NuSI metabolic ward study on low-carb & the insulin hypothesis


First, I’d like to post an important correction to my opening post… after being alerted about the latest response, I went to find the study. Since it’s a year since my original post, the study should have been published…

In searching for it and initially failing to find it, I discovered that I made a significant blunder - in the opening video, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (not Feedhoff) was performing the interview, and far more important, the principal investigator in the study was Dr. Kevin Hall. So I was attributing the work to the entirely wrong party.

Once I started searching for the right thing, I promptly found it. The full list of researchers and participants and authors of the study:

(It’s past the deadline and I can’t edited the opening post any longer, or else I’d correct the error there, too.)


OK, moving on to a response to the discussion:

With all due respect, when I said “they,” I meant the authors and collaborators in the study, and when I said “found,” I was referring to the findings of the study.

Gary Taubes was not involved in the study - his NUSI organization provided funding for the study. (They presumably felt was well-designed and worth supporting before seeing the outcome.) Taube’s discussion/thoughts after the study are not the conclusion of the study; they are, quite frankly, his take on the matter - which one can argue is merely spin, given the actual results and conclusion of the study:

[quote]Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men.

Subjects lost weight and body fat throughout the study corresponding to an overall negative energy balance of ∼300 kcal/d. Compared with BD, the KD coincided with increased EEchamber (57 ± 13 kcal/d, P = 0.0004) and SEE (89 ± 14 kcal/d, P < 0.0001) and decreased RQ (-0.111 ± 0.003, P < 0.0001). EEDLW increased by 151 ± 63 kcal/d (P = 0.03). Body fat loss slowed during the KD and coincided with increased protein utilization and loss of fat-free mass.

The isocaloric KD was not accompanied by increased body fat loss but was associated with relatively small increases in EE that were near the limits of detection with the use of state-of-the-art technology. This trial was registered at as NCT01967563.
© 2016 American Society for Nutrition.[/quote]

I’ll highlight the most important part of the conclusion again; they found that “the isocaloric Ketogenic Diet was not accompanied by increased body fat loss …”

This was a super-sensitive well-designed study intended to get to the root of a hypothesized mechanism by which a low-carb diet caused a fat-loss advantage. The study found no such advantage. Taubes’ involvement as a funder of the study is simply ironic.

Here’s a link to the actual study in PubMed for anyone who wants to follow up.

For some reason, the video is glitching very bady for me at the moment. If someone has another link to the excerpt, or preferably the transcript, I’d take a look and respond. (I don’t want to watch Taubes for the length of the whole piece, so if someone finds a link to the whole talk, please provide a time reference to where he actually makes this attack on the study.)

Well, I have a simple answer to that: they’re asking the wrong question! There very likely is no optimum diet; there are probably a large number of good diets which are negligibly different (but which may have certain advantages over each other in specific circumstances.)

A look at the evolutionary history of our species virtually screams out that there is no optimum diet. Rather, our survival and success as a species in every corner of the planet is based largely on our diet flexibility, not specificity.

We’re learning more about our history all the time; the science and tech improve, and we learn things about ourselves and our ancestors that overturn previous thinking.

For example, we recently found that, contrary to popular thought, Neanderthals were not all meat-centric hunter-gatherers. In fact, we now know that some populations of them may have eaten no meat, at all!

[quote]At Spy cave, Belgium, Neanderthal diet was heavily meat
based and included woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep (mouflon),
characteristic of a steppe environment. In contrast, no meat was
detected in the diet of Neanderthals from El Sidrón cave, Spain, and
dietary components of mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss reflected
forest gathering. [/quote]
Full paper in Nature here, easier-reading in news coverage here:

I’m not going into a Paleo debate here - my point is simply that our knowledge of our own past, and the implications of that for our current selves, is still improving, and the strongest explainer for the success of the human species continues to be not that we’re highly specialized; it’s that we’re supremely adaptable.


With all due respect, all parties involved did not agree on either the soundness of the study nor the conclusions thereof. To say that of the parties involved, those who agreed with each other agreed with each other doesn’t add much to the conversation.

The video that I linked to is four minutes in length. If you ever find yourself with a reliable Internet connection and four minutes to spare you may find that a transcript is superfluous.[quote=“MentalNomad, post:42, topic:25432”]

There very likely is no optimum diet… A look at the evolutionary history of our species virtually screams out that there is no optimum diet. Rather, our survival and success as a species in every corner of the planet is based largely on our diet flexibility, not specificity.

A look at the evolutionary history of our species virtually screams that we are able to survive and even thrive on a vast variety of foodstuffs, almost none of which are currently part of the modern Western diet, which unfortunately does include many items and ingredients of which it is patently obvious that they are grossly detrimental to our health and longevity, and a look at the history of the modern science of nutrition shows that a great deal of bias, misunderstanding, and outright intentional untruth has been thrust upon the modern man trying to make sense of it all. To say that there is no “optimum diet” that is perfect for every single human being misses the point by a mile.

The study cited here began as a well-intentioned attempt to gain useful information, and according to Mr. Taubes it quickly went off the rails, continued in a flawed manner, and was allowed to be interpreted by someone with less than ideal qualifications to do so.

You say the study was “very well designed” and “provides valuable data.” Gary Taubes, who apparently was a bit more involved in the study than you were, feels otherwise. Your argument is with him, not me.


You’re accusing me of saying something I didn’t say - your words, “to say that of the parties involved, those who agreed with each other agreed with each other…” I’m talking about all the people involved in the study.

Taubes disagrees with the study, but Taubes was not involved in the study. These people were involved in the study, and they agreed on the design and the findings:

Taubes is not among them.

Those people are from the following organizations:

None of those are a Taubes organization.

This is who paid for the study:

The Nutrition Sciences Initiative - NuSI - is a Taubes organization. They provided dollars for the study. So did several other organizations which provided grants and other support, but NuSI was the biggest donor. Giving money to fund a study is not the same as being involved in a study.

The eleven co-authors of the study were variously involved in the design, execution, and analysis of the study. They signed off on the paper and conclusion. Furthermore, before The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the study, it went through peer review. The peer reviewers would have criticized the weaknesses of the study and the analysis and, in its final form, found it responsible and worthy of publications in a prestigious journal. Again, Taubes was not involved.

I stand by my original statement regarding this study: they conclude there’s no metabolic advantage to a low-carb diet.

OK, I’ve now listened to it.[quote=“SoyVegas, post:43, topic:25432”]
… you may find that a transcript is superfluous.

I can read a transcript of a 4-minute talk much more quickly than 4 minutes. If I want a quote to comment on a video, I have to then transcribe it myself. I’d rather have had a transcript.

That being said, I find the contents disappointing.

Taube talks about the scientific community in this kind of language: “all of which the subtext is they might be idiots” - it’s insulting. It’s a cheap laugh line.

But two more substantive things really stand out to me.

First, Taubes mentions several times that the study was “not randomized.” This is an entirely pointless criticism.

This was very clearly a quantitative research study. The point was to measure something. Complaining that it wasn’t randomized is pretty much a non-sequitur.

If the point was to find out how much a bunch of people weighed, and you performed the experiment of getting 20 people and weighing them, you’d have an estimate based on those 20 people. Period. Complaining that you didn’t randomize those 20 people in the weighing process is ridiculous. Wanting to randomly split those 20 people into two groups - half of which would get weighed - is ridiculous. It’s simply not that sort of experiment.

If this were intended to be an RCT - a randomized clinical trial - then that criticism would make sense. Also, the Journal would have rejected a study that ought to be an RCT but wasn’t randomized. This simply wasn’t that kind of study.

This wasn’t a trial. (Does this intervention have a given effect, or not?)
This was a measurement. (If we do this amount of this, how much does that change?)

Second, Taubes refers to “this young researcher Kevin Hall… Kevin is the youngest, he’s got no clinical experience…” He plays down Kevin Hall as some sort of amateur.

To attempt to paint Hall as a first-timer or amateur amounts, in my opinion, to simply lying.

Hall got his PhD in 1999, eighteen years ago. He’s not a newb. Here is a PubMed search for Kevin D Hall as an author:[Author]&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=26278052

Here is a list of 20 selected publications from over a decade of work from his bio page at the NIH:

(That’s a shrunken iamge; click the link above to read them.)

He has had multiple studies published just in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

Kevin Hall is obviously nothing less than an accomplished professional scientist in his field.

In the end, I hold Taubes in lower esteem than before watching this video. I can understand being disappointed to have funneled money into work that went against his pre-existing beliefs. It’s perfectly legitimate to be skeptical of any single study. And I can understand wanting to down-play those results. But calling the scientific community “idiots” and claiming Hall is a a young guy with “no clinical experience” is disingenuous, at best.


So you agree that your argument is with Taubes. As I said.