Review: The Big Fat Surprise

      90 Comments on Review: The Big Fat Surprise

Reading Nina Teicholz’s outstanding book The Big Fat Surprise was a bit like watching the movie Titanic.  The story was long, but also so well written, I was never bored.  And even though I already knew about the impending disaster, I found myself mumbling “Oh, no!” as each misstep brought it about – as if the story could end any other way.  Maybe this time some hero would jump in and steer around that big iceberg so everyone could live happily ever after.

The iceberg in this story is the anti-fat hysteria that led to low-fat diets, SnackWell’s, cereal replacing eggs on many breakfast tables, hydrogenated oils replacing saturated fats in restaurants, whole milk being banned from schools, etc.  Captain Ancel Keys set us on a direct course to hit that iceberg, and the nation’s health has been sinking ever since.

The book’s subtitle is Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, which gave me the impression I was about to start reading a hefty science book.  There’s plenty of science in The Big Fat Surprise, but it’s more of a history book.  It’s the story of how lousy science conducted by arrogant scientists and adopted by equally arrogant policymakers led to lousy decisions that produced lousy consequences.  I doubt any Fat Heads out there still believe nutrition science is conducted by impartial researchers who aren’t already wedded to an outcome, but if so, reading this book will disabuse you of that notion.  It’s all laid out here in a richly detailed story that runs 340 pages … the egos, the arrogance, the obsession with pursuing and (ahem) proving a single hypothesis, the scientific bullying, the corruption, and of course the ham-handed interference by the 900-pound gorilla known as the federal government.

The story begins (as covered briefly in Fat Head) with the spike in heart disease in the 20th century and the national obsession with finding both the cause and the cure.  That’s when Ancel Keys stepped in to assure the medical world he had found the answer: high fat diets caused heart disease, so low-fat diets would prevent it.  Keys had fallen in love with the Mediterranean region and its people during his post-war travels (he later retired to a villa in Italy), and perhaps largely because of that, he was convinced the Mediterranean diet (as he imagined it to be) was superior for human health.

The only problem, of course, was that Keys never had an accurate picture of what his poster-children for heart-health were actually eating.  His data sets were ridiculously small, and one of his two dietary surveys from Greece was taken during lent, when religious Greeks (60% of the population) gave up meat and other animal foods containing saturated fat.  As Teicholz writes:

Although he had observed only a small number of men on these early travels and had no particular method for measuring their diets, Keys wrote with assurance that total fat was “clearly” a “major factor” in the development of heart disease… Again, the numbers of people observed were miniscule, but Keys deftly knit together these skimpy data from far and wide into a picture that looked convincing.

Keys apparently knew his data was problematic.  As Teicholz discovered during years of research for the book, Keys was happy to publish his conclusions in major journals, but he published his raw data in the Dutch journal Voeding, where it was likely to go unnoticed:

And no one has to read between the lines to get a sense of all the many technical difficulties Keys encountered.  In Greece alone, three different chemical methods were used to analyze fats in the food samples, and their results did not line up … Yet in the Seven Countries report itself there is no indication that the data might be flawed in any way, and overall, it has been given a pass by researchers in the field for decades.  When I tracked down the papers, it became obvious that Keys, in his ambition for the study, had done everything he could to bury its problems.

In a section titled The Sharp Elbows of Nutrition Scientists, Teicholz recalls how Keys and fellow lipophobe Jeremiah Stamler engaged in science as a form of combat.  There was no such thing as a gentlemanly disagreement when Keys or Stamler was involved.  People who questioned the Lipid Hypothesis were considered enemies who deserved to be crushed.  And over the ensuing years, as both the American Heart Association and the U.S. government got on board with the Lipid Hypothesis, that’s exactly what happened:  scientists who dared question the anti-fat hysteria would find themselves without grants to conduct research – in other words, without a paycheck.  More and more of them learned to go along to get along.

When the McGovern Committee released its Dietary Goals for The United States — written by a young staffer with no background in health science — the policymakers were convinced they were encouraging Americans to return to the diet of the nation’s agrarian past, when heart disease was rare.  After all, poorer Americans from previous generations couldn’t possibly have afforded to eat much meat, right?

Wrong.  Obtaining meat in pre-industrial America wasn’t a matter of money; it was a matter of hunting – and there was plenty to hunt:

The endless bounty of America in its early years is truly astonishing … In the woods, there were bears (prized for their fat), raccoons, bobolinks, opossums, hares, and virtual thickets of deer – so much that the colonists didn’t even bother hunting elk, moose, or bison, since hauling and conserving so much meat was considered too great an effort.

(Now what kind of backwoods lunatic would eat a raccoon?  Wait … never mind.  Anyway…)

Records Teicholz dug up during her research show that as recently as 1909, poor Americans consumed an average of 136 pounds per year of meat, while wealthy Americans consumed an average of 200 pounds.  Nor were early Americans year-round vegetable eaters for the most part.  There were no refrigerators, and produce wasn’t shipped all over the country like it is today.  People consumed most of their fruits and vegetables in season, period.

Despite little evidence that the McGovern Committee’s recommendations were based on real data or even an accurate version of history, the media jumped on board.  When controversy over the low-fat, low-cholesterol guidelines arose, many media types portrayed it a battle between the good, impartial government and the big, bad meat and dairy industries.  The McGovern staffer who wrote the Dietary Goals later admitted seeing it way.

Teicholz spends the next chapters recounting the many studies that tried and failed to provide credible evidence that the low-fat diet would reduce rates of heart disease.  But of course by this time, the fix was in.  The NIH and the American Heart Association had a near-stranglehold on funding for cardiovascular research, and both were on board the Good Ship Lipid Hypothesis and determined to steer it towards the iceberg.  The anti-fat hysterics treated each failure not as evidence that they were wrong, but as evidence that they simply hadn’t conducted the right study yet.

The right (ahem) study turned out to be one in which a cholesterol-lowering drug produced a very slight decrease in heart attacks among high-risk men.  From this – a drug study, mind you – the lipophobes announced they had the proof they’d been seeking to support their dietary hypothesis.  In doing so, they were engaging in teleoanalysis – that is, deciding that if A is linked to B and B is linked to C, A must cause C.  Saturated fats raise cholesterol, a drug that lowers cholesterol reduced (slightly) the rate of heart attacks, so saturated fat must cause heart disease.

No, it isn’t actually logical, but scientists, doctors, policymakers, the media and the public bought it.  This was the study that led to the famous photo of frowning bacon and eggs on the cover of TIME magazine, which announced that cholesterol had been proved deadly.

I was aware of that part of the story before reading The Big Fat Surprise, although Teicholz goes into more detail than anything I’ve read on the subject.  I wasn’t aware of how olive oil and the Mediterranean diet became the supposed saviors of our hearts and arteries.  The brief version of that story is that researchers were wined and dined and dazzled by companies and governments with a financial interest in selling more olive oil:

The method involved inviting academic researchers, food writers, and health authorities into a slice of paradise:  travel, free of charge, to some sun-kissed country around the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea for the purpose of a scientific conference.  In Italy, Greece, and even Tunisia, scientists rubbed elbows with cookbook authors, chefs, journalists, and public officials.  Harvard provided the scientific prestige, while Oldways organized the financing.  During the 1990s, there as a steady rollout of these conferences, and they effectively served as a nonstop promotion vehicle for the Mediterranean diet.

And later from the same chapter:

Italy, Greece and Spain all contributed… In other words, nations and their industries promoted themselves by providing lavish perks aimed at buying the good opinion of experts who would ultimately advise the public on nutrition.  The strategy clearly worked.

Indeed.  Meanwhile, since those same experts had decided saturated fat causes heart disease, trans fats entered the food supply in a big way.  If you’re my age or older, you may remember seeing packages in the grocery store bearing the words NO TROPICAL OILS! on the label.  That was result of The Guy From CSPI and other anti-saturated-fat hysterics harassing food manufacturers into removing palm oil and coconut oil from their products and replacing them with hydrogenated oils – mostly hydrogenated soybean oil.  The soybean industry, in fact, helped fan the flames of fear about tropical oils.

Bowing to increasing pressure from both the do-gooder organizations and Congress, the food industry reformulated their products to use hydrogenated oils instead of tropical oils or animal fats, thus making trans fats a significant part of the American diet … and yet nobody seemed interested in testing whether or not trans fats were actually safe for human consumption – at least not anyone in a position of power.  There were isolated researchers sounding alarm bells – Dr. Mary Enig and Dr. Fred Kummerow, for example – but they were ignored or effectively silenced.  The American Heart Association apparently printed 150,000 pamphlets warning the public that trans fats don’t lower cholesterol (the supposed benefit of vegetable oils), but then chose not to distribute them.  (Anyone think their sources of funding had something to do with that decision?)

Some of those “Oh, no!” moments I mentioned earlier came while reading the chapter titled Exit Trans Fats, Enter Something Worse?  You’ll recall that the brief version of the trans-fat story goes like this:  researchers decided saturated fat was bad, and therefore assumed the hydrogenated oils that replaced them must be an improvement – no need to really test or anything like that.

Apparently that story is being repeated today: policymakers have finally accepted that trans fats are bad for our health, and therefore assume the liquid vegetable oils replacing them must be an improvement.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps liquid vegetable oils heated to frying temperatures are actually worse:

Gerald McNeill, vice president of Loders Croklaan, which is one of the country’s largest suppliers of edible oil, told me something scary.  He explained that fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have swapped out hydrogenated oils and started using regular vegetable oil instead.  “As those oils are heated, you’re creating toxic oxidative breakdown products,” he said.  “One of those products is a compound called an aldehyde, which interferes with DNA.  Another is formaldehyde, which is extremely toxic.”

Aldehydes?  Formaldehyde?  Isn’t that the stuff that’s used to preserve dead bodies?

He went on to tell me how these heated, oxidized oils form polymers that create a “thick gunk” on the bottom of the fryer and clog up the drains… Partially hydrogenated oils, by contrasts, were long-lasting and stable in fryers, which of course is why they were favored.  And beef tallow, McDonald’s original frying fat, was even more stable.

And it tasted great.  So we’ve gone from good fats, to bad fats, to possibly worse fats that don’t even taste good – all thanks to Ancel Keys, The Guy From CSPI, and legions of other anti-saturated-fat hysterics who got an idea into their heads and refused to let evidence (or lack thereof) shake it loose.

The final chapter is titled Why Saturated Fat Is Good For You.  Well, heck, you all knew that already, but it’s still worth reading the 50-plus pages as a reminder.  And after spending the previous 300 pages learning exactly how that big ship was steered into an iceberg, it’s nice to end the story with a ray of hope.  Reach for the bacon-wrapped life preserver, and perhaps all will be well.

I’ve barely touched on the detailed history Teicholz recounts in The Big Fat Surprise. This is a fascinating book, even if you already know the broad outlines of the story.  I highly recommend you add it to your library.


90 thoughts on “Review: The Big Fat Surprise

  1. Nate

    Fat Head: “the ham-handed . . . 900-pound gorilla known as the federal government.”

    I’ve always heard about a proverbial 800-pound gorilla. Is it possible the federal government gorilla has been following its own dietary advice resulting in a 100-pound weight gain?

    Do high-carb diets also lead to administrative bloat?

  2. Randal L. Schwartz

    It was absolutely a riveting page-turner for me. The writing is excellent, and I have to go back now and re-read the footnotes for each chapter, which sometimes seem to exceed even the chapter length.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Not to mention the 100 pages of references. She did an amazing job of taking an absolute ton of research and weaving into a fascinating history of science gone wrong.

      1. Walter Bushell

        You did a very good job of summarizing this monumental book, about as well as can be done, but since the book is so comprehensive the impact lies in the sheer volume and any synopsis is going to miss the point. A synopsis is to _Big Fat Surprise_ as the memory of a punch to the scrotum is to a punch to the scrotum.

        Conclusion: This is a must read.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I agree completely. A review would have to run 10,000 words to do more than scratch the surface.

  3. NM

    The information about the con of the Mediterranean Diet (capital M, capital D) was really eye-opening. The amount of outright fraud – actual fraud – involved in the project was astounding. A particular moment still rings loudly: where a “scientist” was asked why he ignored all the wholefat milk that was drunk in Crete when reporting on their healthy diet. He responded that he ignored it, because wholefat milk was bad for cardiovascular health or similar. My mouth fell open above the book and stayed open for some time.

    Then there was the other part of the book where it became evident that Keys had relied on far fewer people in a specific Cretan study than he’d initially implied. Later statisticians, in analysing that data, found that it show certain statistical patterns that indicate likely fabrication and fraud.

    I don’t know about you, but before this, I considered Keys et al well-intentioned bullies who abused science to their own teleological ends. After reading this book, I consider Keys and some of his colleagues outright frauds who should probably have been imprisoned.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I had a few of those jaw-dropping moments myself — and I was already suspicious of nutrition scientists.

    2. Diane

      “where a “scientist” was asked why he ignored all the wholefat milk that was drunk in Crete when reporting on their healthy diet. He responded that he ignored it, because wholefat milk was bad for cardiovascular health or similar.”

      Remember the “French paradox?” How could people who consumed as much butter and cheese and fat as the French be thinner and in better cardiovascular health than Americans? The answer was – red wine! Ah, the miraculous power of red wine! And the cuisine of Provence, which uses more olive oil, was held up as the “healthy” French cuisine, rather than the food of northern France.

      Except that anybody who traveled in France in the 1970’s knew that the northern French were no fatter than the southern ones. They’re all getting fatter now, thanks to their abandonment of traditional cuisine for fast and packaged convenience foods.

  4. Kathy in Texas

    I’m a bit older than you (66) and I remember the anticipation of produce coming into season. Thompson seedless grapes come to mind. So good – and seedless! I guess they don’t exist anymore as I haven’t seen them in decades. Thanks for the memory.

  5. Dave

    “The endless bounty of America in its early years is truly astonishing … In the woods, there were bears (prized for their fat), raccoons, bobolinks, opossums, hares, and virtual thickets of deer…”

    Bobolinks? WTF is a bobolink? Wikipedia says it’s a “small New World blackbird”. By small, they mean “about 1 oz”. I guess 4 and 20 of them baked into pie might make a meal.

    1. DebbieC.

      Well I’m an avid birder so knew immediately what bobolinks were (have seen several of them just in the past week), and scratched my head wondering what they were doing in the above list. All I could think of was that somehow they ended up as a typo for bobcat and lynx. 🙂

  6. The Older Brother

    “these heated, oxidized oils form polymers that create a “thick gunk” on the bottom of the fryer and clog up the drains…”

    Well that’s interesting. You’d think Michael Jacobson et al., would’ve been all over this right away as it’s settled science that if something will clog up a drain, it will also clog up your arteries. Sheesh.


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      And it gets worse. The book described how uniforms that soak up a fatty mist from those fryers have combusted spontaneously. Now, just imagine Michael Jacobson catching in fire after being around his beloved vegetable oils …

      1. Verimius

        Oily rags are a fire hazard in general, not only oils from fryers. It seems to be only certain types of oils, and apparently, fryer oil is one of those types. Oily rags should be stored in a fireproof container, away from other flammable materials.

        This phenomenon of spontaneous combustion is discussed in many places on the web.

        1. johnnyv

          Saturated fats cannot spontaneously combust but drying oils(polyunsaturates) like linseed, tung oil and flax oil can. When they are on rags they have a very high surface area for oxidation and a low thermal mass so can present a risk.

          Which as a polymer chemist brings me to my disdain of flax seeds in baking low carb /gluten free/egg free junk food.
          The “healthy” omega 3s produced the desired texture of the finished product by conversion into a polymer network like a traditional varnish.
          Unlike cooked eggs which are weak reversible bonds which our digestive system is easily capable of handling via proteases and HCL.

  7. Firebird

    A friend of mine, a nutritionist, is currently reading this book. I glanced at a few pages and saw a startling revelation that directly affects me. I’m part Italian, my family is from Calabria, and she discusses the correlation between the men in that region, the shortest in stature in the country, and the lack of red meat in their diets. Most of the men on that side of my family are 5’8″ (me) or shorter. Not that I mind…I have less to travel when I deadlift and squat than most men.

    But that was something not seen in other books on the subject.

  8. Kerstin

    Just want to comment that one of the articles on our local news this morning was how the price of, primarily, breakfast foods has gone up 11% since 2009, this being primarily eggs, bacon, margarine (I know), and coffee. So from a monetary perspective, the way to save money is to eat toast, cereal, waffles, and other processed foods for breakfast. Guess anyone who reads this site knows where that recommendation is going…

      1. Josh

        What? bugs? Aren’t your chickens vegetarians like the ones that lay the eggs I see sold in the stores for twice the price of regular eggs? Murdering chickens! That’s what you have, Tom. Shame on you.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          No worries. We plan to impose the death penalty on them when they’re done laying eggs.

            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              Their lawyer is threatening to tie up the process with years of appeals.

  9. Michael Mance

    Hi Tom,

    I was wondering what you thought if Jimmy Moore’s ‘ketogenic rehabilitation’ that he posted a picture of a few months back? What kind of an example does it set for the paleo community when you have someone like Jimmy Moore eating an entire stick of Kerrygold Butter? Isn’t getting close to a parody at this point? I hope you scolded him for that little stunt.

      1. Michael Mance

        LOL. At no time in the history of mankind has it ever been considered healthy to eat a full stick of butter in one sitting. This is insanity. If you had any doubts about whether paleo/LC diets are more dogmatic than a tire ‘diet’, here you go folks.

        You guys are rediculous.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          1. Please cite evidence (not your opinion) that eating a stick of butter is unhealthy.

          2. Please explain why eating a stick of butter in one meal is worse for health than eating a stick of butter spread out over three meals. (Jimmy typically eats one meal per day.)

          3. During Jimmy’s visit, we went out for rib dinners. A rack of ribs contains nearly as much fat as a stick of butter and more total calories. We also had side dishes, including collard greens with bits of bacon. I also had the garlic mashed potatoes, which were made with butter, plus two beers. My total fat intake almost certainly exceeded what I’d get in a stick of butter, and my calorie intake vastly exceeded the 800 calories in a stick of butter. So I take it you believe I need scolding for consuming all that fat and all those calories in one sitting? Has it ever in the history of mankind been considered healthy to eat a full rack of ribs plus side dishes in one sitting?

          1. Michael Mance

            1. Yep, walk around the streets and interview people and ask them if eating a full stick of butter is healthy. Ask your doctor. Oh, that’s right, you don’t like doctors unless they happen to push a paleo diet. Foolish me – I’m all alone on the island thinking that eating a full stick of butter is bad for you. I blame Michelle Obama.

            2. Eating a stick of butter over three meals isn’t healthy either. A stick of butter is suppose to last longer than a day. Eating it all at once just makes it look that much worse and making your diet look even more absurd. A stick of butter – just like our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten.

            3. For a computer programmer, you’re not very good at math. An 8 oz stick of Kerrygold butter contains 16 servings of 100 calories, 11 grams of fat, 8 being saturated. That makes the total 1600 calories and 176 grams of fat. No rack of ribs on the planet had 176 grams of fat. And no, I don’t think in the history of mankind had a full rack of ribs, collar greens with bacon, garlic mashed potatoes with butter, and two beers has ever been considered healthy (I think even Robert Atkins would agree – or are mashed potatoes ‘safe starches’ now?)

            Question for you – would you rather have your daughters eat a full stick of butter or a load of bread?

            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              I see … so if we walk around and ask people if eating a stick of butter is unhealthy and most of them say “No,” that proves it. Or if we ask a doctor who was taught in medical school that saturated fat is bad (despite no scientific evidence), his opinion constitutes proof. Yup, you’re quite scientifically rigorous in your thinking, aren’t you?

              A normal stick of butter is 8 tablespoons. If a Kerrygold “stick” is the size of two normal sticks of butter, fine with me. You still can’t cite any evidence whatsoever (besides weak appeals to the “authority” of people on the street and mis-educated doctors) that eating butter is bad for health. Since you consider the opinions of others to constitute proof, perhaps you should spend an hour or so staring at the recent TIME magazine cover instructing us to eat butter. Or you could read the article and risk bruising your brain trying to grasp the science.

              Yes, mashed potatoes are safe starches. And Dr. Atkins would have had no problem with someone in a maintenance phase of his diet consuming them while also keeping carb intake for the day within maintenance limits.

              Hmmm … a full stick of grass-fed butter or a loaf of gluten-loaded, gliadin-loaded, lectin-loaded, glucose-spiking bread made from mutant semi-dwarf wheat … well, that’s a tough one, but I’ll go with the butter. In fact, my daughters sometimes slice off hunks of Kerrygold and eat it for a snack. I’m fine with that.

            2. Michael Mance

              1. I’m just wondering, because the only people who seem to think that eating a full stick of butter in one sitting would be healthy are the paleo/LC dogmatic circles, and a few quack doctors. I’ll stay with my crowd you can stick with yours. I mean, I’m not having that much different of a reaction when you saw him piling sour cream and butter onto his scrambled eggs and proclaimed “Jimmy, you lose weight eating that way?!” (Don’t make me dig up the link). But sure, me thinking that a full stick of butter for Jimmy isn’t the best, that’s crazy talk. LOL.

              2. You’re bottom is bruised because you failed to do basic math. I’m pretty sure you know the size of a Kerrygold butter stick, because you use it quite often. Stop playing dumb and acting like you didn’t know how many ounces were in the particular brand of butter that you happen to go through quite often.

              3. Glad to see you adding in “safe starches”. Keep moving those goal posts. Four years ago this blog wouldn’t have been caught dead saying that mashed potatoes were ‘ok’.

              You’re right. Jimmy Moore is a pinnacle example of human health. Forget the fact that he’s in his early 40’s and looks horrible (ironic that you praise Jimmy’s body but often make fun of skinny vegetarians, it really shows the state of your diet dogma) and has had yo-yo weight problems since his original weight loss caused by a low fat diet. This isn’t counting his urine crystals, fertility issues, hypogonadism, etc.

              And I’d like to see you make such a declaration more public so that everyone can see how fringe and far from reality the paleo dogma lies:

              You’d rather have your daughters consume a full stick of butter than a single slice of wheat bread. Time to man up and put your money where your mouth is.

            3. Tom Naughton Post author

              That’s because between bouts of replying to morons, I do this thing called “work.”

            4. Tom Naughton Post author

              I didn’t say eating a whole stick of butter is healthy. I said it’s not unhealthy. There’s no evidence that it would be harmful, and therefore no reason I should “scold” Jimmy for eating it. Yes, as I said in the post you mentioned, years of anti-fat hysteria have conditioned us to see a big scoop of butter and sour cream and think of heart disease and obesity. The difference between you and me is that I recognize it as a conditioned reaction and didn’t decide that if I had an initial negative reaction looking at all that butter, that proves it’s bad. You still haven’t cited (and can’t) any evidence that Jimmy’s stick of butter is bad for him

              Sitting here at a desk 25 miles from home, yes, when you wrote “stick of butter,” I pictured a normal stick. So sue me. And by the way, genius, “You’re bottom” means “You are bottom.” So when you’re finished chiding me for failing basic math, you might want to visit a local grade school and see if someone can tutor you in fourth-grade grammar.

              Indeed, I’ve reconsidered potatoes and changed my opinion of them, depending of course on the metabolic health of who’s eating them. I wouldn’t recommend safe starches for insulin-dependent diabetics, for example. But if “keep moving those goal posts” was intended to be sarcastic, then I’ll suggest you stop being a jackass, because here’s the can’t-win logic jackasses in cyberspace apply to bloggers like me: if you refuse to change your mind, you’re dogmatic. If you do change your mind, by gosh, it just means you’re jumping on the latest craze, moving the goal posts, etc.

              And yes, for someone who once weighed more than 400 pounds, I consider Jimmy both a success and an inspiration to people who are obese and sick. He’s healthy now, with the lab tests to prove it, and during his recent visit he walked 27 miles up and down our hilly land with me in 90+ heat and high humidity and never faltered. If you think he looks horrible because he hasn’t found a way to make all that excess skin from his 400-pound peak magically disappear, well frankly, I doubt he gives a rat’s ass what you think. I sure don’t.

              Yes, I’d rather my daughters eat a full stick of Kerrygold than a slice of wheat bread. No question about it. But they’d be full long before they got that far into a stick.

            5. Bret

              Didn’t Michael say something about a church mouse above? Funny, he seems to resemble one himself now…

            6. Tom Naughton Post author

              Michael was engaging in extreme and unwarranted self-flattery. I had to get some work done, and he decided his brilliant reply had left me speechless. Quite laughable.

            7. Craig Rich

              I’m glad people like this still post here. It helps us remember that people like Michael exist in this world where all the current evidence shows saturated fat (from real food) is beneficial, not harmful. We’ve come a long way, but we have far to go before it’s common sense that butter is healthier than bread.

            8. NM

              I love his definition of science as “walk around the streets and interview people”. Yes, those people would be horrified about eating copious amounts of butter.

              Those same people would probably think nothing of having a generous slice of cheesecake for dessert, or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s – all of which contain about as much fat as Jimmy consumed, albeit with buckets of sugar to boot.

              Michael: do you know what happens when you eat loads of butter? It gets broken down by the bil into its constituent free-fatty-acids, which get absorbed by the gut and transported to the muscle and fat cells as appropriate by the chylomicrons. This happens within a couple of hours or so, at which point all the chylomicrons are re-absorbed into the liver.

              Some of the fat is converted by the liver into ketones, which are also used by cells to produce energy efficiently – particularly the brain.

              Because the butter does not provoke an insulin spike, all the fat cells are free to release their FFAs as soon as the body needs them, so there’s no fuel-lockup rollercoaster emergency.

              In addition to the butter’s fats, there are plenty of highly valuable nutrients, including *proper* vitamin A, and vitamin K2, which is one of the most valuable, precious substances we can ingest. Then, there’s butyrate (named after butter) which has been shown conclusively to be highly cardio-protective.

              Can you tell me where in this biochemistry the butter is doing its hysterical damage?

            9. CNC

              NM, well said.

              Just fished my lunch of a 5 oz sirloin steak with the fat on with about a 1/4 stick of butter. I now know what will happen to the delicious lunch.

              I lost 30 lb 4 years ago and kept it off on a high fat low (almost zero) carb diet. Feeling great at 60, better then at 50.

  10. Rae Ford

    I think there’s a correlation between the number of books like this that I want to read being published and the length of my unemployment.

      1. Walter Bushell

        Likely. The more you know the more likely you are to find prospective employers sleazy and be conflicted about working for them.

  11. tony

    “The book’s subtitle is Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”

    Tom, I’m confused. Why do some low carbers/paleolites advice against eating cheese?

    If it’s healthy and delicious, why not include it in one’s diet?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Some people have allergies to dairy proteins, some people are lactose intolerant, some people get insulin spikes from dairy. So depending on your genetics, it may not be a good choice.

  12. Josh

    Let’s not confuse Paleo eaters with low-carb eaters. I am low-carb, but not Paleo. I know Paleo people who are not very low-carb due to the large amounts of starchy veggies they eat. Define it as you like, I guess. Both groups do eat far fewer carbs than they previously did.

    The real issue, IMHO, is Real Food diets are the best for most of us and we each have to figure out what works best for ourselves. The tragedy of the past 40 years is that we were told things that weren’t true and that certain big money interests prevented the truth from getting out.

    By the way, anybody interested in my recipe for carb free, fat free, sugar free, dairy free, meat free, glutton free, additive free bars? I call them ice cubes.

    1. Elenor

      “By the way, anybody interested in my recipe for carb free, fat free, sugar free, dairy free, meat free, glutton free, additive free bars? I call them ice cubes.”

      Nope, no good. Bad for the teeth! Dr. (Weston E.) Price would disapprove!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Oh, no …

      She also called for “food system reform” to accompany the Affordable Care Act.

      The Older Brother predicted it decades ago: once the government is paying for your health care (by taking your money in taxes first, of course), everything the socialists want to accomplish will be labeled a health-care issue.

      1. Janet

        You do know that the ACA is not free healthcare don’t you? Nor is the govt paying the actual medical bills? This is the opportunity for sick people and others to get HEALTH INSURANCE from private INSURANCE companies and my govt will supply a subsidy if family members can sleep better now and not worry about bankruptcy. Now, Medicaid is different as well as Medicare. But I pay Medicare premiums every month. I doubt any of you will pass this program up as well as Social security. The amount of ignorance on this subject is staggering and flip comments only over look that REAL people in your own communities, friends, relatives can get help and feel better. My 8 year old granddaughter with asthma cAnnot be denied coverage now. You don’t think that is important? Whole lot of smug attitude going on here and why I don’t come here much anymore. IMHO

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Yes, I’m fully aware of what the ACA does and doesn’t do. The problem of the uninsurable should have been handled as a stand-alone issue, not used as an excuse for government to outlaw affordable high-deductible policies that many of us preferred (never mind the “if you like your policy, you can keep your policy” promises made by His Highness), jack up rates on many people by 200% -300%, dictate that 60-year-olds buy policies that cover infertility and maternity, etc. It’s not quite a government takeover of private health insurance, but it’s damned close, considering that private companies are no longer allowed to issue me a policy I liked and they were happy to sell to me. The ObamaCare policies would cost me an extra $1200 per month and raise my effective deductible to $20,000 — which means it would be worthless unless I suffer a serious injury or develop a serious disease.

          If you think it’s okay for government to squeeze an extra $10,000 or $15,000 per year out of me while simultaneously forcing me to buy a policy that I’ll probably never use for the sake of providing benefits or a lower cost to you, well, let’s just say we have very different views of the proper role of government. I consider that nothing more than large-scale theft.

          And you bet your ass I’d pass on Social Security if the government would stop confiscating 15% of my income to pay for it. Put that in a retirement program with any kind of reasonable return, and I’d be way, way better off than taking my little Social Security pittance when I retire.

    2. B35

      My question is that does anything they said actually has anything to do with good nutrition?
      I think not.

  13. Elenor

    “Enter Something Worse?” I bought the book on Mike Eades’ very strong recommendation: “even for folks like him who had read all the books and papers.”

    I had a box of Cheezits (okay-so, I fell off the wagon… it happens!) sitting in my kitchen when I read this book (thankfully NOT munching Cheezits by the handful as I read)! After reading this chapter — I put the two bags of Cheezits (Costco-sized… {sigh}) by the back door, intending to put them out in the woods to poison th… er… to FEED the raccoons! And there the bags sat for two+ weeks. (I was busy!)

    Periodically I’d see them (Cheezits have always been my major addiction!) and — with my usual loss of will power! — I’d say to myself, “oh! THINK of how great they taste! You could just use these bags up and never buy again,” (as I have said to myself for years {sigh}). Nina’s book would rise up before my eyes and I’d walk right past the Cheezits without any strain! Just the idea of the newest version of frankenfats that Big Food is creating to replace the older version of frankenfats kept me from touching them… No more fears I’ll buy again either! Thank you, Nina! (And thanks, Tom, for the great review.)

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I suppose it’s to our benefit that they use those frankenfats. Keeps us from being tempted by Cheezits and other carbage.

  14. Ulfric Douglas

    You absolutely NEED to eat half a pound of butter : if you’re going to do the Vodka trick.
    When in Russia 😉 the Vodka trick is drinking a full Chikushka (250ml) of Vodka down in one … and suffering no ill effects or staggering about.
    Needs butter!

    Kerrygold is puny compared to our local Langley farm butter made from Jersey cow milk, the same cows who make our local raw milk. splendid stuff.

    1. NM

      Heh. Yes, it always amuses me how Americans go on about Kerrygold as if it’s manna from heaven, yet in the UK, it’s considered a fairly banal, middle-of-the-road mainstream supermarket brand. Clever international PR team there 🙂

      There are so much better Guernsey and Jersey grass-fed – and unpasteurised – butters available even in my local supermarket!

        1. Kristin

          I get raw butter at my local market in Washington state. And I’ve seen raw butters in San Francisco as well.

  15. Elle

    Quick question. Would you describe the book as a take down of the studies or more of a political science tome? I’m asking because I am extremely unhappy with my government prof’s selection of books for our required essay and was thinking about appealing to read this one instead.

    To his credit, the acceptable book list is carefully curated to be bipartisan. They just all have a general theme of “things suck, they’re going to get worse, and here’s why we’re pissed off all the time.” Which would be a very draining way to spend 250 pages.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      More of a takedown of the process (both scientific and political) that led to an unsubstantiated hypothesis becoming the basis of the nation’s dietary recommendations.

  16. Stephen B

    Thanks for the excellent review Tom. Another book for my “to buy” list, along with Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas.

  17. Kristin

    Now see what you all have done? I’ve ordered the book now. I was going to take a pass figuring I knew what all was in there and just glad that the larger community was getting a fine jolt (cue the butter cover of recent Time Magazine.) After all this it seems I am all frothed up to get on board with more detail on how we got screwed over.

    Ah well, that is fine. At this point I seem to be the person in my community who people come to for answers on this subject. So more info is a very good thing.

    Oh, and Ulfric? Your comment is most interesting as I’ve noticed if I am having alcohol plenty of good fat is the best accompaniment. Need little appetizers like butter balls rolled in cumin set in a bed of ice. Yeah, that could work.

  18. eddie watts

    does the book go into the agriculture subsidies side of things as well?
    I mean if that is in there too then the whole story is covered and would make this a must buy.

    it would make it easier to point out government policy getting involved on all sides of the system which also shows why it is so hard to do any sort of U turn

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Doesn’t really delve into that subject, although there’s plenty on how the NIH skewed research via funding. Denise Minger’s book “Death by Food Pyramid” covers the agriculture-subsidy story quite nicely.

  19. George Henderson

    The Mediterranean diet doesn’t resemble what those peoples actually ate, which was never accurately recorded?
    Sounds familiar.
    Isn’t that pretty much the snooty critique of the Paleo diet?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, to be fair, it’s difficult to determine exactly what paleo people ate. But there are certainly people in the Mediterranean region who know what kind of diet they’ve consumed over the decades.

    2. NM

      It’s not that the Mediterranean diet was inaccurately recorded because of lack of data. It’s because some of the scientists chose explicitly to commit fraud. And if you think I’m over-egging the pudding by using the ‘f’ word, I suggest you read the book!

  20. Stephen

    Thanks for the review. I’m pretty sure the public health advocates of the 50’s – 70’s targeted saturated fat, because back then, the over-eating pattern was identified with indulging in too much meat (rich food). Doctors saw arteries clogged with cholesterol plaque. It’s a reasonable connection to make. It might have been the right advice at the time.

    But we all agree the over-eating pattern has changed since the 80’s. Most everyone identifies the problem as hyper-palatable, hyper-cheap, hyper-available junk food (refined carbs, sugar, fat, and salt).

    Still, you can’t expect the USDA to come out and say what foods and behaviors are unhealthy. The lobbyists would never let it happen, and people won’t change their habits anyways.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I think as much anything, they just can’t bring themselves to announce publicly that they got it all very, very wrong. So they’ll slowly creep towards the correct advice. Give it 30 years or so.

      1. Stephen

        Who’s “they”? Ancel Keys is dead. You mean people like CSPI guy? There’s lots of people who are anti-meat. They’ll never change.

        Hopefully, people know by now not to jump at the sight of a media headline or sound-byte, and change their diet on a dime. Of course, this won’t happen, as people fundamentally don’t understand nutrition. So one day it’s oat bran in everything, then 0g of fat, then gluten-free, then 0g of carbs, and on, and on.

        Luckily, common sense would have prevailed over the last few hundred years, if people followed their traditional diets. There’s nothing wrong with some butter, milk, cheese, and meats. There’s nothing wrong with bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. Eat your vegetables. Move your body, have fun with sport.

        People really need to stop demonizing certain foods, or worse, specific macro nutrients. Healthy ways haven’t changed over the last few hundred years.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Given what’s happened to wheat in the past 30 years, I’d say there’s plenty wrong with bread and pasta.

          1. Stephen

            I like them. I eat about 65% of my calories from potatoes, noodles, bread, rice, etc. They’re fine when you eat them with a lot of vegetables. It used to be all that people could afford.

            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              Glad they’re not having an adverse effect on you. But I wouldn’t tell anyone that today’s mutant wheat is okay as part of a balanced diet. There’s a reason celiac disease is up by 400% in the past 50 years. It’s the mutant wheat.

              As far as “used to be all that people could afford,” did you miss that section of the book in which she explains how much meat people used to eat — even poor people?

            2. Tom Naughton Post author

              Sorry to hear that.

              Eggs. Lots of eggs. Cans of tuna fish. Cheap hamburger at Costco. Getting sick can be quite expensive, so I hope you stay healthy.

            3. Stephen

              I buy the $5/dozen eggs, and the grass-fed beef. I just bought some Kerrygold butter. I don’t want the cheap stuff. I just use the good stuff sparingly.

            4. Tom Naughton Post author

              Grass-fed beef is expensive indeed. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a perfect diet to be healthy, however. Beef and eggs from Costco may not provide as many health benefits as pastured foods, but they’re still decent choices.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Nearly every point seems to be a quibble over specific citations and even specific sentences within citations. Since I don’t have all the original papers sitting in front of me, I can’t really quibble with the quibbles.

      I’ve seen the site before. This the blogger’s description of himself:

      I hold a B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition (with a concentration in Dietetics) from Colorado State University, and a M.S. in Nutritional Sciences from University of Washington.

      From what I’ve read, he seems quite determined to defend the nutrition advice he was taught in school. He has a post, for example, praising the “robust” Seven Countries study by Ancel Keys.

  21. EST

    “He went on to tell me how these heated, oxidized oils form polymers that create a ‘thick gunk’ on the bottom of the fryer and clog up the drains.”

    Which means that these vegetable oils will clog your arteries, if the British government is to be believed. Yet they would tell you that those oils will save you from a heart attack rather than causing one. saturated fat clogs a drain, so it MUST clog your arteries; meanwhile, seed oils clog a drain, but will protect your heart. I don’t even want to attempt to understand the logic behind that.


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