Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Do Carbs Make Us Fat? It's Hard To Conclude That From These Maps

In fact, from these maps, it looks like the more fat and protein people eat (protein is a useful gage for meat consumption), and the fewer carbohydrates they eat, the heavier they are.

Macronutrient maps from:
ChartsBin: Macronutrients, 2005 - 2007 (You can also see the trends for macronutrients from 1990 to 2007 for each country. In the US, the trend was for more fat and protein, and less carbohydrate, over the last ~17 years.)


Overweight and obesity maps from:
World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory

Body Mass Index (BMI), Mean, Ages 20+, Age Standardized, Male, 2008

Prevalence of Obesity (BMI > 30), Ages 20+, Age Standardized, Both Sexes, 2008


Low-carb advocate Gary Taubes, in his popular book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, said:
"Carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be."

"Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior."

"Consuming excess calories does not cause [Taubes' emphasis] us to grow fatter, any more than it causes a child to grow taller. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger."
Taubes' views are shared by Dr. Atkins (New Diet Revolution) and Dr. Eades (Protein Power). I'm having difficulty reconciling this type of global data with their low-carb hypotheses, and their argument that calories don't count. Maps do not a study make, but there does seem to be a link between how many calories you eat and how much you weigh:



RB said...

Only refined carbs from soft drinks,candies, snacks, processed foods and breads help make us fat. Carbs from fruits, veggies, beans, lentils, nuts and grains are not a problem. Bix, your post is timely since another blog I follow comes to the same conclusion that carbs don't make us fat.

Bix said...

I agree with her. I'm familiar with those studies. I agree with you too.

Type 2 diabetes is not caused by sugar or starch. Type 2 diabetes is more a problem of insulin resistance, which gets worse when you eat a lot of fat. I think she said that too. It may appear that the sugar or starch causes diabetes, but it's really the inability of the body to clear it from the blood (insulin resistance), made worse by fat.

I would go further and say that eating a diet high in the combination of fat and refined carbs is risky. I would venture that even refined carbs are not that bad if you could get your fat down to something below 15%. Most Americans eat over 30% fat, and they call a low-fat diet maybe 20%. That's still quite a lot of fat.

These are only my opinions.

Laurie Endicott Thomas said...

It's hard to fatten on carbs, but easy to fatten on fats:

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Beautiful graphics, Bix. Huge amount of info here, and much more going on than just macronutrient ratios and total caloric intake.

If you look at U.S. (higher BMI) and compare them with Sudan (lower BMI), you see a huge difference in caloric intake. Perhaps 3500 a day versus 2400 a day. Might have something to do with obesity. Also note that residents of U.S. and Sudan eat about the same amount of carbs (390 grams a day if we assume U.S. carbs are 45% of total energy).

Taubes indeed minimized the importance of caloric intake, but didn't reject entirely the validity of the calories in/calories out, energy balance equation.

I'm not sure what they eat in Sudan, but assume the carbs there are lower-glycemic-index than what we eat in the U.S. It may be that the high-glyecmic-index foods in the U.S. lead to greater pancreatic output of the fat-building hormone called insulin. Hence, more obesity in the U.S.

Taubes, Stephen Phinney, Jeff Volek and I agree that the "fattening carbs" are high-glycmic-index: concentrated sugars and refined starches, mostly.

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Bix, in the last sentence of your post did you mean to write "carbohydrates" instead of "calories"?

Bix said...

I had to go back and check. I did mean calories in that last sentence, "there does seem to be a link between how many calories you eat and how much you weigh," since I was referencing the last graph right underneath - that showed calories.

Bix said...

I heard on the news last week, on BBC, that developing nations are developing a taste for "value added" packaged foods. They may have said "carbohydrates" but I forget. So, not only are up-and-coming nations eating more animal foods (more protein and fat), but they're switching the type of carbs from less-processed to more processed.

You're right, there's so much more going on than maps can portray.

Bix said...

Steve, in reference to Taubes' statement, "Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter," I recently read the following on Anthony Colpo's site:

"Like Atkins, Eades has adamantly maintained in his book and on his website that carbohydrate intake and insulin, not calories, are the primary arbiters of fat loss. ... Both of these famous authors are wrong."

I don't know Colpo, just the few things on his site I read. He makes a pretty passionate point, "that calories, not carbs and/or insulin, are the ultimate arbiter of weight loss."

Manu said...

Looking at the map some european countries truly surprise me. Germany with fewer grams of protein and more grams of carbs than france, they tend to eat a lot of pork products like sausages etc but I guess the french with their cheeses and fatty foods clearly surpass them. I had the wrong idea that the nordic countries were heavy meat eaters... it appears not so much. The truth is that in the last decades or so you the stereotype of the big bulky northern european and the small and skinny southern european is wrong... My theory is that american junk food is much more popular in southern europe than in northen europe

Laurie Endicott Thomas said...

The glycemic index doesn't matter.

Sugar actually has a relatively low glycemic index.

Bix Weber said...

That's interesting. Several years ago I placed emphasis on glycemic index. Then I factored in glycemic load. Then I thought, given the combinations of food people eat at a sitting, and an individual's unique make-up, it was hard to say what, if any, impact glycemic index was having.

I recently saw this on Neal Barnard's PCRM site:

Glycemic Index of Foods Influences Weight Loss

"Decreasing the intake of high-glycemic foods can help reduce body weight, according to a new article in the Journal of Nutrition. The glycemic index is a measure of how rapidly a given food releases sugar into the bloodstream. In a National Institutes of Health-funded study conducted by PCRM, 99 participants with type 2 diabetes were placed into either the vegan diet group or the 2003 American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet group. The vegan diet proved better at controlling blood glucose and cholesterol. After adjusting for various factors such as fiber, fat, and calorie intake, the glycemic index intake predicted weight loss, and weight loss, in turn, predicted lower hemoglobin A1C levels, a measure of sugar levels in the blood over time. The vegan diet group reduced glycemic index intake greater than the ADA diet group."