Yesterday I finished reading The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz.
This book isn’t new. It was published in 2014, and boy! Did it make a splash when it came out.
Basically the conclusion is this: nearly everything we think we know about healthy eating is wrong.
Saturated fat is not bad for you.
Cholesterol is not a reliable indicator of risk of heart disease.
Dietary fat found in butter, red meat, eggs and cheese is good for us. In fact, it’s necessary for healthy body functioning.
A Complete Upheaval
For decades, we have been told that the best possible diet involves cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, and that if we are not getting healthier or thinner it must be because we are not trying hard enough.
But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? What if the very foods we’ve been denying ourselves—the creamy cheeses, the sizzling steaks—are themselves the key to reversing the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease?
In this thoroughly researched analysis, Teicholz meticulously combs through all the data that is the basis of the low-fat diet recommendation.
It turns out that the low-fat diet is based on a hypothesis. It was a hypothesis that there is a connection between dietary fat and heart disease.
That hypothesis has never been proved. And in fact, Teicholz finds in her analysis that study after study showed either no connection, or a very tenuous one.
But because of forceful personalities in the early nutrition science world who were pushing this hypothesis as truth, every time a study came up with unsatisfactory results, they were either manipulated or ignored.
To learn this is truly shocking.
This startling history demonstrates how nutrition science has gotten it so wrong.
How overzealous researchers, though perhaps beginning with the best intentions, through a combination of ego, bias, and premature institutional consensus, have allowed dangerous misrepresentations to become dietary dogma.
Americans today are heavier and unhealthier than we have ever been. More than 42% of Americans are obese, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.
And despite adhering to the USDA and NIH’s recommendations to reduce meat, egg and dairy consumption and to increase grain, vegetable and fruit consumption, as a nation we have never suffered more from chronic weight and diet-related diseases.
In seems unbelievable that nutrition experts for the last 60 years could have been so incredibly wrong. That what we know to be fundamentally true (namely: vegetables & fruit are the healthiest foods, animal fats are the unhealthiest) can be so completely wrong.
Yet it’s true.
In fact, in the six years since her book was published, the scientific evidence backing Teicholz’s research has grown, and the studies have become even more robust.
More and more evidence is now pointing to sugar and carbohydrates as the main culprits in these diet-related diseases. And while more research is needed, it is not clear that whole grains in large quantities are that much better for us than refined white flour.
This book was a dense read, and I didn’t get through it quickly. In my Goodreads review I gave it 4 out of 5 stars for that reason.
But the takeaway from this book, for me, was huge.
Though I had heard about the Atkins diet, and at one point it seemed that everyone I knew was cutting carbs, I had dismissed it as a fad (I even remember repeating the misinformation that Dr. Atkins died of a heart attack!).
But this year, when I started to increase my exercise and get really serious about tracking my food to trying to lose weight, I was feeling so incredibly frustrated that I felt hungry all the time.
That’s when my aunt recommended Atkins and The Big Fat Surprise. She said, “Just read the books and then decide what you want to do.”
I have read them. I’ve read them and I have given myself permission to eat more butter, more cheese, more eggs and more meat.
And by God do I feel good! And OH MAN DOES IT TASTE AMAZING. After an initial feeling of withdrawal, I eventually realized that I wasn’t obsessing over food anymore. That I was feeling satisfied after every meal and that feeling was lasting longer.
I’ve lost nine pounds. I feel more energetic. I feel less guilty about enjoying bacon at breakfast, or cheese for a snack.
It is, I think, very important to note that eating a high-protein, high-fat diet is EXPENSIVE.
Meat, eggs and cheese are not cheap, especially if you’re trying to buy organic or free-range. A low-income mother could not afford to feed this kind of diet to her kids. A person struggling to make ends meet doesn’t have the money to eat a high-protein diet.
I am fortunate that I can afford to eat either meat, fish or eggs daily. Not everyone in this country has that chance.
And it’s heartbreaking that those who need health food the most are the ones who are suffering the most from diet-related diseases.
They’re also the ones who are dying of covid-19.