This is a BIG, highly readable and hugely informative book, written by American science journalist Gary Taubes. I read the US edition, which was published there as "Good Calories, Bad Calories". I assumed that when it appeared in the UK, it would arrive in a blaze of publicity. So far, it seems I was wrong.
Taubes' interest is in the scientific basis for the received wisdom about what makes up a healthy diet and what makes people fat. We all know (because we're told ad nauseam) that the current obesity epidemic is the result of people overeating and having sedentary lifestyles. And overeating is generally interpreted as eating too much fat and too few fruits and vegetables.
Taubes has spent years going back to the original research and interviewing scientists. And he's found that in fact, there is very little real science behind what we are routinely told about dietary fat. Instead, assumptions linking dietary fat to heart disease were made in 1960s America and the "fat is bad for you" bandwagon rolled on from there.
The book also challenges the view that obesity is "caused" by overeating and taking too little exercise. It's like saying that alcoholism is "caused" by drinking too much alcohol - as an explanation, it doesn't get you very far. Taubes argues that obesity is actually a problem of fat accumulation. If an animal's body is working properly, increased energy intake (extra food) will be matched by increased energy expenditure. Conversely, if you restrict food, the animal will be less active. In both cases, fat stores will remain the same. But if the body isn't working properly to maintain this homeostasis, and if instead, it stores calories eaten as fat and is unable to release fat from fat cells to provide energy, the animal is going to be hungry and lethargic, while accumulating even more fat. The typical symptoms of obesity.
And the cause of our obesity problem (and many other chronic diseases of civilisation) Taubes argues, could be a diet very high in carbohydrate (and particularly, refined carbohydrate). That type of diet leads to constantly high blood insulin, which in turn stops fat cells releasing fatty acids for use as fuel. Type I diabetics have difficulty maintaining body fat. People treated with insulin have difficulty not putting on weight. And as a society we are eating far more carbohydrates that ever before, not least because if we try to avoid eating fat, we tend to get our calories from carbohydrate foods.
This book isn't trying to sell us the "Taubes diet" or the "Taubes supplement range" - the author is trying to convince us, our doctors and our scientists that the current received wisdom is not only flawed but may also be causing enormous harm. The book is a fascinating, page- turning read, debunking many of our nutritionists' most cherished platitudes left, right and centre. Well worth reading.