Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eating Amidst a Welter of Information

About a month ago, I was watching the comedy-documentary "Fat Head". I found the film irritating but the anti-carb argument provocative. So I followed the film's research trail back to Gary Taubes-a NY Times science writer. I already had Taubes' book Good Calories, Bad Calories and had read bits of it but not the work in its entirety. After watching a 1.5 hour long video of Taubes and some lipidologist discussing how the body uses carbs vs. how it uses fat, I suddenly became more convinced by their radical pro-fat, pro-protein dietary theory.

Let me just say that Taubes, because he is an iconoclast, can sometimes be quite egomaniacal. That is, everyone else, a century of dietary science, doctors, dietitians, the USDA, everyone is wrong and he, because he is some kind of dietary seer, is correct. But since I am reflexive doubter, I found his certainty and anti-establishmentarianism pretty seductive. In particular I found his argument that America's shunning of cholesterol and fat has caused us to consume loads of compensatory carbohydrates. We're filling up on whatever breads, cereals, pastas, rice, potatoes and corn we can get our hands on, because we've abandoned the more filling and satiating--butter, bacon, eggs and well-marbled meats. According to Taubes and the lipidologist, carbs, of all kinds (whole and refined) turn into sugar in our bloodstream and this sugar causes a rise in cholesterol. This carb-sugar also takes a toll on our pancreas, liver, kidneys and heart. Fat, on the other hand, the body uses and needs. Fat does not solidify in our arteries, they claim. So the whole idea that when we consume a pat of butter that is clings to and hardens in our arteries is really just imaginary land.

Imagine if Taubes and this lipidologist are correct, that these decades of whole grain, low fat, high veg. devotion are actually the cause of America's dietary based diseases--that this dietary truth could possible be deconstructed, if, and that is a big if, the other possibility were actually addressed and scientifically studied. Now some folks would say that there is plenty of proof out there to verify the low fat, whole grain diet. The great thing about Taubes though is that he rejects the idea that the science is settled. Moreover, he brings to the forefront how normalized certain science becomes, it becomes common sense because it is established as common sense. But ultimately, nothing is ever fully settled, any historian of science could show you that the common sense of a century ago- the truly believed and assumed dietary rules-are now laughed at, seen as quaint and "old-timey" foolishness.

I like Taubes' skepticism, for as you know, I am a skeptical sort. And I like to imagine 100 years out that folks will look back at the veg-whole grain-low fat dogma and say wasn't that odd, how everyone stopped eating juicy delicious steaks blanketed in luxurious pats of butter. How silly and sad that eating era was. Poor them.