Thursday, January 6, 2011

Calories, fat or carbohydrates? Why diets work (when they do).

I came across this article today and thought I would share. You can also read the entire article by following the link at the bottom of this post. Gary Taubes is a regular blogger on the science of weight loss and has also recently published a couple of must read books if you are planning on improving your health.

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Borzoi Books)

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage)

Last September, the Williams College psychologist Susan Engel had an opinion piece in the New York Times on the value of standardized testing as a means of assessing the quality of a child’s education. Engel argued that there was scant evidence that these tests were of any value at all, and that they should be replaced by the many “promising techniques” that psychologists had already identified as valuable in assessing the learning of our children.

So what does this have to do with nutrition and weight control? Well, among the promising techniques, wrote Engel, was this one:

Researchers have also found that the way a student critiques a simple science experiment shows whether he understands the idea of controlling variables, a key component in all science work. To assess children’s scientific skills, an experiment could be described to them, in writing, and then they would explain how they would improve upon it.

So the value of controlling variables in a scientific experiment is something that a reasonably well-educated child supposedly understands. And what I want to know is why don’ t nutritionists understand it and those researchers out there doing diet trials and studying obesity and weight regulation. Because their failure to do so — and I would argue that it may be a willful failure — has led to what may be another of the great misconceptions in modern nutrition research. In particular, that carbohydrated-restricted diets are “valuable tools” in the arsenal against overweight and obesity, but they’re just one of the dietary tools.

This belief stems from the last decade of diet trials comparing carbohydrate-restricted diets (usually Atkins) to low-calorie, low-fat diets. Instead of thinking of low-carbohydrate diets like Atkins as deadly, which was formerly the case, nutritionists and dietitians (or at least most of them) now think of these diets as useful, just as other diets, low in calories or fats, are also useful. The idea now is that some people do well on carbohydrate-restricted diets and some people do well on low-fat diets, and maybe this is a result of whether they happen to be insulin sensitive or insulin resistant or maybe its just a product of their particular food tastes and preferences.

And this belief, of course, is based on the notion that we get fat for reasons other than the nutrient composition of the diet – probably because of some combination of our genes, our tendency to eat to much and our sedentary behavior – and so the diet that works best is the one that allows us to most comfortably restrict our intake of total calories.

Read the entire article by following the link below...