Take a look at these headlines from reports of a study that recently made a splash in the media.
From Science Daily:
Eating a High-Fat Diet May Rapidly Injure Brain Cells That Control Body Weight
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Fat affects brain’s ability to control weight: study
From Stuff (New Zealand):
Fatty foods may damage brain
Pretty scary, huh? There you are, trying to lose weight on a low-carb/ high-fat diet, and now media headlines are warning that you may be damaging the part of your brain that controls weight. Two of the articles were also accompanied by photos to represent the brain-damaging high-fat diets. Here they are:
A cheeseburger, fish and chips. Just keep those images in mind.
If you actually read the articles, you’ll quickly discover that the subjects of the study were mice and rats, not humans:
Thaler and his colleagues studied the brains of rodents for the short-term and long-term effects of eating a high-fat diet. After giving groups of six to 10 rats and mice a high-fat diet for periods from one day to eight months, the researchers performed detailed biochemical, imaging and cell sorting analyses on the animals’ brains.
If you keep reading, you’ll also discover that the brain-banging diet wasn’t exactly what you or I would consider high-fat:
Researchers studied rats and mice fed a high-fat diet – that is, one with a similar fat content to the average American diet – for periods varying between one day and eight months
Within the first three days of consuming a diet that had a similar fat content to the typical American diet, rats consumed nearly double their usual daily amount of calories, Thaler reported. Rats and mice fed the high-fat diet gained weight throughout the study. These rodents developed inflammation in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain containing neurons that control body weight.
So “high fat” in this case means “similar fat content to the typical American diet.” That would put it somewhere around 40%, which also happens to be around the same percentage of fat in many traditional diets around the world — diets that somehow failed to induce obesity or brain damage among the populations consuming them.
When readers began sending me links to articles about this study, I remembered that somewhere in my folders of downloads and bookmarks, I had a PDF document listing the ingredients in the “typical American diet” fed to laboratory rodents. Took some time, but I located it. The lab-animal diets are produced by TestDiet.com. This description is from their own literature:
Western Diet For Rodents
A “Western” diet for rodents based on AIN-93G, providing 30% of fat from lard, 30% from butterfat, 30% from Crisco (hydrogenated vegetable oil), and for EFA, 7% from soybean oil and 3% from corn oil. Approximate energy from fat 40%, carbohydrate 44%, protein 16%.
That’s not a high-fat diet by my standards — I probably get 60% of my calories from fat– but it’s certainly a high horrible-fat diet. Of the fat calories, 40% come from hydrogenated oil, corn oil, and soybean oil. In other words, oils that wouldn’t exist without the wonders of industrial extraction. That may indeed represent the fat content of a typical American diet, but it sure doesn’t represent anything close to what typical low-carbers or paleo dieters would consume. Nor does it represent the fat content of a cheeseburger. (I don’t know about the fish and chips in Australia. One of you down-under types can fill me in.)
The protein in this “typical American diet” comes almost entirely from casein. That’s the isolated dairy protein T. Colin Campbell fed to rats to induce cancer, which inspired him to take an extreme leap in logic and declare that animal proteins (all of them, mind you) are bad for human health. Rats, of course, don’t naturally consume dairy products … and they certainly don’t isolate one dairy protein and eat it. They’re too lazy.
The carbohydrate in the lab-rat diet is nearly all corn starch, with the remainder consisting of sugar. Other than that poor soul featured on Freaky Eaters who’s addicted to corn starch, I don’t believe this in any way represents a typical American diet.
So the headlines warn us a “high-fat diet” injures the brain cells that control weight. In reality, it’s a diet in which nearly half of the calories come from sugar or corn starch, the protein is nearly all a single isolated dairy protein already known to cause cancer in rats, and 40% of the fat is industrial-grade vegetable sludge, most of it hydrogenated.
Sounds just like a cheeseburger, doesn’t it?
p.s. — I looked up the ingredients for the “Atkins diet” the company produces for rodent experiments as well. The breakdown on the fats is the same: 30% lard, 30% butterfat, 30% Crisco, 7% soybean oil, 3% corn oil. The protein is nearly all casein, all the carbohydrate is nearly all corn starch. Same junk, different proportions.