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Interview With Gary Taubes on 'Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It'

Science writer says carbs and sugars are to blame

Q. Should we all be avoiding carbohydrates?

A. Not everyone should be on the Atkins diet, that's not my argument. I want to get across the simple fact that certain foods are fattening and other aren't. Quantity and quality of carbs is what determines how fattening your meal is. Foods without carbs are not fattening, so you can eat as much as you want. You don't have to be a glutton, but you don't have to worry about it. They simply aren't fattening.

Q. Like what?

A. Well, foods with very few carbohydrates or in which the carbs are bound up with fiber and so relatively slow to digest. The first group is where it gets politically incorrect, because this group includes virtually all animal products — meat, fish, fowl, eggs, cheese, butter, etc. The second group is green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach and kale.

Q. How can anyone immediately improve his or her diet?

A. Stop eating easily digestible carbs and sugars. Again these foods are fattening, and if you don't eat them you'll be healthier. And they are almost assuredly the same foods that cause heart disease, diabetes, and I'd argue even cancer and Alzheimer's. My fantasy is that five years from now someone overweight goes to his doctor, and instead of the doc saying "eat less and exercise more," he says "these foods are fattening — the carbohydrate-rich foods and sweets. Don't eat them."

Q. I'd hate to think I can never have another cupcake.

A. I'm writing both to people concerned about weight and also doctors who are treating obese people. If you want to lose 10 pounds, maybe you just give up refined sugar, or have pasta less often. For someone 100 pounds overweight who wants to be lean as possible, they have to do more. It's about dose. What you can handle depends on your body and the extent of the problem. For someone who weighs 300 pounds, moderation probably won't make a bit of difference. For someone who put on 20 pounds since college, maybe moderation is the answer and the occasional cupcake is not a problem.

Q. Why are runners so skinny, if exercise doesn't make you thin?

A. We think running makes them that way, but it isn't correct reasoning. Leaner people make better runners, and are more likely to run. The reason lean people are good runners is because their bodies want to burn their energy rather than store the calories. The energy drives them to become runners.

Q. Running isn't for everyone?

A. No, contrary to expectations, you can't take a sedentary person and force him or her to exercise and expect the fat will melt away to make a thin person. You can't starve a fat person into a lean person any more than you can turn a basset hound into a greyhound by forcing it to run. You end up with an exhausted, starved basset hound. And given time, and access to food, that basset hound will plump up again because that's its nature. The same is true for those of us who are fat, but that nature depends on the eating environment — one that's carbohydrate-rich.

Q. What do we do?

A. We don't have to eat the foods that promote fatness. Low-fat foods replace fat with carbs. So if you are eating bagels with low-fat cream cheese and drinking skim lattes, you are eating in a way that promotes fatness. If you remove the carbs, you can be significantly leaner.

Q. I assume you've cut carbs. What do you miss?

A. I miss pasta. And orange juice in the morning. Fortunately, I'm a carnivore, so I'm happy to eat meat all the time. Not that you have to eat only meat to avoid carbs. I eat green vegetables because my mother taught me to eat them, and I like them. I probably eat more veggies than I used to because I'm replacing the starch with the vegetables. I eat a lot of eggs and bacon, a lot of beef and chicken.

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