Good Calories, Bad Calories: What Really Makes Us Fat?

Good calories, bad calories. How modern medicine has failed us: Learn why dietary fat isn’t as bad as its rap, how modern medicine and media have gone astray, and what’s really causing our obesity epidemic.

| October/November 2008

Here's how modern medicine has failed us. Good calories, bad calories? Hint: Grandma knew best.

Good Calories, Bad Calories: What Really Makes Us Fat?

If you had asked your mother or grandmother for diet tips, you might have heard, “Every woman knows that carbohydrates are fattening.” In fact, that’s from a 1963 article in the British Journal of Nutrition, co-authored by one of the leading nutritionists of the era. And for the previous 100 years or so, this was the conventional wisdom: carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, sweets and beer make us fat, and, by implication, foods rich in fat and protein do not.

But since then, the nutritional dogma has changed completely, and we’ve come to accept the idea that there is nothing uniquely fattening about carbohydrates. Rather, a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, as nutritionists hasten to tell us. This means that the only way to lose weight is to diligently eat less of everything, to exercise more and hope for the best — a prescription that even the experts will admit rarely seems to work.

As an investigative journalist working in science and health, I’ve spent the last decade assessing the conventional wisdom on diet, weight control and disease. My conclusion is that much of what we’ve been taught since the early 1970s — most of which we’ve all come to accept — is simply wrong. This might explain why those same years have seen unprecedented increases in obesity and diabetes worldwide. When I started my research, I had no idea that I would come to such contrarian views. But now I think that certain conclusions are virtually inescapable:

• Obesity and being overweight are not caused by eating too much and certainly not by eating food with “too much” fat.

• Carbohydrates, not fat, are the cause of excess weight, just as our grandparents’ generation always knew. Eating carbohydrates triggers a hormonal response  —  insulin secretion — that signals our bodies to accumulate fat. This is why the fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be. Sugar, flour and other refined carbohydrates produce an exaggerated version of this response, and so are particularly fattening.

• Exercise doesn’t make us lose weight, it just makes us hungry.

1/21/2014 10:19:17 AM

Hi just found your site, very interesting and though provoking!!

5/11/2009 4:46:22 PM

Fantastic Article! I think the author does a terrific job analyzing and exposing methods used by groups to promote their agendas for "diet and health". Very interesting. Personally, I don't think this article is problematic for vegans and vegetarians. The author isn't promoting a meat-diet, simply making us aware of what really causes fat to accumulate. Bread, flour, potatoes, simple carbs. I'm vegan and this didn't bother me at all. I consume bountiful greens and other vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds. I limit grains like wheat because it bothers my digestive system. I follow the “listen to my body” approach to wellness. It’s been a journey and I’m very happy with my health status and am preparing for another triathlon. I would think vegans and vegetarians are used to making conversions, even mentally, to apply dietary information to themselves. I’m sure no insult was intended in this article, just that a large population eats meat; therefore, it’s a simple way to get the point across. The closer our food is to its origins, from the earth, the better it is for our bodies. Obesity didn’t become an epidemic until food became a hugely prosperous industry. People’s attitudes about food changed, portions grew, which brought in more money. Food is for nourishment, plain and simple, and the human body doesn’t require a huge volume each day to thrive. In the past portions were smaller, as were plates. Nowadays people feel they’re too busy and therefore purchase preprocessed foods. That’s their choice and their right, AND they are responsible for the resulting impact on their health. What gets old is the lack of responsibility; when people can’t understand why they’re unhealthy, yet it’s right in front of them at every meal, every snack. This article, among many, informs consumers because knowledge valuable. Use it to your advantage. Only you can make yourself healthy and fit, nobody else can do the work for you. To yo

Ramona Herner
12/23/2008 12:41:01 PM

Thank you Mother Earth News for your diversity. Thank you for not being single minded and only printing what you the editors feel is in the "best interest" of your readers accourding to "your opinions". I find that many magazines and television shows have an agenda behind them and promote that agenda only. I myself would rather eat a plate of beef than a plate of quinoa or sprouted grains, soybeans, tempeh and tofu. Thank God for "choice". I have no idea what tempeh is really, I'm sure one day I'll read about it in the archives and articles in Mother Earth News and be completely thrilled about it! For now I am just enjoying the "down to earth" articles about makeing soap, raising chickens, rabbits, growing a bountiful garden for food and herbs, building chicken coops and other structures. The world has gone so far from our grass roots. We are so far away from simplicity (I say this tying on my computer!) But really we have become so busy with our day to day lives that we have lost alot of the good things in life. Away from my babbeling and just emphisizing the "freedom of choice". I have been eating much potatoes and rice recently due to financial hardship and I'm fat. I didn't used to be, but now I am. I don't eat much butter, I only use brown sugar if I use ANY sugar, I eat salads with a small amount of olive oil and lemon juice. Tofu and Tempeh? How much does that cost and would that be in the deli in an average grocerie store? The "average" person cannot afford to shop at organic health food stores. And the printed version of this article being followed by brewing your own beer? BRAVO! If you want to brew your own beer free of any form of preservatives or God knows what else goes into commercial beer, do it! It's about choices and not censorship. No one is deciding which articles we should read but ourselves! Just because they are there, does not mean we have to read

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