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.
The Dietary Maverick
Gary Taubes has toppled conventional nutrition — for the better.
With his refusal to swallow conventional wisdom — or pasta, for that matter — low-carb evangelist Taubes has grown accustomed to clashing with vegetarians, vegans, medical doctors, and, on occasion, his own wife. “Our discussions often turn into arguments,” says Taubes, who studied physics at Harvard, aerospace engineering at Stanford, and journalism at Columbia University. “She asks why I don’t just accept what she says, why I always question everything. But it’s just what my brain does. On some fundamental level, I walk around thinking I never know what to believe or whom to believe.”
True to this line of logic, Taubes has spent the past nine years challenging established nutrition, and he’s adamant that the authorities have it all upside down — in particular, in blaming dietary fat for global health problems when carbohydrates are actually at fault. In his latest book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, Taubes makes a powerful case for a set of dietary heresies. He rejects the idea that weight maintenance is a matter of balancing calories expended with calories consumed, and he argues against exercise as an effective weight-loss aid. Instead, he proposes that carbs are what have made Americans fat and increased the national incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and other major health problems. Finally, he contends that dietary fat, even the saturated kind, is essentially harmless.
Taubes became interested in health after publishing a book in 1993 on the shaky underpinnings of cold-fusion research, when a physicist friend told him, “If you think the science in cold fusion is bad, you should look at some of this stuff in public health.” That comment led to a series of investigative articles that remain some of the most influential pieces of health journalism published in the past decade. In 2002, Taubes wrote a story for the New York Times Magazine, “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,” linking the low-fat, high-carb dietary craze in vogue since the 1950s with the obesity epidemic that began to crop up by the ’80s. In the same article, Taubes suggested that Dr. Atkins’s high-fat, low-carb approach could be a safe and effective way to lose weight, even though, at the time, most doctors considered the diet dangerous quackery. The article sparked a revival of the Atkins diet for several years, but it was ultimately dismissed as a fad. “People go on a low-carb diet, the diet works, but eventually they fall off because doctors tell them it’s a fad,” says Taubes.
In the wake of the Times article, he began work on Why We Get Fat’s predecessor, Good Calories, Bad Calories, a dense, meticulously footnoted, 640-page chronicle of how doctors came to believe that carbs were healthy and fat was the real killer. The book, published in 2007, was convincing and solidly rooted in real science, but so long and complicated that many doctors, even those in the field, failed to read it.
At 257 pages, Why We Get Fat is an easier read, and Taubes is hoping it makes the difference. “There are people in the world who are literally being starved. But they’re obese and just think they’re doomed,” Taubes concludes. “They’re going to fight this battle their whole life, yet nobody is going to explain. How do you just walk away from that?” —Brian Hiatt
• 1 cup plus 2 tbsp mayonnaise
• 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• 1 tsp dill, minced
• 1 tsp parsley, minced
• 1 tsp capers, minced
• 1 tbsp gherkins, minced
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 head green cabbage, tough outer leaves removed
• 1 carrot, shredded through a wide-hole cheese grater
• 1/4 cup crème fraîche
• 2 tbsp white-wine vinegar
• 1 squeeze of lemon
• 1 lb fresh crabmeat
• 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, minced
• 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
• 1 egg, gently beaten
• 1 cup panko bread crumbs
• Canola oil
1. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1 tsp mustard with next four ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate tartar sauce.
2. Cut the cabbage in half, lengthwise. Using a small knife, cut out white core from both halves. Using a chef’s knife, cut the cabbage halves into quarter-inch wedges. In a small bowl, shred cabbage wedges and combine with carrots, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, crème fraîche, and vinegar. Refrigerate coleslaw until serving.
3. In a medium bowl, combine 2 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 tbsp mustard, and lemon. Add crabmeat, parsley, and Old Bay, and season with salt and pepper, stirring gently to combine. Add egg and 1/2 cup bread crumbs, stirring gently to combine. Place remaining bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.
4. In a skillet, heat 1/4 inch oil. While oil heats, shape crab mixture into small balls. Roll each in bread crumbs until well coated; press gently into thick disks. Place disks in oil and cook until cakes are browned. Remove cakes from heat, and drain on a paper towel. Serve warm with tartar sauce and coleslaw.