 7:47 pm
(1) Jimmy Moore says:

Wow, this is so cool! Thanks Laura!

January 9, 2011 at 6:32 pm
(2) Vesna says:

What’s astonishing is that the article contains none of the obligatory low-carb-bashing subtext that mainstream LC mentions usually include. No “Taubes claims” or “Remember, Taubes makes money from his books” or “Of course, the CDC and USDA and ADA and AHA disagree” or any of the usual nonsense.

January 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm
(3) Steve Parker, M.D. says:

I predicted in print about a year ago that low-carb dieting would soon be in resurgence. It’s started. You can’t get any more mainstream than Readers Digest, unless it’s People Magazine.

January 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm
(4) Jamie in Missouri says:

I recently dropped my subscription to Reader’s Digest since I got upset every time I read a ‘diet’ article or looked at their recipes. Many times the recipes were so loaded with carbs that really wasn’t worth the time to try and change them to fit a low carb way of life.

Now I’ll take a wait and see attitude before I subscribe again.

January 10, 2011 at 6:27 pm
(5) The Dude says:

First off, I eat low carb (~50g/day) and high fat (~60% of calories). It works pretty well for me despite “high” LDL, and since changing to this diet (Paleo) my body fat percentage has dropped considerably…

Taubes earlier book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” is very interesting, and makes some excellent arguments about weight gain, exercise and diet and gives a detailed history of the genesis of our many pervasive cholesterol myths (Dr. Mercola has a very thorough article on the subject too). However, this “all carbs are bad” approach doesn’t hold up when we look at other cultures throughout history who have subsisted on root vegetables (Kitivan, S. American Aymara & Quechua, pre-famine Irish), or have eaten diets high in unrefined rice (Okinawan) with almost no diseases of civilization. Check out Stephan Guyenet’s blog for more on this – much like people with high cholesterol and no heart disease (Swiss) there is something else going on with these healthy, slim people who eat 80% calories from carbohydrate.

We’ve learned that the “calorie is a calorie” mantra is false, and now it’s time to explore whether “a carb is a carb.” Obviously a sweet potato isn’t the same as table sugar but they’re both carbohydrates. There are other factors to good health that we need to consider like grain consumption, PUFA, food additives, CAFO meat, Vitamin D and Magnesium intake, etc.

I still recommend reading Taubes’ books. Very thought provoking and definitely starts a discussion.

January 11, 2011 at 5:30 am
(6) Barbara Aquilina says:

I am one of the people who can only seem to lose weight on 20 grams of carb a day and I find this VERY restrictive
and I wonder if it has anything to do with the exercise component in my blood type

I find it interesting that with a blood type O,and being insulin resistant that the Atkins diet ,the blood type diet and the insulin resistant way of eating are all the same ,High protein low carb
My O blood type ancestors, who had one of the oldest blood types ate mainly protein ,which they had to chase and kill ,so for me a high protein diet with exercise seems to be the go and the exercise part has left a little to be desired lately
So back to the Gym

January 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm
(7) Ted Hutchinson says:

I’m one of the lucky ones who was able to lose weight with a carb intake around 50g daily and no exercise.
I followed Annika Dahlqvist’s Lowcarb Dietary Program after listening to Taubes Dartmouth lecture.
I think there is more to weight loss than just reducing carbs though that did the trick for me. I think those who plateau have to consider intermittent fasting, exercise, and the encouragement of ketone burning with Coconut oil or MCT oil these strategies initiate mitochondrial biogenesis.
Improving gut flora is another ploy that may make the final difference. As obese type gut flora flourish and create a pro inflammatory digestive system lowering gut inflammation with omega 3, vitamin d, magnesium etc enables the lean type gut flora more chance to dominate. The use of probiotics and avoidance of antibiotics will help. Even if it’s just a 100calories a day not absorbed advantage having lean type gut fora provide it all mounts up over the year.
Cutting out omega 6 seed oils like corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower and cottonseed oil and all the commercial foods that contain them also reduces inflammation in digestive system.

July 11, 2011 at 8:36 am
(8) Phoebe says:

Barbara, I have the same experience as you have had. . I am type O blood. Age 56 , been through menopause, and I am 40 pounds over weight. That weight gain has come on over the course of the last 20 years a pound at a time as I helplessly watch the scale. For the last two years I have been exceedingly strict on a low fat – low calorie diet, I exercise 6 days a week (leg press 500 pounds, bench press 130) and belong to a support group. We are to have one cheat day a week. I do not use that cheat day. My blood pressure continued to rise. I gained more weight. I was at my wits end. After reading the Readers Digest Article here, I ordered Gary Taubes’s “Good Calories Bad Calories”, which reads like a college text book. I learned so much and am reading it a second time. I also bought His easier to read version ,”Why We Get Fat and What to Do about it.” I have begun to research Paleo diets. In the last 6 weeks I have restricted my carbs to around 20 and FINALLY am losing weight. 12 pounds so far. I have lost 4 inches around my waist. What is remarkable is that in 6 weeks I am off of my blood pressure medicine. My doctor first had me cut them in half and then stop all together. I lift weights every other day for half an hour. I do an interval training bike ride for 20 minutes on the off days. This morning my blood pressure was 116/68. I am one that needs the very low carbs restriction. ( I am insulin resistant. I understand the insulin is a fat storage hormone . If there is excess in my blood stream,It will not allow me to burn my own fat for fuel, and I am either hungrier or my metabolism is lowered .) Right now I am my own guinea pig. I say that Gary is right as far as what is happening to me. I am not eating tons of meat, just an adequate amount. I eat organic herbal type salad greens and a few other very low glycemic veggies and lemon juice in my spring water. The starving feeling I always had is gone and I feel like I am no longer a hostage to hunger.

October 29, 2011 at 12:12 am
(9) John says:

I especially like your closing statement!

November 8, 2011 at 6:47 am
(10) wew says says:

nice article and the best i like it so much

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(11) Anne Marie says:

I am wondering if I am like you. I am 46 and was always pretty thin, but in the past two years, I’ve gained about 18 lbs! What else do you eat other than small amounts of meat and veggies? Thanks!

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