Extensive Notes on Good Calories, Bad Calories

Toban Wiebe at Higher Thought has put together an excellent resource.

Gary Taubes’s masterpiece—Good Calories, Bad Calories—is the most important book ever written on diet and health. Drawing from an astounding body of research, Taubes challenges the conventional wisdom head on and decisively wins (the book is perhaps overkill.) He shows that carbohydrates are the root cause of obesity and most chronic diseases, and that fat is not only innocent, but positively beneficial. The book was so amazingly good that after finishing it, I decided to read it through again and take extensive notes for future reference. Now that I’ve finished, I figure that these notes could be quite useful as a reference to others who’ve read the book, or even as an overview to get more people to read the book. These notes are no substitute for reading the book though. They were written as a reference to complement the book and I strongly recommend reading it through in its entirety. Armed with Taubes’s book and these notes, you’ll be a low-carb, high-fat force to be reckoned with!

The HTML version.

The PDF Version.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. OBJoyful on January 18, 2010 at 12:50

    Thankyou so much for this post Richard! I have read the book – which I found overwhelming, but having a resource such as this is will be an invaluable tool.

  2. Marc Abel on January 18, 2010 at 13:37

    Maybe this heart surgeon ought to read the book.

    Or maybe he is intentionally giving out bad advice to keep his heart surgery business booming.

  3. Michael on January 18, 2010 at 14:15

    Taubes book is excellent, and he has done yeoman work in laying low the mainstream nutritional bias regarding health and nutrition, especially as it regards saturated fat. Despite the rather overwhelming nature of the book which we will make it inaccessible to many, and the quibbles one could make here and there with some of the research Taubes relies on, it does belong on everyone’s bookshelf at least as a resource.

    However one thing that Taubes does not do is demonstrate the following:

    He shows that carbohydrates are the root cause of obesity and most chronic diseases….

    What he does do is demonstrate that refined carbohydrates are a cause of obesity and many chronic diseases. He hints in his own dietary recommendations (a near ketogenic diet IIRC) that he might personally believe carbs are a dietary evil per se, but nowhere does he say that in his book, and nowhere does the evidence in his book demonstrate as much.

    You would expect purveyors of the low carb only club to bite, but well-read folks ought to know better, especially since paleo and low carb are not necessarily synonymous. In other words people can be eating low carb and not have a diet that looks anything like typical paleo fare, and conversely people can be eating what looks like typical paleo fare (broadly speaking – i.e real food) but with a goodly amount of carbohydrates.

    This shouldn’t surprise us, since we have Price’s African tribes, the Swiss of the Loetschental Valley, the Kitavans , the Tokelauans , Burkitt’s studies, McCarrison’s observations, and even some of the comments by Stefansson as he referred to other groups who ate exactly the opposite of the Eskimos (in terms of macro-nutrients) but still had excellent health.

    • Ryan Koch @ Health Matters to Me on January 18, 2010 at 14:23

      Whoa, Michael. We posted at nearly the same time and said nearly the same thing in different words. I didn’t see your comment until after I posted mine! Psychic connection, perhaps? 😉

    • Michael on January 18, 2010 at 14:29

      LOL! And I just saw yours. The sometimes mysterious ways of the universe. 🙂

  4. Ryan Koch @ Health Matters to Me on January 18, 2010 at 14:19

    I don’t know how you feel about Taubes’ overall hypothesis, Richard, but, in my opinion, his theory has a lot inconsistencies when considering the human diet over the last several thousand years and the fact that obesity and diabetes — and the diseases of civilization — were absent in both high-carb and low-carb cultures. They all shared one thing in common: whole foods (including animal foods) prepared for maximum nutritive benefit. His hypothesis that carbs drive insulin and insulin drives metabolic disorders and other health mishaps loses its punch when taking into consideration that simple observation.

    Also, with all of the franken-foods that have been introduced in the human diet over the last century — refined fructose, white flour, trans fats, veggie oils — and their increased consumption decade after decade, perhaps the blame for our health crisis can more logically approached with these dramatic changes in mind. I think Gary Taubes quickly loses sight of this and focuses far too much on carbohydrate in general rather than zeroing in on the “prime suspects.”

    Other than that, his stuff on the history of nutritional science is right on, and his book is an awesome resource for that!

    • Richard Nikoley on January 18, 2010 at 14:28


      I have made this point in dozens and dozens of posts over several years time.

      “Paleo is Kitava to Inuit and everything in between.”

      I really, really wish people would stop putting me in the strictly low-carb camp, because I’m not, and never have been. It’s fine, ideal for some, I was very low carb in losing my 60 pounds, but now I eat natural starches, usually various potatoes and squash & such.

    • Michael on January 18, 2010 at 14:46

      Well I for one, as you know, do not put you in the strictly low-carb camp, and have a page of quotes from you addressing this very subject waiting for a future post.

      However when you post what you did above, without any qualifiers, I think it is fair game to draw out the distinctions, given the strength with which Toban Wiebe does seem to support the strictly low-carb position based on that quote. So while you may not be strictly low-carb, Taubes (by inference/suggestion) and Toban Weibe certainly seem to be strict about the matter.

      I also daresay your definition of paleo eating is not how most paleos conceptualize the concept of paleo eating, although I like it very much!

    • Richard Nikoley on January 18, 2010 at 14:58

      Yea, that’s fair. Actually, I hadn’t read Toban’s quote closely enough to catch that.

      That said, I want to be very gentle with the low-carbers on this point. If they can thrive and feel great on low carb (or no-carb, for that matter), then good for them. I don’t want to get into orthodoxy at all. I want to have principles, like: real food only. Now that can vary too (dairy, sprouted, soaked, fermented grains, soaked legumes — which I sometimes do, maybe a pot of beans twice a year), but it’s pretty clear cut that it doesn’t involve frozen, boxed, packaged crap of refined flour, stuffed with sugar and containing an ingredient list so long that the packaging has to be bigger than needed to encapsulate the junk within.

      So, I consider the low-carbers to be allies and I suppose most of you do too — even Matt, though he seems a bit more adamant on this point than I.

      I think low carbs may be optimal for some minority, but not most, and what level is optimal for any individual has to be arrived at through self-examination and experimentation.

    • Ryan Koch @ Health Matters to Me on January 18, 2010 at 14:48

      Right on, Richard. I knew that you thought along those lines these days, but I wasn’t aware that you’ve been saying that for several years.

      Really, I was commenting more on Taubes’ dietary perspective, not yours. I totally respect your views and especially appreciate the willingness to experiment and have your mind changed. Thanks for being a sensible voice out there!

  5. Richard Nikoley on January 18, 2010 at 14:49

    We agree. See my comment right above yours.

    I suppose it’s easy for people to see me as a strictly low-carb guy, since I was mostly blogging about my 60 lbs weight loss progress for so long, and of course I used VLC combined with IF to do it. I have no idea what my intake is now, but I’d assume somewhere 100-150g most days, so that’s moderate carb.

    But wow do I love my fats, especially butter, lately. It’s just got to be the king of fats, even as much as I like coconut oil. I went to a restaurant today and had a big burger steak, two eggs, and hash browns (which I don’t do very often because of the damn veg oil). Anyway, I always ask for the eggs to be cooked in butter, which they do ’cause it’s easy to tell. I typically will have about half the potato. Today I asked for butter on the side, he gave me a lot, and when the burger came, which was hot, I spread the butter all over it.

    Man, talk about thermogenesis. I was a bit chilled as it was 11 am and I hadn’t eaten yet, but by the time I’d eaten only half the meal I was literally sweating hot. Now here it is 3pm and I still feel all warm & fuzzy. King fat.

    • Michael on January 18, 2010 at 15:01

      I hear ya! I just finished going 40 days Kitavan style, literally and basically in the same macro-nutrient ratio). I ate everything they eat with just a few occasional deviations throughout the period (some spelt bread, some vegan desserts that had some kind of grain sweetener/nuts in them and some very savory rice one night at dinner). I loaded up on coconut fat and boy does that make a difference.

      Although it would not be my primary choice of diet, I could see eating lots of fish and coconut as staples. I must say though, it was nice when I finally had a steak and some dairy fat. 🙂

  6. Ryan Koch @ Health Matters to Me on January 18, 2010 at 15:01

    Taubes does implicate all carbohydrates — not just refined — in his “inescapable truths” on page 454, although he does mention refined carbs are more harmful:

    “The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the
    hormonal regulation of homeostasis—the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The
    more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on your health,
    weight and well-being.”

    He doesn’t discern so well on other points, however:

    “By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The
    fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.”

    “By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of
    energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.”

    • Richard Nikoley on January 18, 2010 at 15:16

      I definitely don’t think it’s carbs at all (perhaps within reason, but then there’s those healthy Kitavans, Kuna, and others…), but rather the quality of them, as we’ve been discussing. So, Taubes’ book should have been called good carbs bad carbs.

      What I think is that wheat causes hyperphagy. Stephan has mentioned this many times. I can recall as I was gaining all my weight that I could pig out on a fast food meal or pasta, or pizza, feel completely stuffed, and then be hungry (and eat!) again in two hours.

      For a long time I have had no desire for food between meals, usually eat only twice per day, and overnight almost always go at least 12 hours, sometimes 15. Apparently my leptin resistance got fixed somewhere along the way. Intense workouts, IF, VLC, high fat, or some synergistic combo? I don’t know, but I’m a completely different person who weighs 60 pounds less and am 300% stronger. I’m seriously strong, now. 49 years old this month and by far the most muscle and strength I’ve ever carried in my life. I could easily whip my 25-yr old ass, if he was around, even though I weigh now what I did then.

      But I can tell you also that even if I have a really nice helping of mashed potatoes with my steak and fatty sauce, I’m still not going to be hungry until 11, 12, or even 1pm the next day. I used to lose sleep and get up early just to have breakfast.

      Even if I do a cheat & have a burger, or 2-3 slices of pizza (my most common cheats), still the same. No hunger for a significant time. So, if wheat causes hyperphagy, could it be that it takes a good long while for it to set in, so that infrequent bouts with it (provided you can tolerate gluten, and jury is still out on that for me) will be safe?

  7. damaged justice on January 18, 2010 at 15:12

    “Carbs are old-fashioned foods too my friend. Present in every drop of mammalian milk.”

    Which is what might be expected from a food seemingly designed to double the drinker’s bodyweight in approximately six months time.

    Taubes disproved much more than he proved, and says as much. Lustig and others are continuing to build upon his work in researching the role of fructose and the various hormones. But Taubes put the crack in the dike of conventional wisdom and allowed the floodgates to open among the few scientists left, as opposed to the scientocracy (Richard calls them “grant whores”).

    • damaged justice on January 19, 2010 at 15:48

      *shrug* I was being polite, but fuck you too.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 19, 2010 at 15:52

      Matt: Could I suggest a period of time getting to know my cherished commenters before calling them names?

    • gallier2 on January 19, 2010 at 23:36

      Nourishing Masai’s was never the first purpose of milk (prefered expletive you may choose yourself).

  8. 1/19/10 – Deadlift / Pull up on January 18, 2010 at 22:12

    […] Notes on “Good Calories, Bad Calories” […]

  9. Jennifer on January 22, 2010 at 07:18

    Don’t castigate Taubes too much for his emphasis on carbohydrates. Most people today when they consume carbs are only eating the refined ones, it’s like they are the only ones left in the store (yes, of course, the veg aisle, but they aren’t high on Joe Public’s list). If you can stand to go down the interior aisles of a supermarket, it’s bank after bank of refined carb foods—it’s all the public buys, and it’s all they want. So while Taubes strikes out at all carbs, he’s pretty much doing so at the carbs that are the only game in town for the average person.

    At any rate, I can understand why he wrote it the way he did.

  10. Neonomide on January 24, 2010 at 19:53

    Hi Richard and all,

    I’ve been lurking a while and am a great fan of your blog and the blogs you promote. It’s always nice to see someone living their paleo lifestyle and evolving with the knowledge they acquire and apply it rigorously. This makes a semi-lazy academic semi-carboholic like me to try new things, instead of just trolling about them across web. As you are a man also helps, as growing my boobs wit SatFats is not really my primary concern (yes i LOVE B G’s blog too).

    I reside in Finland and love to talk about cultural differences between our health culture and the American one. Finland is very famous for The North Carelia project, which is very known for it’s “success” in diminishing CVD in Eastern Finland (where I reside as well). All my life, I’ve considered Finland as the premiere health fascist state, where even small daily dietary choices are being moralized with “obviousities” and demaning cognitive dissonance.

    Low Carbers are a kind of underground movement here (like Petro from Hyperlipid says), which is because health talk and “truth” is widely suppressed even in popular media, when talking stuff like SatFat. Not one news article appeared to report Krauss et al. meta, for starters. I don’t think this kind of journalistic phenomenon would go unseen in any other democratic state, really. In Sweden there is already a real “fat war” out there, which annoys many of us “uncorrect thinkers” even more. Being correct seems to be first a moral problem, above all.

    Paraphrasing “the coolest food hypotheses” guy Stephan Guyenet, we Finnish people have been conditioned to believe that our traditional diet is “pure crap”. The guy who lead the Carelia project is the top dog in our national health institution now and other important positions are also at the hands of nutritional fundamentalists. It’s not easy to think here, or get heard without being considered as a quack.

    I hope this explains, why you tend to see many Finnish names arguing here and there. Of course USA and its major institutions practically set up the nutritional standards for the rest of the world, which seems a good reason to keep an eye on what happens in America’s nutrition research and politics.

    One prime example is the Vitamin D thing, which was given to Finnish infants 100-125 µg in the 60’s but the recommendation was eventually dropped to 10 µg in small increments in every ten or so years since the 1964 recommendations took place. What happened to DM1 rates, should be familiar to you – 80% decrease in 60’s changed into number one DM1 prevalence in the world and nobody did nothing.

    Enough for small talk. I’ve just read the GCBC notes and I’m very impressed. I actually ordered the book about a week ago, so seeing those notes has definitely risen my appetite. Great stuff and should be done more often!

    Regarding Taubes and “fattening carbs theory”, I think that the puzzle of metabolic syndrome should be directed more ponder why there presently are six month olds that are fat, like Robert Lustig has preached for years? It’s well known that some physical characteristics like gene expression and even appetite (for carbs) can be inherited genetically or via the womb. I just cannot believe that fake breast milk substitutes with soy and peanut oils can do such havoc alone. What do you think ?

    Mr. Stone already linked to Lustig’s very cool lecture on Fructose before in his own blog and I’m obliged to do the same here:

  11. Neonomide on January 24, 2010 at 23:29

    Ok, so Taubes seems to have a theory for that as well:

    “babies develop insulin problems of their mothers in the womb”

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