Gary Taubes, the science journalist, is supposedly well-regarded and not a crackpot. But he out-and-out claims that the single nutrient, carbohydrates, is the cause of obesity and severely limiting carbs is the way to lose weight. He can make your eyes glaze over with hours of slides showing this and that research over history and discussing some poor culture where people are overweight subsisting on carbs and some other richer culture where people are thinner with less carbs. But he makes what I consider a fatal flaw for an educated person of science. He simply ignores data which doesn’t fit his thesis. Here is a fact: the obesity rate in Japan is about 3%. The obesity rate in the U.S. is over 30% (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_obe-health-obesity). Yet the basic Japanese diet is very very high carbohydrate, with multiple servings of white rice per day. Plus Japanese have about the highest lifespans in the world. Until Taubes and the low-carbers fit this into their overall diet theory I can’t ignore the contradiction.
Taubes was asked about this and you can see the transcript of the interview here: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/jan/04/what-does-food-have-do-being-fat/. Click on “read transcript” and do a search for “Japan.”
Reading the transcript there, where he talks about the Japanese, I have to point out these statements of his which are plain incorrect:
1. Taubes: “So the more refined a carbohydrate is, like white rice, we digest quicker than brown rice because brown rice still has the fiber and the shell, the carbs are bound up in such a way that they take longer to digest. So far the first thing is the Asians didn’t eat in Asian they didn’t eat refined, you know the ones who are eating really high carb diets weren’t eating white rice, they weren’t eating highly refined wheat. So they’re — you know the way the nutritionists would say, the carbs they were eating had a lower glycemic index, it wasn’t digested as quickly, and that resulted in a more measured insulin response.”
That is so far off the mark as to make me wonder if Taubes is deliberately twisting reality to fit his theories. What he says there is just ridiculous. By FAR the most common rice eaten in Japan, where the obesity rate is 3.2% (compared to over 30% in the U.S.) is refined white rice. He is 100% mistaken on that. Typical Japanese will eat multiple portions of rice a day and it is almost universally white rice. White rice is what is served in restaurants, in box lunches and at home. Brown rice (gen’mai) is available if you look for it, but is not common at all. And when Japanese eat bread it is also almost always white bread. Taubes is definitely wrong about that point. Completely off-base. This fallacy alone makes me skeptical about his entire train of logic.
2. Taubes: “The other key factor is they eat virtually no sugar. So the Japanese, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the way it’s talked about often is these people don’t have a sweet tooth.”
Has Taubes even seen traditional Japanese sweets?! Some of them are 100% sugar! Sweet foods are extremely popular in Japan. To say Japanese eat virtually no sugar is just false. Japanese traditional snacks often have lots of sugar in them. And the ones that don’t, like rice crackers and mochi, are made from white rice. Japanese sweet bean paste is a very popular snack. Japanese eat ice cream too. And Japanese chocolates are world-renowned. There are more varieties of chocolate in a typical Japanese supermarket than in most U.S. supermarkets. What is he talking about?
What Taubes is saying is blatantly false.
If he is a man of science, how can he make such statements and ignore the reality that the traditional carbs in Japanese diets are (1) high glycemic refined carbs and (2) the Japanese obesity rate is 1/10th of what it is in the U.S.
If he looked at the facts objectively he should honestly reject his own thesis.