Good Calories, Bad Calories

By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)

Background




Good Calories, Bad Calories is written by scientific journalist Gary Taubes who initially outlined his theories about diet and weight loss in a popular article in The New York Times Magazine in 2002. This book took Taubes five years to write and explains in-depth his proposal that what is generally promoted as a healthy diet is actually based on poor science and outdated theories.

Good Calories, Bad Calories claims that the public has been misled to believe that dietary fat and cholesterol are the primary causes of weight gain and heart disease. He challenges this belief and puts forward an alternative theory that places the blame for these problems on an increased consumption of refined carbohydrates.

Diet Basics

good-calories-bad-caloriesTaubes states that it is possible for dieters to gain weight without an excessive intake of calories and declares that too many of the wrong types of calories is the real cause of weight gain. According to him if we concentrate on including good calories in our diet and cutting out the bad calories it will be much easier for us to lose weight as well as to maintain good health.

He regards weight issues as being related primarily to an excessive intake of carbohydrates. In basic terms Good calories, Bad Calories regards carbohydrates as the ‘bad’ calories, while fats and proteins are ‘good’. Dieters are advised to particularly avoid refined carbohydrates because they cause an excessive production of insulin, which can make it impossible to lose weight.

Contrary to popular opinion Taubes asserts that a calorie of fat is actually less fattening than a calorie of sugar. The diet he recommends for weight loss and heart disease prevention is one that is based on animal proteins and low carbohydrate vegetables and is similar to the Atkins diet.

Good Calories, Bad Calories proposes that dietary fat is of little importance in the development of heart disease and he supports his statements with results from a large array of scientific studies. He affirms that the current theory in regard to the relationship between diet and heart disease is not as clear as we have been led to believe and challenges us to question what is currently promoted as being a healthy diet.

Good Calories, Bad Calories Recommended Foods

Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, avocado, green vegetables, mushrooms, peppers, tomato, grapefruit, melon, berries.

Sample Diet Plan

Breakfast

Scrambled eggs
Sautéed spinach and mushrooms

Morning Snack

1 cup strawberries
1 oz raw almonds

Lunch

Chicken Caesar salad (no croutons)

Afternoon Snack

1 oz cheese
Red pepper, celery and cucumber sticks

Dinner

Grilled sirloin steak
Steamed broccoli
Green salad with vinaigrette dressing

Exercise Recommendations

Taubes states, “Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.” His belief is that exercising can actually make you gain weight because you end up eating more than you normally would.

Costs and Expenses

Good Calories, Bad Calories retails at $16.95.

Pros

  • Condenses the information of scientific studies so that the results are easy to understand.
  • Will appeal to dieters who don’t want to eliminate high fat foods from their diet.
  • Interesting reading for those who enjoy learning about nutritional research.
  • May assist with the management of blood glucose imbalances.

Cons

  • Many healthy foods must be eliminated or dramatically reduced in the diet including fruits, whole grains and legumes.
  • Some of the advice may be overwhelming and confusing to those who are new to dieting.
  • Many of the conclusions reached by the author are not consistent with current concepts about obesity.
  • Does not include a meal plan or recipes.
  • Discourages exercise as a component of a balanced approach to weight management.
  • The long-term safety of very low carbohydrate diets is questionable.

Conclusions

Good Calories, Bad Calories asks readers to evaluate beliefs about what constitutes a health promoting diet and puts forward a compelling argument to support his theories. However many of his conclusions, such as his claim that calorie intake is not relevant for losing weight, are strongly in opposition to modern concepts regarding fat loss.

Of particular concern is Taubes’ assertion that exercise can actually have a negative effect for those who wish to lose weight. Even though it is true that exercise can increase appetite, it has a wide range of benefits for health and any potential for an excessive increase in calories can be avoided by selecting appropriate foods.

Additionally Good Calories, Bad Calories does not include meal plans or recipes and as such dieters may not find it easy to practically apply the information that is presented.

By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
  • John Turner

    You all must remember that this is a site primarily for people that are looking for diets. So, clearly, the “not a diet plan” is a con. I personally own the book and think it’s a great resource on low carb theory, however I don’t see the point in attacking anyone for having a different perspective.

    The LACK of aforementioned perspective is astonishing, a prime example of sad and overweight people who can’t wait to judge.

    “Many of the conclusions reached by the author are not consistent with current concepts about obesity.” This con in particular is especially valid. It would be harder for the layman to accept the books premise if it, in fact, goes against everything we already accepted as fact.

    The emotional response to people’s diet being criticized (as shown by the people above) speaks volumes of why there is such an issue with being overweight. When it comes to food, there is a personalized response and indeed, if you don’t agree with their choices then be prepared for an argument. Read the reviews on Amazon for Good Calories, Bad Calories – anyone who posted a negative review was thrown out as either stupid or ignorant.

    I think low carb makes sense so far, however, the type of person it seems to attract is less than desirable. If you pursue this diet I’d advocate staying away from the internet boards that are for it. Instead, gather your list of grocery foods and have at it.

    Because, truly, society can’t handle support OR opposition.

  • Sue Schwartz

    Gary Taubes changed my life. I am 54 and since I turned 50 I just kept putting on belly fat, inspite of reducing my calorie intake to 1200 cal/day. It wasn’t until I read Gary’s book ” Why We Get Fat” and watched a couple of YouTube videos he mentions in the book, that I actually got the insulin fat storage issue….and I’m a physician :/
    I knew I had a problem with flour and sugar products. The more I ate, the more I wanted. I was always hungry and looking for a sugar fix. Literally, after 2 weeks on a no sugar and flour diet, with the addition of coconut oil, my belly fat almost completely disappeared. I didn’t count calories at all, but I wasn’t hungry all the time, so I wasn’t snacking. I have to believe I was taking in more than 1200 calories/day, because I was eating cheese and meat, avocados, nuts and coconut oil.
    I have now been eating this way for 2 months and I feel great. I do choose leaner meats most of the time, but I don’t balk at eating an occasional steak or lamb chops. I eat lots of veggies and berries too. I no longer crave sweets, although I do allow myself a little dark chocolate as an afternoon pick me up :)
    This is basically a low glycemic index “diet”; really a way of eating not a diet in the usual way of thinking.
    Thank you Gary Taubes!!

  • susan

    also runs on fatty acids which 3 of combine with 3 glucose == 1 tryglycerides or fat molecule.

  • dar

    The book doesn’t say anything about lean meat. In fact it says the higher fat content, the better. It also doesn’t say anything about melons being good. Melons are pure sugar. It also doesn’t say anything about exercise being unhealthy. In fact the author exercises a lot and agrees that exercise is a healthy habit. He just says it has nothing to do with losing weight.

  • Steph

    “Many of the conclusions reached by the author are not consistent with current concepts about obesity.”

    That’s kind of the entire premise of the book, that the food we are being pushed to eat and the foods that are being vilified (conventional wisdom) isn’t correct and, indeed, can be harmful.

    “Many healthy foods must be eliminated or dramatically reduced in the diet including fruits, whole grains and legumes.”

    Healthy? Again, the entire premise of the book is that the current dietary recommendations may not actually be healthy.

    “The long-term safety of very low carbohydrate diets is questionable.”

    This statement is questionable. There is plenty of research coming out that not only are low-carb diets successful, but they often lead to very healthy results.

    “Does not include a meal plan or recipes.”

    This is not meant to be a diet plan. It is a research piece. He simply offers the information he spent years studying and compiling. It’s up to you from there.

  • Ed Colman

    Taubes’ book doesn’t pretend to be a diet guide or a blueprint for weight loss. He merely asks us to re-examine the conventional hypothesis regarding the connection between dietary fat-high cholesterol-heart disease and consider the alternate refined carbohydrate-excess insulin-metabolic syndrome-heart disease hypothesis. He freely admits that much research still needs to be done, but admirably debunks the current mythology with eminently scholarly journalism, meticulous research and ample scientific data. He does not decry all carbohydrates, but the refined white flour, white sugar, white rice that has only become part of human’s diet within the past 200 years. Read it for yourself and make up your own mind. That’s all he asks.

  • Leon

    WOW. A clear case of being able to use the web to bad mouth something just because you can and have an opinion that is different. Well if that book is so wrong then you have never studied the Ketogenic diet used by many of the most reputable hospitals and medical facilities in the nation. While its primary use is seizure control in children it was also found be to be a remarkably successful weight loss and weight maintenance diet. How interesting that this books mirror many aspects of the Ketogenic diet and not the Atkins one. Man I’ll NEVER use this site again!!!!! So much misinformation here.

  • elizabeth

    “■The long-term safety of very low carbohydrate diets is questionable”

    Why is it questionable? For hundreds of thousands of years human beings ate virtually no carbohydrates and thrived on a diet of mostly meat, nuts, some vegetables and fruits and fish. Only since the advent of agriculture (relatively very recent in our evolutionary history) have we consumed grains and carbs and only in the last 40-50 years have we consumed them in the massive quantities we do now – flour, starch, sugar, high fructose corn syrup in practically everything we eat. There is absolutely NO evidence that carbohydrates are essential to our health. Healthy fat, on the other hand is an essential building block of all cells and we cannot survive without it.

    • susan

      I just finished his new book. Why We Get Fat man I was very impressed with the thoroughnes (sp)? of his explinations of the meaning of the research arguments he uses. And speaking from experience i.e. having always had weight issues, his conclusions speak to my experiences. I am 56 and been dieting an exercising and fighting fat since I was about 10. I had a lot sucess at one time with the cabbage soup diet. doesn’t last. I tried atkins for a short time but apparently roo short to really feel the results. I became nervouse because of all the low fat hype of the last 1/2 century. but in Why we get fat Ihe covered the bases so much more in depth than Atkins did that I am more convinced this could be the way. Esp. since all my recent research has lead me to lean toward the theory that insulin in excess amts is the fat pack rat of the body. esp. in people with the genetic disposition which seems to run in my family. So I urge you all who are still interested if unconvinced to take good long look at his new book before brushing it off as bunk. I’m starting my low carb. experiment to day and have dedicated at the very least the next 30 days. to it. I’ll let yall know how it goes. ok!@

      • JD

        I completely agree with Susan. I fell off the Atkins wagon a while ago because in the back of my mind I felt it was unhealthy. I’m 1/3 of the way through this book, and he take you through how the low-fat hypothesis came to be, what the studies actually showed, and how it was political pressure, not science, that lead to government recommendations. On the same line I’ve read elsewhere (mainly Denise Manger’s blog) about The China Study’s linking meat to cancer is a bunch of BS. Basically caner is linked to dozens lifestyle changes, increased meat consumption being just one. To say meat causes cancer is dishonest.

        One con is that it’s not really a diet book, so no meal plans or anything like that. But it does present the information in an intelligent, thorough, even handed way so you can make good choices about your health.

    • ted

      Ahhh last time I checked nuts, vegetables and fruit have carbs in them and there is all kinds of evidence that you do need some carbs in your diet. Your body runs on glucose which is a carb.