What Should We Eat—and Why?Gary Taubes and NuSI aim to correct a decades-old problem by telling the worldwhat to eat—and backing their recommendations up with real science. Marty Cej reports.October 2012All images: Courtesy of NuSIBy Marty Cej“What right has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment,with themselves as subjects, on the strength of so very little evidence that it will do them any good?” —Philip Handler,president of the United States National Academy of Science, testifying to Congress in 1980 on the creation of thenutritional guidelines that still govern the American diet today.1 of 5Copyright 2012 CrossFit, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.Subscription info at journal.crossfit.comFeedback to [email protected]

Eat .(continued)Gary Taubes is picking a fight. Again.The best-selling author of Good Calories, Bad Calories andWhy We Get Fat has partnered with Peter Attia, M.D., tolaunch a nonprofit organization with the ambitious goalof slashing the current U.S. obesity rate by more than halfand the prevalence of diabetes by 75 percent by 2025. Todo that, he’ll have to topple the food pyramid, take on themedical establishment, and go toe-to-toe with the multitrillion-dollar food and drug industries.It is Taubes’ contention thatthe quality of the caloriesmatters more than thequantity, and that the dietaryguidelines that have dictatedfamily meals for decades are wrongheaded.“That will be a problem,” he admits. But, “if we get thescience right, we can convince the scientific community,and they will want to speak out about it.”According to Taubes, the ambitious project is still in theearly stages.“We could be recruiting subjects by this time next year, buta lot of things need to go well before that,” he said.The work will be independent and funded entirely byprivate citizens and other organizations. The Laura andJohn Arnold Foundation, a philanthropic venture foundedby hedge-fund manager John Arnold and his wife, hasprovided NuSI with 5 million in seed money. It may soundlike a significant sum, but that generous gift represents just0.003 percent of the almost 150 billion spent on treatingobesity-related disease in the U.S. last year, with roughlyhalf of that financed by Medicare and Medicaid. In 1998,the bill was 78.5 million.More than one third, or 35.7 percent, of U.S. adults areobese the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreported in a data brief published in January 2012, andsome 16.9 percent of U.S. children and adolescents areobese. That means 78 million American adults and 12.5million children and adolescents are obese.From 1960 through 1962, the obesity rate was just 13.4percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health andHuman Sciences, or just over one in 10 people.But what does “obese” mean?The founders of the Nutrition Science Initiative, or NuSI(pronounced NEW-see), say it has been created to “finally,and with scientific certainty, answer the question: ‘Whatshould we eat to be healthy?’”The organization will fund research into nutrition with arigor that has never been seen before, Taubes said. Thescientists and researchers being recruited will come fromvaried backgrounds and, in many cases, hold opposingbeliefs to the founders. They have one thing in common,though: the conviction that nutrition science fails to meetthe same standards of proof and inquiry applied to otherdisciplines such as chemistry, biology or physics.The NuSI scientific advisory board comprises AlanSniderman, a lipid researcher at McGill University inMontreal, Que.; David Harlan, former head of the Diabetes,Endocrinology, and Metabolic Diseases branch of theNational Institute of Diabetes and Digestive KidneyDiseases, now at the University of Massachusetts; MitchelLazar, of the University of Pennsylvania; and KevinSchulman, of Duke University.Taubes’ goal is to hold nutrition to the same scientificstandards as chemistry, biology and physics.2 of 5Copyright 2012 CrossFit, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.Subscription info at journal.crossfit.comFeedback to [email protected]

Eat .(continued)Current “nutrition science” has failed to explain what we should eat to be healthy and fit,and the costs of that failure are enormous.The CDC defines obesity for adults through the body massindex, or BMI, which is weight in kilograms divided byheight in meters squared, rounded to one decimal place.Obesity is defined as BMI greater than or equal to 30. Forexample, for an adult who is 5’9” in height, he would beconsidered obese at 203 lb. or more. A score of 25.0 to 29.9is considered overweight, while a number between 18.5and 24.9 is considered normal.Yet a tape measure, scale and a calculator don’t really tellthe story or count the human toll.Obesity is considered a major contributory factor incoronary heart disease; Type 2 diabetes; cancers includingendometrial, breast and colon; stroke; osteoarthritis;gynecological problems such as abnormal menses andinfertility; and sleep apnea and other respiratory problems.There is also the terrible burden of depression and othermental illnesses.In 2010, more than 40 million children under the age of fivearound the world were considered overweight, accordingto the World Health Organization (WHO). By 2020, theWHO estimates, obesity will be the single biggest killer onthe planet, and those 40 million overweight children from2010 will be entering their early teens, or perhaps nearingthe end of their lives.“Nobody wants to be obese,” Taubes said. “If you can solvethe problem, people will embrace it. The advice people aregiven now has not worked.”At the center of it all is government-sponsored nutritioninformation that essentially recommends a highcarbohydrate, low-fat diet. Carbohydrates in the formof grains, cereals and breads did not begin their transformation to the supposedly heart-healthy foundationof the food pyramid until the late 1960s. Carbohydratesstimulate the secretion of insulin, which influencesfat storage in cells, but bad science could make carbsappear to be the preferred macronutrient because theycontain less than half the calories per gram of fat.In 1977, after years of discussion and debate, and inthe face of opposition from the National Academy ofSciences and others, the U.S. Senate Select Committee onNutrition and Human Needs, chaired by Senator GeorgeMcGovern, produced Dietary Goals for the United States,the first recommendation of which was the increasedconsumption of complex carbohydrates and “naturallyoccurring sugars.”Taubes has argued in his books, his blog and articles forThe New York Times that the fundamental tenet of America’snutritional wisdom—a calorie is a calorie—is not only theresult of shoddy science and the influence of powerfulbusiness lobbies a generation ago but also the cause ofthe nation’s obesity epidemic. Simply put, Taubes believesobesity is far more complex than boiling the issue down tothe basic formula of calories in minus calories out equalsweight gained or lost. This formula, however, is generallyaccepted as science in the world of nutrition.So why does Taubes believe the science of nutrition failedup to this point? Essentially, the research just isn’t goodenough yet.“The experimental subjects are human beings. They areexpensive, they have minds of their own, there are behavioraland socio-economic variables, so everyone assumes that anadequate standard is the best that they can do,” he said. “It’sobservational but it’s not cause and effect. They are hypothesisgenerating observations, not experiments.”3 of 5Copyright 2012 CrossFit, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.Subscription info at journal.crossfit.comFeedback to [email protected]

Eat .(continued)It is Taubes’ contention that the quality of the caloriesmatters more than the quantity, and that the dietaryguidelines that have dictated family meals for decades—promoted by the government and supported by medicalorganizations such as the American Heart Organization—are wrongheaded. Never mind the global heavyweightsin the food industry who profit most from the prevailingdiet standards, such as Kraft Foods Inc. of the U.S. with astock-market value of 71 billion, or the world’s biggestfood company, Nestle SA of Switzerland, which boastsa market cap of 201 billion and brands including Aerochocolate bars, DiGiorno frozen pizza and the Jenny Craigdiet centers.Taubes aims to prove them all wrong.NuSI has recruited sixscientists so far, and all six,Taubes said, believe hispreconceptions to be wrong.Taubes freely admits that he has firm expectations—hopes, really—that the results of the experiments NuSI willunderwrite in the coming years will ratify his hypotheses.However, that strongly held personal bias is the same sortthat he himself has argued does not belong in seriousscientific study.“We have our own preconceptions, but NuSI is aboutgetting these hypotheses tested,” he said. “We’re notinterested in finding people who will find what we want;we want them to find the truth.”NuSI has recruited six scientists so far, and all six, Taubessaid, believe his preconceptions to be wrong. It will be theirtask to determine who, if anyone, is right. A press releasedated Sept. 12 indicates that NuSI’s researchers have verydifferent backgrounds and perspectives on nutrition butare united by the belief that current nutritional science isnot acceptable and has not produced definitive proof thatshould inform nutritional guidance. The press release isalso clear that if NuSI research produces hard science thatcontradicts traditional guidelines, it will fund additionalstudies to confirm the results.It is important to state that the U.S. is not alone. Accordingto the Organization for Economic Cooperation andDevelopment, fewer than 10 percent of people wereobese before 1980. Since then, the rates have doubled ortripled in many countries, and in 19 of 34 OECD countries,the majority of the population is now overweight or obese.Mexico has the second largest percentage of obese peopleat 30 percent of the total population, New Zealand isthird with 28.5 percent, Chile is fourth with a quarter if itspopulation obese, and Australia is fifth with 24.6 percent.Korea and Japan both have obesity rates less than 4 percent.In its 2012 report on obesity, the OECD said, “Severelyobese people die eight to ten years sooner than thoseof normal-weight, similar to smokers, with every 15 extrakilograms increasing risk of early death by approximately30 percent.”Taubes believes current nutrition guidelines are not based on good science but rather observations that suggest hypotheses. Hewants to go further by repeatedly proving or disproving hypotheses in hopes of finding real answers to the obesity problem.4 of 5Copyright 2012 CrossFit, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.Subscription info at journal.crossfit.comFeedback to [email protected]

Eat .(continued)Science has yet to tell us what to eat to be healthy, and NuSI aims to correct that problem as soon as possible.If Taubes and NuSI co-founder Attia are right, and if NuSI’sresearch produces definitive nutrition guidelines that willreduce obesity and improve health, they could changethe world.“Cigarettes are a good metaphor,” Taubes said. “In the1960s, half of Americans smoked, but over the course of 50years, the opposition to smoking has worked.”What NuSI hopes to achieve is nothing short of a sociologicalupheaval in the way Americans understand nutrition, andby doing so Taubes and company hope to save millions oflives, improve the quality of life for millions more and easethe debt burden on a struggling U.S. economy by tens ofbillions of dollars a year.Courtesy of Marty CejThe fight Taubes has picked is not unlike the battlewaged against Big Tobacco in recent decades, in whichgenerations of bad habits, a deep-pocketed agriculturalindustry lobby and even deeper-pocketed tobaccocompanies held the upper hand for years, even in theface of good science.About the AuthorMarty Cej is a contributing editor to the CrossFit Journaland the managing editor of Business News Network (BNN) inToronto, Canada.“It would be a shift back to the way we saw nutrition 50years ago,” Taubes explained. “We know it can be donebecause it has been done before. If we are wrong, thenwe live with it, but let’s do these experiments so that in 10years we have nothing to argue about.”F5 of 5Copyright 2012 CrossFit, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc.Subscription info at journal.crossfit.comFeedback to [email protected]