AHS showdown: Gary Taubes vs Stephan Guyenet

Here is the most talked about, tweeted and blogged moment of the Ancestral Health Symposium, captured on film. Two stars colliding.

Stephan Guyenet has just finished his talk on “food reward” being a major cause of obesity. Gary Taubes, the undisputed champion of the “carbs->insulin->fat” camp, steps up to the microphone for the start of Q&A…

[UPDATED WITH VIDEO]

Showdown

Taubes (usually my hero) makes the argument that Guyenet is ignoring populations that were poor, eating unrewarding food, and still got fat, thus “refuting” the reward theory. Guyenet disagrees and says that their food was not necessarily unrewarding.

Taubes says that in science it is always a good idea to consider all the facts, not just the ones that fit your theory. In fact, please do it before giving a talk on the subject. Then he walks away from the mike.

As the entire audience cringe from the awkwardness of the situation Guyenet answers, with superb coolness, “Thanks for the advice.”

Epilogue

From what I heard Taubes later apologized to Guyenet in person. Good choice, but I think Taubes would have gained a lot more by doing it in public during his speech. In fact he almost did it, but unfortunately ended up just mentioning that he had “insulted” Guyenet, without the magic “I’m sorry” words.

I heard quite a few influential people who were still upset about the incident much later. That is too bad.

On the positive side I think we can learn something important from this. Of course we should be respectful of our opponents. And if we are not, we can’t win.

PS

I have a few disagreements myself with the “reward” theory and consider myself much more in Taubes camp on the issue of obesity. I plan to make a post later on Guyenet’s talk.

I don’t give much for the almost bizarre idea of “bland liquid from a straw” being the ultimate weight loss diet. I don’t think that is necessary at all. In fact I seem to disagree with Stephan Guyenet more and more. But I still think he is a brilliant thinker, a good speaker and his blog is well worth reading.

Update

Actually the exchange may not have been quite as dramatic as the discussion afterward made it seem like. Now I have seen it again on video. Check it out yourself, the most interesting part starts at 3:26 and is pretty short:

Perhaps this is mostly a collision of cultures. The Q&A at these conferences is usually über-polite. So when someone is not polite it stands out.

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My Health Markers After Eight Years on LCHF 139
Robert Lustig’s New Talk on Sugar! 33
Panel Discussion on the Fight Against Sugar 55
“Butter Better than Vegetable Oils” 36
The Science of Low Carb 48
No More Than Seven Months? 32
More Interviews Coming Up 19
Number of Weight-Loss Surgeries Continues to Decline in Sweden! 28
Calorie Smasher Feltham Says “Hi” to His Swedish LCHF Fans 54
Bacon art 6
Today at the European Nutrition Conference in Leipzig 39
A Calorie Is Not a Calorie – Not Even Close 36
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112 Comments

  1. FrankG
    Many thanks for posting that Ted :-)
  2. @ Margaret and Robert:

    To your confusion about what the SAD is, and how it related to USDA recommendations, this study was very helpful:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eREuZEdMAVo

    In it-- and you've both probably seen it-- Chris Gardner, a professor of Medicine at Stanford and member of the Nutrition Committee of the AHA, found that when he tried to get a study population to do Ornish, they ended up in reality doing the (previous) USDA recommendations.

    When comparing shortish term results on weight loss and metabolic markers he found LC eating to be superior to USDA eating.

    This is neither here nor there when it comes to what recommendations to make for a generic human being. But I found it instructive when it came to assessing the efficacy of the USDA recommendations, and for determining what a pudgy American ought to do.

    And, being a pudgy American, that's really what *I* care about at least.

  3. Robert
    @Karlub,

    Interesting presentation! One take home message I get out of Gardner's presentation is that diet studies are difficult to run and are unreliable. These were Gardner's own words. That's one reason why I like to look at healthy, long-lived populations to see how they eat and live.

    "When comparing shortish term results on weight loss and metabolic markers he found LC eating to be superior to USDA eating."

    The study comparing the four diets showed Atkins doing slightly better but the overall results for all diets was less than spectacular. Calories consumed were pretty much the same across the board I see.

    Another point Gardner raised was that increasing monounsaturated fats results in a lowering of triglycerides and in HDL levels increasing. So one can follow a low saturated fat diet and see these same improvements that LC dieters report. One just has to raise the other fats.

    Another comment he made wrt insulin resistant vs, non-insulin resistant people illustrates the fact that there isn't a single diet for everyone. Which explains why my LDL increases on LC but my overall numbers improve on a lower fat diet. I don't know how I'd do on Pritikin. Not sure I want to find out! Of course, the populations that do fine on their low to lowish-fat/high carb diets don't need a researcher to tell them this.

    "In it-- and you've both probably seen it-- Chris Gardner, a professor of Medicine at Stanford and member of the Nutrition Committee of the AHA, found that when he tried to get a study population to do Ornish, they ended up in reality doing the (previous) USDA recommendations."

    No wonder Ornish doesn't like him. ;o)

    Your (assuming you're an American) USDA recommendations seem to be closer to what I am doing personally. Of course, as he points out in his presentation, its not just about macronutrient percentages its about the quality of the diet.

    LC research up to now has only involved short-term studies. Gardner also raises a concern over prolonged intake of high protein. There may be other unknown (undesirable?) results from long-term use of an LC diet since we don't have any long-term studies from which to draw meaningful conclusions.

  4. FrankG
    LCHF by defintion is *not* an high Protein diet. There is no need to increase Protein... simply replace the percentage energy that you were previously getting from refined Carbohydrates, with energy from Fats. Furthermore it does not take an whole lot of Fat to effect this change as Fat has more the twice the energy when compared to Carbohydrates or Protein. Around 40g Fat replaces around 100g of Carbohydrate, while remaining isocaloric and with no need to change the Protein. On a 2,000 calorie diet that is about a 20% increase in percentage energy from Fat and a corresponding 20% decrease in percentage energy from Carbohydrate. More than enough to change the description of a diet for "high carb" to "high fat"... which in any case is just a relative term.

    Do you take into account the different sized LDL particles when you talk about an increase in LDL volume? http://www.centerforpreventivemedicine.com/04114med_messenger.pdf ...Beyond Routine Cholesterol Testing: The Role of LDL Particle Size Assessment

  5. Robert
    "LCHF by defintion is *not* an high Protein diet."

    LC comes in different flavours. LCHF is one of them. I was referring to Gardner's comments in the video (link from Karlub's comment) regarding LC diets. Obviously, *some* LC diets *are* high protein. As far as LDL particle size is concerned I don't believe it is a standard test in Canada either. I have copies of my blood work going back several years and there’s nothing I can see that indicates particle size. My doctor would have to specifically ask for that test to be done and given the idiot in charge of the province I live in, I'd be willing to bet it isn't covered by our health care program (OHIP) here.

  6. FrankG
    In terms of your subtle safety concerns about lack of long term low carb diet studies I'd suggest that the traditional diet of humans has always been naturally low in refined and concentrated carbohydrates -- take those away and it becomes hard to meet the RDA of 300g carbs recommended by some countries today... even when eating rice as the staple -- albeit unrefined rice with barley etc... and not the polished white rice grown form high starch yield varieties so prevalent today.

    My second point would be to remind you of your opening statement used it seems to undermine Dr Gardner's results above "diet studies are difficult to run and are unreliable."

    My third point is my own "n = 1" experiment where after 3+ years of continual LCHF my health markers, both subjective and objective (as measured by regular lab tests) are only not only excellent, but continue to improve.

  7. Robert
    "In terms of your subtle safety concerns about lack of long term low carb diet studies I'd suggest that the traditional diet of humans has always been naturally low in refined and concentrated carbohydrates"

    Define ancestors. People throw this term around a lot in diet debates. If you're talking about Paleolithic ancestors then yes it would have been lowish carb, depending upon their environment. But since they had comparatively short lives we can't draw many conclusions on how that diet would have fared over a lifespan more in line with ours today. Researchers agree that more long-term studies are needed and I agree with them. Wouldn’t you agree?

    "My second point would be to remind you of your opening statement used it seems to undermine Dr. Gardner's results above 'diet studies are difficult to run and are unreliable.'"

    Well aren’t you are the suspicious one! Did I misquote him in any way or quote out of context?

    "My third point is my own "n = 1" experiment where after 3+ years of continual LCHF my health markers, both subjective and objective (as measured by regular lab tests) are only not only excellent, but continue to improve."

    I'll say to you what people in these forums tell me when I give them my n=1 experiment results on my high carb diet. An n=1 proves little and has no take home message to the general population. Of course, it is of great interest to me as is yours to you.

  8. FrankG
    Why would I need to define a word that I did not use? Did my discussion of rice as a staple lead you to think I was discussing Paleolithic humans? Seriously?

    Define "comparatively short lives" and cite a source please.

    I agree that long term studies are required (notwithstanding your caveat about their unreliability)... it seems evident to me that the dietary trial in the general population of most Westernized countries, that resulted from the low-fat dogma twhich started in the 1970s, has been running long enough.. don't you think? How is that one doing would you say? Healthy or not?

    Not suspicious just skeptical.

  9. Robert
    "Why would I need to define a word that I did not use?"

    That's true, you didn't use the word "ancestor", you talked about human traditional diets using the past tense. Hmmmm, sounds like you were at least referring to our ancestors.

    "Did my discussion of rice as a staple lead you to think I was discussing Paleolithic humans? Seriously?"

    Uh, no Frank, rice wouldn't cause me to think you were referring to the Paleolithic era. The reference before that however .... which is why I asked for clarification.

    "Define "comparatively short lives" and cite a source please."

    Ok, an average life expectancy at birth less than what we have here in Canada and the USA. In Canada that is slightly over 78 years for a male. As far as our ancestors from the Paleolithic era and even in more recent times (Neolithic, Bronze age, etc.) the life expectancy was greatly reduced by problems with child birth. As you know, A high rate of deaths during birth brings the average down quite a bit. Skeletal fossil evidence shows that many serious injuries occurred to these people. Hunting injuries and just the fact that their life was tougher overall (they were not just the hunter, they were also the prey for larger animals) brings down the average as well. I've seen enough footage of anthropologists discussing fossil evidence, and I'm sure you have as well to know that the available evidence from our Paleolithic ancestors is insufficient to draw any conclusions as to the long-term effects of LCHF. And when did you ever hear an anthropologist proudly brag "here is a fine Cro Magnon specimen of an 80 year old"?

    "I agree that long term studies are required (notwithstanding your caveat about their unreliability)... "

    Ah, by "my caveat" you are again referring to my using the Gardner quote. Its a fact shared by the researchers. Because you apparently have difficulty accepting it doesn't change things at all. Maybe you should take it up with Gardner since he is a researcher and made the admission that such studies are problematic, unreliable, etc. I'm sure he is reachable via email. ;o)

    "it seems evident to me that the dietary trial in the general population of most Westernized countries, that resulted from the low-fat dogma which started in the 1970s, has been running long enough.. don't you think? How is that one doing would you say?"

    The keywords in your comment here are "westernized countries". Low to lowish fat/high carb diet "experiments" have been going on for millennia around the world. When they stick to their diets they are fine. Once they become more "civilized" all hell breaks loose with their health.

    "Healthy or not?"

    I think you know by now what my answer is but to avoid any possible confusion for you, no, the low-fat diet, as practiced in the USA and Canada, has not improved our health. It started an industry boom for processed low fat foods. People were eating low fat but not necessarily low calorie and too much processed, refined garbage unlike our successful low-fat/high carb populations in other parts of the world.

  10. Mike Ellwood
    Those who are agonising over what the Kitavans eat or ate, or how many pigs the Okinawans keep, or how many digestive biscuits the Wombles eat with their tea, might care to look at the excellent Dave Dixon's posting here:

    http://sparkofreason.blogspot.com/2011/08/comment-on-guyenet-vs-taube...

  11. George Henderson
    The life expectancy of paleolithic HG people who lived alongside neolithic farming people, judged by the remains when both are available, does show significantly longer life, greater height, better overall bone health in the paleolithic remains. Life was still short, but it was quite a few years shorter on carbs.
    According to research cited in "an Edible History of Humanity" by Tom Standage.
  12. gphx
    The dialogue in this comments section is very encouraging. I see people like FrankG, who has actually tried a low carb diet, monitored his vital stats, and seen them rapidly improve. His experience mirrors my own. This is not to say everyone has a physiology which responds in the same way as his or mine.

    Then I see others arguing papers, theories, and abstracts which they apparently have no practical experience with entirely skipping over good practical results in their refutations. They also, as both FrankG and Taubes have noted, conveniently skip over the fact the 40 something, USDA sponsored American experiment and love affair with low fat high carb has presided over the fastest growth of major diseases the world has ever seen.

    This is not to say a 20 something nondiabetic ironman competitor can't do fine on a diet of nothing other than bananas. It is to say the average person probably will not.

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