Dec 23, 2011

Confusing Gary Taubes and Metabolic Advantage

(old post from my lost blog at, Oct 2009)

Many low-carb websites and authors have attacked Gary Taubes, the author of Good Calories Bad Calories, on the understanding that he supports "Metabolic Advantage". I think this is a misunderstanding of what Gary Taubes says. I think what he outlines is more of a carb-metabolic-disadvantage, and not a meat-metabolic-advantage.
For those not in the "low-carb" debate scene, Metabolic Advantage (wikipedia) is the claim by Atkins & other low-carb dieters that eating Meat does not make a person fat. They claim that meat calories somehow do not contribute to accumulating fat when consumed in a low-carb diet. In a way, if you're on atkins-diet, eat as much as as you want, and you'll never get fat. The body somehow gets rid of these extra calories – possibly through higher resting metabolism, etc.
Many "scientific" low-carb dieters, like Anthony Colpo, and anti-low-carb advocates, hold this to be one of Atkins false claims. And the science if admittedly weak on this area.
However, for some reason, many (including Anthony Colpo and Muata Kimdibe – the CNN Mr Low Fat) say that Gary Taubes, in his book Good Calories Bad Calories, supports Metabolic Advantage. However, I think this is not accurate. In a way, Gary Taubes says that Carbs have a Metabolic Disadvantage.
Here's what I think Gary Taubes says:
  1. Due to genetic variation, people have different metabolic rates. He sites an interesting study where inmates at a prison  were forced to overeat (10,000 calories per day) for a prolonged period of time. The variation in weight-gain was great – one inmate increased only 2-3 pounds, while another around 30 pounds. Varying metabolic rates between people – due to activity and genes – is not a controversial statement even for the non-low-carb advocates.
  2. Gary Taubes then shows that eating refined carbs causes the body to store most of the energy instead of consuming it in the body. Thus, in a way, he says that refined carbs have a metabolic disadvantage. People will burn less calories (as a percentage of what they eat) when they eat refined carbs that raise the insulin level in the blood.
  3. As a result of storing most of consumed calories as fat in high-carb diets, people will remain hungry longer. Thus they overeat to satisfy their body's needs.
  4. Notice that Gary makes sure to explain that this metabolic disadvantage is not always true in all people: the excessive storage of fat happens only when there's an insulin-related problem. Some humans have the genes to always handle insulin rollercoasters well. Most people develop insulin-related problems as they grow older. (Very similar to causes of diabetes).
  5. He also shows enough evidence that the Human Body tries to maintain a certain ideal weight. The body manages many factors (including appetite and resting-metabolism) to try and maintain a certain body fat or body weight. Usually this is more of a range than a specific point (even though Gary never says that explicitly).
Thus, with all of this, one can see how the misunderstanding of what Gary really said comes. He says if one eats a low-carb diet, then their body will come down to the ideal weight point and try to preserve it regardless of the extra foods one might eat every now and then. However, this ideal weight is not necessarily a point – but a range. I personally noticed that people on low-carb usually hit the upper limit of the range and stop.
So to get to single-digit body fat percentage, one has to watch calories in addition to diet. A lot of times this also requires exercise - which seems to change the body's internal ideal weight point. Notice that since most people have the ability to digest some carbs in a healthy manner, one can still eat some carbs and remain at a healthy weight. 

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