Is the Tide Turning on Low Carb?

Maybe it’s me. I’m well aware that most of us are quite good at fooling ourselves. I believe that we are all delusional, so it is wise to choose delusions for yourself that make you happy rather than sad.

Am I delusional to say that it seems that the tide is turning on low carb, and that more and more, mainstream science and the media are beginning to embrace some of the notions that labeled Atkins a dangerous quack only a few years ago?

In psychology there is something known as a ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. See Wikipedia for a list of cognitive biases and check out which ones you see yourself in – enlightening.

Maybe it’s this confirmation bias that I’m suffering from, or maybe it’s true that more and more people seem to seem to be embracing many of the notions that form the basis of a low carb lifestyle – maybe not as aggressively as Atkins did, but it’s moving in that direction.

My evidence?

  • An article in the mainstream media titled ‘What if Bad Fat Isn’t So Bad?‘ where the author point out that there has never been an established relationship between saturated fat to heart disease. Old news for the low carbers who have educated themselves on the scientific evidence, but it is somewhat remarkable to see this out in the mainstream media where it contradicts their regular nutrition articles touting low calorie and low fat diets.
  • The ADA has (almost reluctantly, it seems) come out endorsing a low carb diet as helpful in diabetes management. It’s tough to admit you were wrong so I give them credit for taking even some small steps in the right direction (See list of cognitive biases above to determine which one they’ve been suffering from). I was reading a recipe for a smoothie that was endorsed by the ADA as good for diabetics – 40 grams of carbs. That’s more than I try to have in a normal day – not in one drink.
  • Gary Taubs and the publication of his book ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories‘. In this book, the author makes a solid and very well researched argument that good science was essentially hijacked by a number of people with an axe to grind and 50 years of screaming about fat being bad for you is nonsense. What kicks this up a notch is that he’s gotten a lot of PR – heck – he was on Larry King, for instance.

Maybe the Atkins craze of 2003 was just a first battle in war that isn’t lost just yet. The problem with the craze was it’s lack of depth. Docs almost universally poo-poo’d it, a bunch of companies came out with crappy low carb products, and millions of people ate nothing but burgers, steaks, butter, bacon and eggs without a real understanding of how low carb works, thinking they could lose their 20 lbs, then go back to cookies and pizza and not have a problem. When they did, they claimed that Atkins didn’t work. Or they ate the low carb crap food, didn’t lose weight, and claimed Atkins didn’t work. Or they never explored outside the narrow little world of steak and eggs, cheated because of that, and claimed Atkins was too hard.

The craze of 2003 spawned a lot of research, and the results of this are beginning to come in. Combine this with Gary Taub’s book, and it shows that low carb dieting is not just the wacky idea of a single quack doctor with a best-selling diet book (which is how it appeared to me in 2003), but a theory that has a lot of evidence to support it, as well as a long history of empirical success in the history of medicine.

The jury is still out, however. the problem with this sort of research is it is like the peeling of an onion. Each layer reveals more, and helps to confound the assumptions and conclusions of the previous knowledge we once thought to be immutable.

A simple fact that is known is that with 50 years of low fat messaging to the American public, and a overall reduction in the consumption of saturated fat – the demonized nutrient that supposedly causes heart disease – and the rise in carbohydrates eaten, our rates of diabetes and heart disease have skyrocketed.

This fact has doctors a bit more open it seems, to the notion that low carb might not be all that bad as an alternative to low fat, because the low fat approach is not doing most of their patients any good.

So, perhaps the tide is turning?

I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Ghandi:

First they ignore you
Then they laugh at you
Then they fight you
Then you win.

2 thoughts on “Is the Tide Turning on Low Carb?

  1. Thanks again, LCC, for pointing the way to yet another interesting topic (the Wikipedia link about cognitive biases). I’ve experienced of a lot of these myself, and occasionally, somewhere in the back of my mind, I suspected I was doing something for a reason that was not objective. Example: When a friend started selling an expensive health supplement I’d never heard of after attending a meeting of some sort, I smelled a rat and starting looking for information that would support my theory. I found articles for and against the product and the person chiefly involved in marketing it, but I reported to her only the negative ones because my personal feeling was that it was snake oil and she was investing money in what was likely a fraudulent scheme.

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