The New York Times: Diet and Fat

John Tierney of The New York Times examines the debate surrounding dietary fat. Here’s a bit:

Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” (Knopf, 2007). The notion that fatty foods shorten your life began as a hypothesis based on dubious assumptions and data; when scientists tried to confirm it they failed repeatedly…

…In the case of fatty foods, that confident voice belonged to Ancel Keys, a prominent diet researcher a half-century ago (the K-rations in World War II were said to be named after him). He became convinced in the 1950s that Americans were suffering from a new epidemic of heart disease because they were eating more fat than their ancestors.

There were two glaring problems with this theory, as Mr. Taubes, a correspondent for Science magazine, explains in his book. First, it wasn’t clear that traditional diets were especially lean. Nineteenth-century Americans consumed huge amounts of meat; the percentage of fat in the diet of ancient hunter-gatherers, according to the best estimate today, was as high or higher than the ratio in the modern Western diet…

…To bolster his theory, Dr. Keys in 1953 compared diets and heart disease rates in the United States, Japan and four other countries. Sure enough, more fat correlated with more disease (America topped the list). But critics at the time noted that if Dr. Keys had analyzed all 22 countries for which data were available, he would not have found a correlation. (And, as Mr. Taubes notes, no one would have puzzled over the so-called French Paradox of foie-gras connoisseurs with healthy hearts.)

Yeah, this made me say, “What the—?” So, here’s what Dr. Fuhrman had to say about it:

Amazing how stupid people are. Gary Taubes is a known Atkins' devotee and nutritionally naïve and led by the Atkins' crowd. Now he has his own book. All I can say is that this makes me look like a genius comparatively when I am only stating the obvious. All I can say is:

Health = Nutrition / Calories

Not sure what this means? Well, Dr. Fuhrman explains it in his book Eat to Live. Take a look:

Your health is predicted by your nutrient intake divided by your intake of calories. Health = Nutrition / Calories, or simply H = N/C, is a concept I call the nutrient-density of your diet. Food supplies us with both nutrients and calories (energy). All calories come from only three elements: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Nutrients are derived from non-caloric food factors—including vitamins, minerals, fibers, and phytochemicals. These non-caloric nutrients are vitally important for health. Your key to permanent weight loss is to eat predominantly those foods that have a high proportion of nutrients (non-caloric food factors) to calories (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins). In physics a key formula is Einstein’s E = mc2. In nutrition the key formula is H = N/C.

Every food can be evaluated using this formula. Once you begin to learn which foods make the grade—by having a high proportion of nutrients to calories—you are on your way to lifelong weight control and improved health.

Oh! And for more on the Atkins foolishness, be sure to read these previous postings. Enjoy:

And don’t forget about our friends over at!

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Comments (11) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
David Brown - October 12, 2007 9:05 AM

Dr. Fuhrman says, "Nutrients are derived from non-caloric food factors including vitamins, minerals, fibers, and phytochemicals."

Dr. Fuhrman's formula for optimal nutrition glosses over the fact that animal tissue consists substantially of fat and protein elements that are incorporated into cell structure. Examples are muscles, consisting largely of protein, and brain and nerve tissue, which are mostly fat and cholesterol. On the other hand, plant structures are made up largely of carbohydrate. So eating plants provides proportionately more calories and less structural material than animal products.

Throughout ones lifespan, proteins and fats in cells are constantly being replaced with new elements as the body rebuilds itself. Whether these elements are derived from plant or animal sources makes little difference so long as the body is biochemically and physiologically equipped to process nutrients efficiently.

It is important to acknowledge that people differ. Some seem to thrive on a vegetarian diet and others must consume animal products to adequately meet their nutrient needs.

Vegetarian enthusiasts such as Dr. Fuhrman are guilty of what has been termed "binary thinking." The same is true for many low-carb enthusiasts. Both sides insist that their approach is the proper route to sound health. In reality, proper nourishment is that which is tailored to individual biochemical and physiological requirements.

For more insight into the matter, read "Biochemical Individuality" by Roger J. Williams, PhD and "Nutrition and your Mind" by George Watson, PhD.

David Brown
Nutrition Education Project

Soils4Peace - October 12, 2007 6:40 PM

David there is more protein and fat in the Eat to Live program than many people think. If you eat an assortment of non-starchy vegetables and pulses you will find that you are taking in protein and carbohydrates in about a 1:2 weight ratio, and a little fat. Add the nuts and seeds, and you get more fat and protein. Add in some fruit and colourful starchy vegetables, and only then do you get below 20% of calories from protein. And if you eat the nuts and seeds you are supposed to every day, I don't see how you could take in less than 15% of calories from fat. Also the consumption of animal products is permitted in limited quantities. You could 'legally' have meat three times a week, as well as some eggs or milk.

Dave Dixon - October 13, 2007 5:40 PM

Taubes book presents a fairly balanced view of the existing research. He is careful to point out that the proposed connection between refined carbohydrates and disease is still hypothetical. As noted above, it's easy to find zealots on all sides of an argument (though it doesn't necessarily follow that a central position is correct), so Taubes relative neutrality is refreshing.

As a scientist, what I found most impressive was how multiple threads of inquiry tended to point toward the same conclusion, from large-scale epidemiological studies to cellular and molecular biochemistry. As Taubes frequently notes, the final pieces of evidence linking the details of macronutrient intake and health have yet to be uncovered. But the existing evidence (at least the evidence put forth in Taubes' book) paints a remarkably consistent picture, all the more remarkable given both the complexity of the subject and the antagonism of a large segment of the scientific community.

So it's time to stop dismissing anything low carb as "nuts". There's enough scientific evidence to warrant further serious research.

If Dr. Fuhrman wants anyone outside of his own band of devotees to take him seriously, he needs to seriously address the research put forth in Taubes book. That means he either needs to show why the presented research does not in fact support the carbohydrate hypothesis (it's wrong, actually has stronger support for an alternative hypothesis, etc.) OR present a similar body of evidence supporting his own hypothesis. This will require going beyond simplistic and scientifically empty statements like "Health = Nutrition/Calories".

If, as claimed in the banner at the top of this page, Dr. Fuhrman's approach is indeed "scientifically based", it should be simple for him to provide such evidence. I will eagerly await the posting which shows the body of scientific evidence supporting Dr. Fuhrman's position, and contradicting Taubes'.

Magnus - October 14, 2007 9:03 AM

So this Taube dude, does he try to prove that fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and beans in combination with some calorie restriction is disease promoting? It could be a fun read :)

Chase Saunders - October 14, 2007 9:07 AM

First I want to say I'll be surprised if this comment is not deleted...

You cannot dismiss this book, which makes a solid scientific argument, by character assasinatin. The only way to challenge this book is to make an argument that is as thorough and evidence based and respond to its actual points. The medical community is taking this book seriously. Unfortunately, Dr. Fuhrman has too much skin in the game to be objective on this point. Most scientists NEVER changes their minds once they promote a theory, no matter how much evidence is presented (e.g. a whole generation of physisicts basically had to die off before Einsteins theory of relativity was truly accepted)

I believe Dr. Fuhrman embarrases himself and damages his credibility by refusing an interview/debate with Jimmy Moore, who has interviewed Dr. Dean Ornish and 40 other prominent expert. Dr. Fuhrman may not enjoy having to defend his ideas, but in the era of blogging it will be impossible to defend his reputation otherwise.

Intimating that Jimmy Moore is not worthy of Dr. Fuhrman's time simply will not hold water (pun intended, as Fuhrman has actually insinuated that the many successes in low carb dieting are due to water weight). "I have better credentials than you" is simply not a valid position... not ever, but particularly not when there are many people with similar credentials to Dr. Fuhrman who have recognized the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle. Dr. Fuhrman, your blog is a form of media and public outreach. You are, in fact a "nobody", compared to Jimmy Moore (not the other way around as your staff insinuated) when you look at web traffic.


Magnus - October 14, 2007 9:54 AM

Any idiot can prove that their worthless diet is better than SAD. Throw in that people can eat bacon and cream in unlimited amounts and you have a winner.
Again, I would like you to try to prove to me that fruits and veggies are bad for me. Or that there is an upper limit that I have to be aware of where fruits, veggies and beans becomes disease promoting.

Dave Dixon - October 14, 2007 10:32 AM

I don't think anyone is claiming that fruits and veggies are disease promoting (at least nobody sane). The Taubes book argues that refined carbohydrates are the source of many modern health problems where dietary fat is currently thought to be the culprit.

Darren Terry - October 15, 2007 1:46 PM

Beans... before cooking and agriculture... just how many beans did you eat?

David Brown - October 21, 2007 9:47 AM

Magnus, It's not a matter of proving that fruits and Veggies are bad for you. It's their adequacy for nourishment that is in question. I say, if someone can nourish himself adequately on a very low-fat, high quality vegetarian diet, more lifespan to him.

The key to a healthy diet of any sort is adequacy of nutrient intake and appropriateness of nutrient intake. I have a friend who cannot tolerate any amount of peanut butter or peanut oil. This does not mean that others should not consume peanut products. My friend also does not tolerate high-fat intake very well and is usually about forty pounds over weight. I, on the other hand, do not tolerate carbohydrates as well as I would like. They give me heartburn and cause weight gain if I consume more than six slices of bread a day. Fat seems to agree with me. I can consume as much or little as I want without causing even minor fluctuations in my weight.

You see then, it is important not to generalize from personal experience. Read "Biochemical Individuality" by Roger J. Williams, PhD and you'll see what I mean.

David Brown
Nutrition Science Analyst

Joel Fuhrman, MD - November 5, 2007 4:22 PM

Taube and the comments from Brown David (above) miss the whole issue in the nutrition debate. The main issue is that the high-carb advocates, the low-fat advocates, and the high protein advocates are wrong are all wrong.

The quality of a diet is not merely the result of its macronutrient balance, and focusing on this issue shows that these people do not understand the main issues in modern nutritional excellence and nutritional disease prevention and reversal.

Both a vegetarian or vegan diet and one that contains some animal product can be "acceptable, good or even excellent" if it is well designed to be micronutrient rich. But there is no body type that will not suffer from increased risk of later life disease if it contains an unlimited amount of animal products.

A healthy diet is:
1. Rich in greens and contains an adequate assortment of other high nutrient plant material.
2. Restricted in processed foods, including sugar, flour and oil
3. Limited in animal products (how limited has been discussed here many times before).

The danger in David Brown's comments is these people advocate that some individuals are impervious to the dangers of a diet that is rich in animal products and deficient in phytochemical plant material and this is never the case. No body type is impervious to the effects of such a dangerous diet. Furthermore their argument obscures the main message that Americans need to heed to adequately protect themselves against heart disease, cancer, diabetes and overweight and that is to reduce both animal products and processed foods and eat more vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts, and fruits. It is not the fat, protein, or carbohydrate (calorie) ratios that are the primary concern, rather it is the micronutrient per calorie ratio Health = Nutrients / Calories and that means eat more high micro-nutrient foods and less low nutrient foods.

David Brown - November 6, 2007 2:07 AM

Dr. Fuhrman commented, "The danger in David Brown's comments is these people advocate that some individuals are impervious to the dangers of a diet that is rich in animal products and deficient in phytochemical plant material and this is never the case."

Now, what dangers reside in animal products? Surely, it isn't the saturated fat or cholesterol content. Having perused nutrition literature and research for thirty years, I cannot find evidence that there is evidence that dietary cholesterol and saturated fats are harmful.

And I'm certainly not advocating a diet deficient in any necessary nutrient.

I agree with Dr. Fuhrman that micro nutrients are vital for health. But just where is the science that indicates that sound health cannot be achieved without consuming phytochemical-rich plant material?

I'm all for consuming high quality plant material. In fact, I do what I call extreme gardening. Recall that Ben Franklin said, "You are what you eat." And Michael Pollan pointed out, "You are what you eat eats." And Ross Hume Hall said, "You cannot be more than what you eat." And Roger Williams, in his writings stressed the point that you are what you are. So again, I say, everyone needs to consume a diet rich in all the materials required for cellular replacement, tissue repair, and efficient energy release. My extreme gardening aims at accomplishing this by loading my garden soil with nutrients such that each plant has access to the mineral rich decayed remains of numerous other plants. Judging from the size, resilience, and productivity of my plants, I shouldn't have to eat as much plant material to achieve the desired healthful effects as would be necessary were I consuming only commercially available produce. Oh, and the flavor...

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