Big Fat Lie?
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | September 4, 2002

When the media get hold of an idea, they really run with it: newspapers, websites, the evening news, even the prime-time news magazines. The latest item making the circuit is the diet debate--high carbohydrate versus high fat. Everyone seems to be praising fat and knocking carbohydrates.

This latest controversy evolved from an article published in The New York Times Magazine called "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" written by Gary Taubes (1). In the article, he interviewed just about every obesity researcher in the country. The growing consensus among those interviewed was that maybe health experts were wrong to promote a high-carbohydrate diet 20-30 years ago, and that a high-fat, high-protein diet might be better. Let's try to put some perspective on this topic--certainly not to resolve it, but to talk some common sense.

The article went to great lengths to state that there is no research to prove that the high-carbohydrate, low-fat approach works for losing weight or reducing the risk of heart disease. Not true--a simple search using MedLine found several articles published in the last year alone which suggests that that a high-carbohydrate diet may do both. Is any single study a definitive work? Absolutely not, but the research is certainly there to support the high-carbohydrate approach.

The picture with the article showed a steak with a pat of butter on it. Every video segment I've seen showed a person slicing into a thick, juicy steak. That's deceptive. If you eat a pound of bacon for breakfast, pastrami for lunch, and a steak for dinner every day, you're going to gain weight for one simple reason: if you take in more calories than you burn, your body stores it as fat.

What most of these reports are really suggesting is that maybe more lean protein from poultry, fish, and lean beef, along with good-quality fat such as olive oil and flaxseed oil may be better for your health than the highly refined carbohydrates found in bagels and breads. That's true--but why show the steak and butter?

Experts quoted in the article suggest that ketosis is a normal physiological state. Ketosis is a fail-safe mechanism that allows our bodies to use stored fat as a fuel when we don't eat carbohydrates regularly. This system developed to ensure that our ancestors could survive until they found their next meal, which might have taken days. Ketosis may have been normal when the food supply was erratic, but that doesn't apply today. Food--all types of food--is readily available. Sustaining ketosis for days or even weeks as some diets suggest may not be healthy. Remember that while our ancestors had to live that way because the food supply was erratic, they also didn't live as long. Part of that was due to infection and disease that we have since controlled, but what part is attributable to an erratic food supply and chronic ketosis? We don't know the answer to that question for then, and we really don't know how it applies today.

There is also another point regarding ketosis. We began as hunter-gatherers. Our ancestors had to walk miles and miles every day tracking their next meal. They needed to use stored fat as a fuel to expend the thousands of calories it took every day just to survive. How many calories are expended microwaving a meal? Eating at a restaurant? Driving through a fast-food joint? Normal then is not normal now.

The problem with the high-carbohydrate diet approach today is that people eat too many of them. Why not? They certainly taste good, don't they? Donuts and bagels and cakes and bread and pasta. It's not that carbohydrates are bad--it's simply that too many refined carbohydrates are included in the typical American diet. Lower that, and you'll lower weight because people will take in fewer calories. The percentage of protein and fat automatically go up as a result.

The real problem that was glossed over was simply this: the typical caloric intake for adults is 3,600 calories per day, up almost 500 calories per day in the past 5-10 years. That's at least 1,000 more calories per day than most adults need. Until the issue of excess food intake is addressed, healthcare professionals, the media, and those who want to lose weight are just spinning their wheels over which diet is best. They ALL work for awhile.

The question is simply what are you willing to do for the rest of your life to sustain a reduced weight? Find that--high carbohydrate, high protein, high fat, or something more reasonable like the Mediterranean approach we advocate at Better Life Unlimited--and that's the answer for you.


  1. Taubes T. What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? The New York Times Magazine. 7/7/2002.
BBBOnLine Reliability Seal © 2011 Better Life Unlimited™
A division of Better Life Institute © (BLI, Inc.)
 Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
SecurityMetrics Credit Card Safe