Book Review: The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet
Author: Nina Teicholz
496, Simon & Schuster, $27.99
[dropcap][/dropcap]Does fat make you fat? Investigative journalist Nina Teicholz seeks to answer this question in her book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, by looking at epidemiological and clinical trials conducted throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. From the late 1950s, we have been told by nutrition experts that we should be eating a low-fat diet in order to prevent heart disease, the number one cause of death in the United States. Despite adhering to this diet, heart disease remains the number one cause of death not to mention that diabetes and obesity are still on the rise. If the United States’ population is following these guidelines, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association (AHA) as well as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), why has the situation seemingly gotten worse?
Teicholz reveals how Ancel Keys, the lead researcher for the diet-heart hypothesis, and his lack-luster Seven Countries Study (1947) helped convince a nation and essentially the world over that fat, mainly saturated fat, makes people fat; by eating a diet low in animal fats we would be able to lower our cholesterol, reduce our risk of diabetes and lose weight. This study looked at middle-aged men, however, this diet-heart hypothesis was generalized and suggested that women and children should also be on low-fat diets. Unfortunately, as Teicholz discovers through her research, Keys’ hypothesis is not scientifically proven. In fact, Keys along with the NIH and AHA steamrolled anyone whose trials contradicted this hypothesis and vilified them, most notably Robert Atkins. As you may already know, Atkins promoted a high-fat, low-carb diet that included red meat, eggs, cheese and whole milk – all of which are saturated fats.
For decades nutritionists who favored the diet-heart hypothesis disparaged saturated fats. The nutrition and food industries called for all animal fats to be replaced with vegetable oils, which are polyunsaturated fats. Then trans-fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils (hardened like margarine), became the next target for the nutrition industry. This was then replaced by oils that may be even more harmful than trans-fats, because big food companies are too afraid to go back to the saturated fats they had originally used in their products in fear of public backlash. What is interesting about studies trying to prove the diet-heart hypothesis is that they are backed by vested interests, which are written from the industry perspective.
The Big Fat Surpriseis a wonderfully in-depth look at how a few powerful men helped change the course of the American diet to its detriment. Teicholz looks at both sides of the argument, but it becomes abundantly clear that promoting the diet-heart hypothesis was a mistake. Despite all of the evidence, including studies dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, in support of a high-fat, low-carb diet, nutritionists of today and the public alike are still adhering to the diet-heart hypothesis because it has been ingrained in our culture for nearly 60 years.
This book is filled with scientific data and provides us with the hard facts. If you are at-risk for heart disease or diabetes you should absolutely read The Big Fat Surprise as it can inform you about data you might have been unaware of beforehand. This book is not a beach read, but it is an investment on your future. So, if you are looking to gain knowledge and learn how to better take care of your health, buy this book today.