Food, Hormones, and Lifestyle

By Dr. Luise Light, M.S., Ed.D.

This article appears on

Imbalances in the way we live and what we eat combine with our genetics to determine how quickly and “ugly” we will age, and whether we will become ill with one of the common chronic diseases of aging.

The Way We Live

The classic problem for Americans is that they experience too much stress, work too many hours, sleep too little, and eat foods that contain too few of the key nutritional factors needed for regenerating our cells, organs, hormones, and bones. To make matters worse, we consume a stew of toxic ingredients in the “bad foods” we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink - a veritable chemical slurry that flows through us on a daily basis.

Gary Taubes, science reporter for Science magazine, spent the last 15 years reading every study he could find in the international scientific literature about “good calories” and “bad calories” from a heart health perspective. He was shocked by what he learned because it was not what is passionately embraced by government and academic medical and nutrition experts. He’s written a book about his findings, Good Calories, Bad Calories; Challenging Conventional Wisdom On Diet, Weight Control, and Disease.

The Truth About Fattening

Taubes’ conclusions are based on what he found to be supported overwhelmingly in the scientific literature. They are presented here as a starting point for the food and diet recommendations that are the basis of the diet plan offered on the Menopause Advisor website.

The most striking conclusion from this book is that both Taubes and endocrinologist Diana Scwarzbein, MD, and several well-known “diet doctors,” most recently, Agatston, the physician who developed The South Beach Diet, came to strikingly similar conclusions based on their clinical research and experience, even though they were professionally pilloried for their non-mainstream views.

Here are Taubes’ counter-intuitive conclusions from his 15 years of studying the issues:

1. Dietary fat, saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other disease of civilization.

2. The problem is carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the regulation of the body’s balance, homeostasis, the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined carbohydrates, the worse their effect on your health, weight, and well-being.

3. Sugars, fructose, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup, are particularly harmful because the combination of fructose and glucose, of which they are made, simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates.

4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They also are the most likely direct cause of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other common chronic diseases.

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

6. Consuming excess calories does not cause 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.

7. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance, a disequilibrium in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this balance.

8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, either chronically or after a meal, we accumulate more fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel.

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

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

This critical analysis of research on obesity, weight loss and hunger makes us re-think everything we thought we knew about how to lose weight. The new hypothesis tells us that fat metabolism determines how much fat we store in our bodies, and that fat metabolism is regulated by the amount of insulin in our blood, not just for diabetics but for everyone. The amounts of insulin we secrete in our bodies is proportional to the amount of carbohydrate we eat. But traditional nutrition advice for weight loss suggests that we should eat a low fat, high-carbohydrate diet restricted in calories. The review suggests that it is carbohydrate not fat that must be restricted in order to lose weight. This advice awaits confirmation in a clinical trial. If it works, it will make losing weight (or body fat) easier for many people who find steak and chops filling and satisfying.

Dr. Light is a health columnist for She is the former director of dietary guidance at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and author of, What to Eat: The Ten Things You Really Need to Know to Eat Well and Be Healthy. She is also former health editor of Vegetarian Times and Executive Editor of New Age Journal.