During the past several years, conventional dietary wisdom — skimp on fat, count calories — has started to crumble. Adopting the right approach mandates a new set of dietary rules that will help you live longer, be leaner, and better enjoy the foods you love.
by Daniel Duane
photographs by Travis Rathbone
During the past several years, conventional dietary wisdom — skimp on fat, count calories — has started to crumble, thanks largely to a one-man wrecking crew named Gary Taubes. In his latest book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, Taubes argues that calories and fat aren’t to blame for the world’s increasing girth and high incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. He contends that exercise, while a healthy habit, won’t help with weight loss and that most Americans would benefit from eating more red meat and eggs because animal proteins and saturated fat don’t cause cardiovascular disease and weight gain: Simple sugars and carbohydrates do.
Taubes’s critique of dietary tradition is so pointed and vociferous that reading him will change the way you look at calories, the food pyramid, and your daily diet. While his recent book is primarily a slam against the established science of obesity, his philosophy of nutrition upends everything you’ve been told about eating to stay healthy and trim. Adopting a similar approach doesn’t mean you can’t ever consume carbohydrates, but it does mandate a new set of dietary rules that will help you live longer, be leaner, and better enjoy the foods you love.
1. Don’t go on a diet — change your diet.
Starving yourself or cycling through fad diets isn’t a sustainable, effective way to lose weight and stay healthy over a lifetime. Some diets may work for some people in the short term, but dieting has been shown to fail over the long haul. A 2007 analysis conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles reviewed 31 long-term diet studies to find that, on average, one-third to two-thirds of people who lose 5 to 10 percent of their weight in the first six months of a diet gain it back — and then some — within four to five years. Scientists found the effect so consistent across studies that they were forced to conclude that one of the best predictors of weight gain is having been on a diet at some point in the past.
If you want to live by one rule instead of 10, this is it, not least because it’s the easiest to follow. Shop only the periphery of the supermarket, choosing whole fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and dairy products — instead of fruit juices, canned vegetable soups, chicken fingers, fish sticks, and chocolate-covered ice cream bars — and you’ll avoid the majority of what’s wrong with the modern Western diet. Packaged processed foods are altered from their natural state for convenience and to extend shelf life, but they contain fewer nutrients and more sugars and unhealthy fats than whole foods do.
A good way to tell if a food is overly processed is to scan the nutrition label for ingredients you can’t pronounce or visualize in an organic form. These include, among others: hydrogenated oils, a common source of trans fats shown to boost the risk of heart disease; high-fructose corn syrup, a processed sugar associated with obesity and diabetes; butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a food preservative and suspected carcinogen; butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), a preservative found in potato chips and jet fuel; and sodium nitrite, a chemical used in deli meats that is linked to cancer, heart disease, and other ailments.