Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is Your Doctor Killing You?

This month seems to by my "doctor" month: colonoscopy last week, cardiology 6-month check-up this week, and my annual physical next week. I am a "victim" of coronary by-pass surgery as well as a small stroke a couple of years ago, so I'm attentive to my coronary health. As best as I can determine, the one thing I can do to improve my life expectancy is to lose some weight.

But the hard thing is just how does one go about losing the weight. I'm not sure physicians are all that good at telling us how to shed the excess pounds. A year and a half ago I read ("slogged my way through" may be more accurate) Gary Taubes book Good Calories, Bad Calories which makes a very persuasive case for the fact that the basis for most nutrition advice in this country is wrong, i.e., we should be eating a heart-healthy low-fat diet and should be exercising and controlling the amount of calories we consume. Taubes says the science and the medical research prove that a low-fat diet, which by its nature is a high carbohydrate diet, is precisely the thing that is making us all fatter.

The Good Calories book is a very difficult read. It goes deeply into the physiology of obesity and diet, but I think the results are worth the effort. For someone who doesn't want to invest the couple of weeks of free-time reading the book takes, it is probably worthwhile to listen to Taubes lecture on the subject. He recently did so at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock School of Medicine, available here.

The entire lecture is about an hour long, but if you don't want to spent that much time, forward to the conclusion (click on the "Thumbs" tab in the player window and then click (or double-click) on the antepenultimate slide (third from the last) and listen to the six minute summary at the end of the lecture.

Taubes' research makes a lot of sense. One questioner calls this "the biggest public health disaster in modern history--the epidemic of obesity and diabetes". Most physicians still believe what they learned in school in the past 40 years--that low fat is healthy because everyone knows it's true. Physicians who are not aware of the latest science and research may be killing us with bad advice.

In the 18 months since I read Taubes book I've been following a low-carb lifestyle, and though I haven't lost much weight, I haven't gained any either even though I've paid virtually no attention to the number of calories I've eaten. However, I am influenced by that fat-is-bad image in the back of my head. For example, at lunch I've given up Vienna sausages (0 grams of carbs) and will have a whole wheat sandwich (20 grams of carbs) instead because everyone says the sandwich is healthier. Maybe soon more doctors will realize low-carb is healthier than low-fat and it will become easier to eat a healthy low-carb diet.


David Brown said...

One thing people need to pay more attention to is the biological potency of the food they consume. A person can "low-carb" on poor quality fats and proteins miss the benefits of a healthy gut microbe population. For more information, I suggest you visit Gray Tivendale's collection of documents at http://www.scribd.com/doc/10161197/INTRODUCTION-Fat-Blame-the-Bugs-in-Your-Guts

Preston said...

I believe Taubes addresses this subject in the answer he gives to the symposium moderator's question at the end of the presentation, at about the 1.04:45 mark.