Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Groupthink and Fat

Yesterday, the New York Times Science section ran a piece titled "Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus". It is really about social cascades, how we end up believing what we believe in a culture of "groupthink." But that's not a very sexy subject, so the author, John Tierney, uses a controversial example to show us a cascade, and along the way makes a very good case for why our culture mistakenly believes that dietary fat is evil. It is a case of perfect timing, as Gary Taubes (also a NYT science writer, most well known for the article "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?") has just published Good Calories, Bad Calories. It appears to be as damning an indictment of our twisted understanding of food as has hit the shelves in recent years, with an explanation of how we got to this belief. Below is an excerpt from the book--maybe it will inspire us all to jump out of the cascade and make up our own minds.

The 11 Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories:

1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.
2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
3. Sugars—sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.
4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.
5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.
6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.
7. Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.
8. We get fat because of an imbalance—a disequilibrium—in the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.
9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.
10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.
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