Friday, March 30, 2012

Eating the Elephant

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: The same way you eat anything, one bite at a time.

I'm 200+ pages into Good Calories, Bad Calories. It's 600+ pages with enough footnotes to give a NASA scientiest a hardon. It's drier than a box of saltine crackers, but very informative, albeit with a lot of science jargon. As someone without a background in science, it's hard to digest but not impossible. I don't have a background in finance either, but I managed to do really well in those classes in law school and can hold my own in conversations with PhD quants and economists. You can learn anything if you really want to. But you have to want it, it's not for dabblers.

Some of the things in the book are so contrary to the conventional wisdom that it's hard to believe, despite the science to back it up. (If you're worried about triglycerides, throw out that glass of orange juice and eat a steak instead) I had intended to read 20 books this year on my new e-reader, and so far this book is number two. I'm falling behind schedule, but I'll keep plugging away at this because I need to fully understand the science so that I can plausibly order a plate of ribs and claim that it's health food.

In case you think I'm exaggerating about the complexity of the science or the mind-blowing conclusions about nutrition, have a look for yourself:

Consider a porterhouse steak with a quarter-inch layer of fat. After broiling, this steak will reduce to almost equal parts fat and protein. Fifty-one percent of the fat is monounsaturated, of which 90 percent is oleic acid. Saturated fat constitutes 45 percent of the total fat, but a third of that is stearic acid, which will increase HDL cholesterol while having no effect on LDL. (Stearic acid is metabolized in the body to oleic acid, according to Grundy’s research.) The remaining 4 percent of the fat is polyunsaturated, which lowers LDL cholesterol but has no meaningful effect on HDL. In sum, perhaps as much as 70 percent of the fat content of a porterhouse steak will improve the relative levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, compared with what they would be if carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, or pasta were consumed. The remaining 30 percent will raise LDL cholesterol but will also raise HDL cholesterol and will have an insignificant effect, if any, on the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. All of this suggests that eating a porterhouse steak in lieu of bread or potatoes would actually reduce heart disease risk, although virtually no nutritional authority will say so publicly. The same is true for lard and bacon." (emphasis mine)

Gary Taubes, "Good Calories Bad Calories"

It's like being told you are in the Matrix and nothing you've been led to believe is real. If it wasn't so serious, it would be farce: