Speech, Silly Study Conclusion, Gary Taubes’ Cholesterol

This will be a short post.  I’m giving a speech on the Fourth Annual Low-Carb cruise in a couple of weeks, and I’m still putting it together.  I pretty much have the text written, but for some reason my wife doesn’t like it when I give her a list of 100 graphics to produce with only a day or two to spare, so now I have to think through all the slides.

The speech is titled Science For Smart People, and the premise behind it is that even we lowly non-scientists can learn to spot the difference between worthwhile studies and nonsense studies if we just apply some basic logic and understand a little about how science works – or how it’s supposed to work, anyway.  One point I’ll be making is that researchers who are more interested in pushing an agenda than in pursuing the truth sometimes make statements in the conclusions section of a study that have little or nothing to do with the actual data.

I’ll be giving a few examples, but this one is my favorite.  It was a short clinical trial with the objective listed as follows:

To compare the efficacy of a low-carbohydrate/high-fat versus a moderate-carbohydrate/low-fat diet for weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction.

Simple enough.  We want to know if low-carb or low-fat produces better results.  So the investigators divided a randomized population of overweight adults into three diet groups:  the two diets mentioned above, plus a control group.  Here are the results:

Both the Low and Moderate Carbohydrate groups lost significantly more weight as well as inches from their waists and thighs than the Control group, while the Low Carbohydrate group lost a greater percentage of body fat. Although the Moderate Carbohydrate group showed significant reductions in serum cholesterol, the Low Carbohydrate group showed the greatest improvements in serum cholesterol, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein, and very-low-density lipoprotein.

Couldn’t be more clear.  The low-carb/high-fat diet wins hands downs.  The low-carb dieters lost just as much weight as the low-fat group, more of the weight they lost was actual body fat, and they showed the greatest improvements in all the usual cardiovascular risk factors.

So what was the conclusion of the researchers?   Here it is:

Moderate approaches to weight loss such as a moderate-carbohydrate low-fat diet may be prudent.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, based on data that clearly showed a low-carb/high-fat diet to be superior, we are recommending low-fat diets for weight loss.  We think it’s prudent.  And by “prudent,” we of course mean we’d like to remain eligible for future research grants.

Speaking of cardiovascular risk factors, you may recall that when Gary Taubes appeared on the Dr. Oz show, he refused to have one of those quick-and-dirty cholesterol tests, which of course made many viewers suspicious.  “Meat Boy,” as Gary was introduced, must have something to hide, doncha know.

But in his most recent blog post, Gary explains that he did recently go in for a full metabolic panel, partly at the urging of his wife and partly to answer his critics.  You can read the full details on his blog, but here are some interesting numbers:

Total Cholesterol:  204
HDL:  68
LDL:  116
LDL Pattern:  large buoyant
Triglycerides:  64

The most reliable predictor of heart disease you can calculate from a lipid panel is Triglycerides/HDL.  Anything below 2.0 is considered excellent; 3.0 is so-so, and above 5.0 means get your affairs in order.  Gary’s ratio is below 1.0.  (Last time I had a lipid panel done, my ratio was 1.1)

There are several other lab results listed that all add up to very low cardiovascular risk.  As Gary wrote before revealing the numbers:

Keep in mind as you go through these that I do indeed eat three eggs with cheese, bacon and sausage for breakfast every morning, typically a couple of cheeseburgers (no bun) or a roast chicken for lunch, and more often than not, a ribeye or New York steak (grass fed) for dinner, usually in the neighborhood of a pound of meat. I cook with butter and, occasionally, olive oil (the sausages). My snacks run to cheese and almonds. So lots of fat and saturated fat and very little carbohydrates. A deadly diet, according to Dr. Oz.

But Gary, Dr. Oz is up to his elbows in people’s chests during heart surgery, so he knows what causes heart disease.

Back to the speech …

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94 thoughts on “Speech, Silly Study Conclusion, Gary Taubes’ Cholesterol

  1. Milton

    It scares me to wonder how many doctors would look at Gary’s numbers and immediately reach for a bottle of statins. And it’s frustrating to think that one of the reasons that they would do so is because of “researchers” who tell them that it may be prudent.

    I had lipid panel with very similar numbers — total cholesterol 203, HDL 64, triglycerides 71 — and the doctor told me my cholesterol was “elevated.” He wanted me to go on a low-fat diet and schedule a follow-up. Neither happened.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    You may have misunderstood their conclusion in the study… A MODERATE approach to weight loss. To me that says… “eh, if I lose a little weight GREAT!” You use the MODERATE carb for little to no weight loss. Also not they didn’t say anything about MODERATELY lowering choseterol, etc… 🙂

    I bet if you asked them, about SERIOUS approach to weight loss and good health, they would have said, “OH! well then, you should go Paleo!” LOL

    I fell off the wagon today and went to an Easter party… lots of crackers, fruit, chocolate, jellybeans, (a few cheese cubes), and “low fat” chicken salad sandwiches ( I didn’t pick out the menu) ….now…. I’M STARVING! Where are my almonds!??!

    I hadn’t thought of that interpretation.

    Reply
  3. Picky

    I just started eating low carb-high fat on April 1st (after watching Fat Head). My whole family has made the switch. My wife and kids used to drink skim milk and I drank 1%. Well, tonight for supper we had Chili. We drank whole milk. We didn’t use crackers AND we didn’t eat cornbread, things that always used to go with our chili meals.

    I’ve lost 13 pounds so far. I can’t wait until I lose the rest of the 80 pounds total that I need to lose. Then people will ask me, How’d you do it? Then I can tell them. 🙂

    Those are great results, and I’d wager you’re already feeling more energetic.

    Reply
  4. Zach

    I’m really interested to see if there’s any other reasoning in that article as to why they came to that conclusion. I’ve asked a friend to get me a copy of the study so I can see for myself.

    I just saw your film this week and have recommended it to everyone I know. I’d been trying to tell my friends and family about the evils of carbs since I read Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body and adopted his “slow-carb” diet.

    I appreciate the word-of-mouth marketing.

    Reply
  5. Amy Dungan

    It no longer surprises me when researchers give their conclusions that will fly directly in the face of what the study actually proved. I can only guess they believe people will only read their opinions, or won’t really understand what was learned to begin with. Too bad for them that more and more of us are becoming aware and really studying things for ourselves.

    I was thrilled to see Gary post his results. At least now a few of the naysayers will be temporarily appeased. Or at the least will have to use a different attack method since his results blew their arguments right out of the water.

    Good luck with your speech! Wish we were going to be there to hear it. Maybe next time.

    I wish you could be there this time too. Tell John won’t be same without Willie to accompany Waylon.

    Reply
  6. Anna

    I don’t watch Dr Oz’s show unless someone credible like Gary Taubes or Kayla Daniels is a guest. Invariably I want to scream, “pay no attention” at the TV when the “Great Oz” is speaking, because most of what comes out of his mouth about diet, weight, and CVD is nonsense.

    I also have to wonder about how Dr. Oz is managing to stick his hands in people’s chests *and* keep up the dizzying pace of an infotainment TV show. Something tells me he isn’t doing surgery or seeing patients anymore. Even if he was, I wouldn’t want a TV doctor operating on me, that’s for sure. Talk about divided attention.

    He must be doing surgery; he wears scrubs on the show. I’m pretty sure he runs from the operating room to the studio.

    Reply
  7. Rahul

    I have been following this bodybuilder athelete recently who has been putting up a lot of youtube videos for the past 2-3years on how to lose fat and gain a muscled body similar to a those awesome bodied guys at gym. Basically dishing out the secrets of people with amazing 6pack bodies. What i noticed is that all his advice on nutrition and food habits coincides with Gary Taubes, Dr. Eades and your informations on how to maintain a great diet and health. His name is Vince Delmonte. Below are some of the links on his nutrition videos:

    live large ep1: mentions best way to get fibre in ur diet (notice how wholemeal carbs isn’t mentioned at all…)

    7 tips for good health and shedding last few kgs includes spices to eat and food to avoid at all cost
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REOj_7hGhZk&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

    live large ep2 – mentions top 12 foods (note: he promotes eating fat but jst says to avoid it just before a workout as it counteracts with muscle growth)

    Reply
  8. Walter

    For those who are wondering the HDL + LDL do not equal the total cholesterol, because the VLDL of 19 is missing, and yes that gives us an answer that is one off.

    Reply
  9. Milton

    It scares me to wonder how many doctors would look at Gary’s numbers and immediately reach for a bottle of statins. And it’s frustrating to think that one of the reasons that they would do so is because of “researchers” who tell them that it may be prudent.

    I had lipid panel with very similar numbers — total cholesterol 203, HDL 64, triglycerides 71 — and the doctor told me my cholesterol was “elevated.” He wanted me to go on a low-fat diet and schedule a follow-up. Neither happened.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth

    You may have misunderstood their conclusion in the study… A MODERATE approach to weight loss. To me that says… “eh, if I lose a little weight GREAT!” You use the MODERATE carb for little to no weight loss. Also not they didn’t say anything about MODERATELY lowering choseterol, etc… 🙂

    I bet if you asked them, about SERIOUS approach to weight loss and good health, they would have said, “OH! well then, you should go Paleo!” LOL

    I fell off the wagon today and went to an Easter party… lots of crackers, fruit, chocolate, jellybeans, (a few cheese cubes), and “low fat” chicken salad sandwiches ( I didn’t pick out the menu) ….now…. I’M STARVING! Where are my almonds!??!

    I hadn’t thought of that interpretation.

    Reply
  11. Picky

    I just started eating low carb-high fat on April 1st (after watching Fat Head). My whole family has made the switch. My wife and kids used to drink skim milk and I drank 1%. Well, tonight for supper we had Chili. We drank whole milk. We didn’t use crackers AND we didn’t eat cornbread, things that always used to go with our chili meals.

    I’ve lost 13 pounds so far. I can’t wait until I lose the rest of the 80 pounds total that I need to lose. Then people will ask me, How’d you do it? Then I can tell them. 🙂

    Those are great results, and I’d wager you’re already feeling more energetic.

    Reply
  12. Zach

    I’m really interested to see if there’s any other reasoning in that article as to why they came to that conclusion. I’ve asked a friend to get me a copy of the study so I can see for myself.

    I just saw your film this week and have recommended it to everyone I know. I’d been trying to tell my friends and family about the evils of carbs since I read Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body and adopted his “slow-carb” diet.

    I appreciate the word-of-mouth marketing.

    Reply
  13. Amy Dungan

    It no longer surprises me when researchers give their conclusions that will fly directly in the face of what the study actually proved. I can only guess they believe people will only read their opinions, or won’t really understand what was learned to begin with. Too bad for them that more and more of us are becoming aware and really studying things for ourselves.

    I was thrilled to see Gary post his results. At least now a few of the naysayers will be temporarily appeased. Or at the least will have to use a different attack method since his results blew their arguments right out of the water.

    Good luck with your speech! Wish we were going to be there to hear it. Maybe next time.

    I wish you could be there this time too. Tell John won’t be same without Willie to accompany Waylon.

    Reply
  14. Anna

    I don’t watch Dr Oz’s show unless someone credible like Gary Taubes or Kayla Daniels is a guest. Invariably I want to scream, “pay no attention” at the TV when the “Great Oz” is speaking, because most of what comes out of his mouth about diet, weight, and CVD is nonsense.

    I also have to wonder about how Dr. Oz is managing to stick his hands in people’s chests *and* keep up the dizzying pace of an infotainment TV show. Something tells me he isn’t doing surgery or seeing patients anymore. Even if he was, I wouldn’t want a TV doctor operating on me, that’s for sure. Talk about divided attention.

    He must be doing surgery; he wears scrubs on the show. I’m pretty sure he runs from the operating room to the studio.

    Reply
  15. Rahul

    I have been following this bodybuilder athelete recently who has been putting up a lot of youtube videos for the past 2-3years on how to lose fat and gain a muscled body similar to a those awesome bodied guys at gym. Basically dishing out the secrets of people with amazing 6pack bodies. What i noticed is that all his advice on nutrition and food habits coincides with Gary Taubes, Dr. Eades and your informations on how to maintain a great diet and health. His name is Vince Delmonte. Below are some of the links on his nutrition videos:

    live large ep1: mentions best way to get fibre in ur diet (notice how wholemeal carbs isn’t mentioned at all…)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t60yMycRjxE&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

    7 tips for good health and shedding last few kgs includes spices to eat and food to avoid at all cost
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REOj_7hGhZk&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

    live large ep2 – mentions top 12 foods (note: he promotes eating fat but jst says to avoid it just before a workout as it counteracts with muscle growth)

    Reply
  16. J. Stanton

    The worst thing about that study is that you know it’ll end up in a bunch of footnotes saying “Moderate carb, low-fat diets are proven to result in better metabolic and weight-loss outcomes[32].”

    Sounds like this group could’ve written the new USDA guidelines. They did the same thing, just claiming the evidence shows whatever they want it to show.

    Reply
  17. Walter

    For those who are wondering the HDL + LDL do not equal the total cholesterol, because the VLDL of 19 is missing, and yes that gives us an answer that is one off.

    Reply
  18. A Eilola

    I remember reading that study and I was like WTF? After seeing the sponsors and Kellogg in there, I wasn’t that surprised anymore. 😉

    Reply
  19. Ed Terry

    The first indication of any bias from a study usually comes in the introduction to the study. I can now quickly tell if a study is out to prove something or if it out to provide some valid data. I’ve also found that checking the references is helpful. If I see any of the following names referenced, I toss the study into the recycle bin: Ancel Keyes, Michael Miller, Scott Grundy.

    I’ve got a few more on my list as well.

    Reply
  20. Justin

    i don’t know if you noticed, but on the study’s abstract one of the members of the team was from the Kellogg Company…

    Well, now that makes sense.

    Reply
  21. J. Stanton

    The worst thing about that study is that you know it’ll end up in a bunch of footnotes saying “Moderate carb, low-fat diets are proven to result in better metabolic and weight-loss outcomes[32].”

    Sounds like this group could’ve written the new USDA guidelines. They did the same thing, just claiming the evidence shows whatever they want it to show.

    Reply
  22. A Eilola

    I remember reading that study and I was like WTF? After seeing the sponsors and Kellogg in there, I wasn’t that surprised anymore. 😉

    Reply
  23. Pete

    One other interesting thing about the low / moderate carb study:

    Click on the pdf link to the right near the top. Scroll down to page 323 (the third actual page in the pdf) and look at the baseline figures. The low carb vs the moderate carb group had some significant starting differences. The low carb group started ~4 BMI points lower, ~15kg lighter and with ~10cms less on their waist and hips.

    Given that improvements come more slowly when you’re less overweight, it makes the argument for the low carb diet even stronger. IMO, of course.

    Good point.

    Reply
  24. Lisa

    I have been on my VLC diet for 22 days. I have also been an RN for over 2 decades. At the start my weight was 128, I am 5’4″, and my cholesterol was 201 on my last MD visit 3/22/2011. I have lost 7lbs, 2″ from my waist and my fasting blood sugar today was 94. Last night, 30 minutes after a steak(16oz) and green bean dinner, my blood sugar was 88. I bought Gary’s book Good Calories Bad Calories on my kindle last weekend, and I am still learning a lot!

    I am greatful for both of you-Forget Dr.Oz!

    As an RN, it will be interesting to see what happens when your colleagues ask how you lost weight.

    Reply
  25. Ed Terry

    The first indication of any bias from a study usually comes in the introduction to the study. I can now quickly tell if a study is out to prove something or if it out to provide some valid data. I’ve also found that checking the references is helpful. If I see any of the following names referenced, I toss the study into the recycle bin: Ancel Keyes, Michael Miller, Scott Grundy.

    I’ve got a few more on my list as well.

    Reply
  26. Brian Scott

    Ah, speaking of cholesterol, I’ve been eating a lot more eggs recently, something my father doesn’t like. I’ve already had my blood tests which show all green (although low HDL), but he just says “it can catch up to me”. So I’ve been scouring PubMed and Google Scholar for papers relating egg consumption, cholesterol and heart disease, etc.

    Catch up to you? Like the cholesterol is going to hang around, recruit a gang, and mug you later?

    Reply
  27. Justin

    i don’t know if you noticed, but on the study’s abstract one of the members of the team was from the Kellogg Company…

    Well, now that makes sense.

    Reply
  28. Lisa

    I have been on my VLC diet for 22 days. I have also been an RN for over 2 decades. At the start my weight was 128, I am 5’4″, and my cholesterol was 201 on my last MD visit 3/22/2011. I have lost 7lbs, 2″ from my waist and my fasting blood sugar today was 94. Last night, 30 minutes after a steak(16oz) and green bean dinner, my blood sugar was 88. I bought Gary’s book Good Calories Bad Calories on my kindle last weekend, and I am still learning a lot!

    I am greatful for both of you-Forget Dr.Oz!

    As an RN, it will be interesting to see what happens when your colleagues ask how you lost weight.

    Reply
  29. Jamie

    I have a sister-in-law who’s an RN, who says I’m on the right track with the low-carb high-fat diet and that any carbs you do consume should be complex carbs, yet my husband still says ALL fat is bad for you, poor brain-washed man. I can’t keep banging my head on my desk, table or wall, it’s starting to hurt. Anyone dealt with a obstinate family member? Suggestions?

    I’m afraid for some people, it’s like asking them to change religions. The evidence is out there, but if he doesn’t want to see it, you’re stuck.

    Reply
  30. Brian Scott

    Ah, speaking of cholesterol, I’ve been eating a lot more eggs recently, something my father doesn’t like. I’ve already had my blood tests which show all green (although low HDL), but he just says “it can catch up to me”. So I’ve been scouring PubMed and Google Scholar for papers relating egg consumption, cholesterol and heart disease, etc.

    Catch up to you? Like the cholesterol is going to hang around, recruit a gang, and mug you later?

    Reply
  31. eddie watts

    will the speech be filmed and viewable on youtube?

    I’m going to attempt to record it, yes. If all goes well, I’ll upload it.

    Reply
  32. Laura

    Ridiculous study conclusions? Check this one out…it’s the best by a long shot…

    http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/28/38/77/XHTML/index.xhtml

    From the abstract:

    “We speculated that a diet containing beef or bacon would increase and a diet containing chicken would decrease colon carcinogenesis in rats.”

    Guess which rats did the best? The ones fed bacon…who happened to drink more water than the others, because bacon made them thirsty, I guess.. Guess what the conclusion of the study was…

    “In conclusion, this study has introduced a new and potentially important experimental finding concerning a possible beneficial effect of the water intake on colon cancer prevention.”

    That’s hilarious! Talk about explaining away results you don’t like.

    Reply
  33. Val

    I was trying to look up my own chol/triglyceride numbers, but all my endocrinologist has been tracking is calcitonin & thyroid levels, damn!
    I vaguely remember my cholesterol being in the 140’s several yrs ago… Time to recheck it, obviously.
    (Have to keep reminding myself that even maintaining that 80/20 ratio, I’ll still be far better off.)

    Reply
  34. Katy

    “Like the cholesterol is going to hang around, recruit a gang, and mug you later?”

    Well, YEAH! That’s why it’s DANGEROUS!!

    Reply
  35. tracker

    @ Jamie, tell your husband to listen to you. To not do so would be deadly, not only what with the cardiovascular disease, but with going against what the wife says and wants! 😛

    On a serious note, tell him to read “Why we get fat” if he won’t take the time to read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” because it explains everything in fairly simple terms. If he’ll sit down and read “GCBC” he’ll be bleeding seething, because he’ll come to realize that we’ve all been lied to. I was so angry when I read “GCBC”. Here I have been overweight my entire life and it could have been different, it could have been avoided, if only the “common knowledge” had been that sugar and high fructose corn syrup screws up your metabolism.

    Reply
  36. Bailey

    I have now turned another person to the low carb-high fat world. Well, not really LOW carb since she’s not trying to lose weight but she told me she’s been eating less carbs and has developed a new appreciation for eggs (I have too, eggs are like the staple of my diet. Now I just need to convince my other friend sugar is worse for you than coffee, because she will fight and fight and fight me on the subject of caffeine yet eats way too much sugar. Wish me luck!

    Btw I have some bad news for you. I just looked up Good Calories, Bad calories on my iBooks app (which is exactly the same as what comes with a Kindle)and two results came up: first, the actual Good Calories, Bad Calories book, and then a book called Good Fat, Bad Fat (which is far cheaper).

    I hope people don’t order the wrong one.

    Reply
  37. LCNana

    Thanks for the link to Gary Taubes numbers. Here in Canada where the cost of our medical care system continues to spiral upwards DH and I NEVER get tested for anything if we can help it – and we can. We actually get calls yearly from our doc’s office suggesting that we be tested for this or that – flavor of the month test – always say NO.

    This is a growth industry for sure. Old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” really applies here. We’re being frightened into testing for nothing. Criminal!!!

    Doesn’t surprise me. Testing is the first step towards prescribing.

    Reply
  38. Peggy Cihocki

    @Jamie, What finally turned the tables for my sugar and flour addicted husband was his inability, despite tons of exercise, including weight training, to lose his stubborn abdominal fat. He finally got frustrated enough to listen to me and has cut his bad carbs considerably. Not completely, but he’s way down (total carbs generally under 100, often under 50) and it’s working-slowly, but surely. He also watched “Fat Head” with me and parts of “Big Fat Fiasco.” I think he understands the concept now–finally–but has 70 years of consuming the wrong kind of carbs to undo. And for a good while that was exacerbated by my misguided advice to eat low fat (I got wise about 6 or 7 years ago, thanks to reading much of the same literature cited by you in your film, Tom.) Despite the abdominal fat, though, his health is remarkably good for his age, thanks to a life time of staying active. I’m hoping his health will improve even more as he loses that dangerous fat underneath his rock hard abs and that he will outlive both his parents, who died at 58 and 72, respectively (smoking, heavy starch diet, etc.)

    Reply

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