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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 1

Readers Respond to “What Makes You Fat"

Letters to the editor from the January 2014 issue of Scientific American
September 2013 Issue Cover



Scientific American

HEALTH AND FOOD

In “What Makes You Fat: Too Many Calories, or the Wrong Carbohydrates?” Gary Taubes argues that avoiding carbohydrates, rather than an excess of calories, will lead to weight loss. The right nutrition question instead should be “What should we eat to have the longest, healthiest life?”

There are many ways to lose weight and still become sick and die. I know this firsthand after losing 25 pounds and then suffering a cardiac arrest. And many dieters die of heart disease after losing weight with a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.

My reading of the research leads me to conclude that a whole-food, plant-based diet low in fat and high in carbs reduces disease and, as a nice side effect, weight.

John Tanner
Monrovia, Calif.


GENETICALLY UNMOLLIFED

In “Labels for GMO Foods Are a Bad Idea” [Science Agenda], the editors tell readers not to be alarmed by the unproved dangers of genetically modified foods and argue that labels identifying such food should not be required by law because such labeling would increase fears and lead to an elimination of such foods in the marketplace.

Although genetically modified foods have not been proved to be dangerous, that is not the same as being proved safe. The drug thalidomide (which was later found to cause birth defects) was not proved to be dangerous when it was released. Neither was partially hydrogenated oil (which raises “bad cholesterol”) or high fructose corn syrup (a major component of the obesity epidemic in the U.S.).

Genetically modified foods represent a long-term experiment. Should you wish to partake in that study, I have no quarrel. But to say that everyone should become unwilling participants is disingenuous.

Eric Armstrong
Mountain View, Calif.

The editors make a weak argument against labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and a strong one in support of genetic crops. The premise that if you support genetic research, you must oppose labeling is simplistic. Supporting GMO labeling need not mean opposing genetic research. This is akin to opposing traffic lights because you believe in safe driving! Eventually both sides will win. Genetic manipulation seems embedded in our evolutionary gene, and the future will likely be filled with GMOs as science improves and corporations become more responsible. Equally, GMO labeling will evolve as consumers become more aware and governments more responsive.

For now, a tentative start in GMO labeling is better than keeping more than 300 million consumers in the dark. We should embrace knowledge sharing and not shun it based on unfounded fears.

Ashok Vasudevan
CEO, Preferred Brands International

The GMO path is not as clear-cut as “The Truth about Genetically Modified Food” by David H. Freedman, suggests in arguing for expanded GMO deployment and safety testing.

GMO seeds have been used commercially only since 1994, perhaps not long enough to determine any lasting effects. There is reason to suspect that GMOs may be responsible for the sharp increase in the past two decades of celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's.

Holly Bittinger
Chicago

Both the editors and Freedman focus on safety but omit the issues of genetic diversity and control of intellectual property.

We need to restore the genetic diversity that we had prior to the pervasive industrial monoculture farming we have now. This standardization has made our food system more dependent on energy sources and more vulnerable to disease and climate change. The one-size-fits-all GM crops we have seen so far continue the low-diversity approach.

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