Falcons Fans Must Be Stuffing Themselves With Saturated Fat

Well, I guess fans of the Atlanta Falcons are stuffing themselves with saturated fat today.  Meanwhile, fans of the New England Patriots – who saw their team stage the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history – are probably cutting back on saturated fat and possibly losing a few pounds by eating less overall.

I know this because of a study I stumbled across in my database.  Here are some quotes from an NPR online article about the study:

Backing a losing NFL team isn’t just bad for your pride.  It’s bad for your waistline.

A study that links sports outcomes with the eating behavior of fans finds that backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss. Backers of winning teams, by contrast, eat lighter food, and in moderation.

Dangit.  Since Atlanta is in Georgia, this is going to add fuel to that whole “southerners are fatter than northerners” myth.  It is a myth, by the way.  As I explained in a previous post, the belief that southerners are fatter is the result of those danged Yankees lying about their weight in phone surveys.  But back to the NPR article:

After a defeat, the researchers found that saturated fat consumption went up by 16 percent, while after a victory it decreased by 9 percent. “After a victory, people eat better,” says Pierre Chandon, a professor of marketing at the business school INSEAD in France. “After a defeat, people eat a lot worse.”

In many ways, the research fits with what we already know about the psychology of eating. When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy. Call it a form of self-medication – when your happiness levels are low, junk food and high-calorie food provide the brain with much-needed pleasure.

Wait a minute … something here doesn’t quite make sense.  Let’s put toggle back and forth between two of those sentences:

Backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss.

When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy.

Backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss.

When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy.

I could’ve sworn people eat candy for the sugar, not the saturated fat.  And yet the study seems to be saying people comfort themselves after their NFL team loses by eating more saturated fat.  Let’s read on.

Chandon and his co-author Yann Cornil, also at INSEAD, find the same thing happening with sports defeats. They tracked the eating behavior of people in cities with NFL teams and measured how eating changed after victories and defeats.

Chandon says the connection between eating and sports outcomes was off the charts in the cities where following the local football team was tantamount to a religion.

“When we look at the behavior of people living in cities where football is really important — places like Green Bay, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, then the performance of the team has an even greater impact on what they eat,” Chandon says.

After a loss, people in those cities eat 28 percent more saturated fat. A win swayed them over to eat 16 percent less saturated fat. “So, in those cities, people are even more responsive to the wining or the losing of the football team,” says Chandon.

Maybe that’s why the people in San Diego didn’t vote to build the Chargers a new stadium.  Given the team’s lousy record in recent years, perhaps voters figured they’d eat less if the Chargers did their losing somewhere else.

In one part of their study, the researchers found that asking people to remember terrible sports defeats had even bigger effects on what they ate – defeats lead to a 45 percent increase in saturated fat consumption.

Well then, for heavenssakes, don’t ever talk to me about the 1984 Cubs, the 1989 Cubs or the 2003 Cubs.  I might go crazy on saturated fat.

The most interesting part of Chandon’s research might not be the effects of defeats, but the effect that victories seem to have on fans. Winning seems to make people think long-term – they look forward to the next match, for example. The satisfaction of winning increases the capacity of people to withstand difficult choices – to pick the salad over the fries.

Now that you mention it, I finally began to truly appreciate the taste of lettuce right after the last play of the 2016 World Series.  I just didn’t make the connection.

But I still don’t see why the researchers focused so much on saturated fat.  So I took a peek at the study.  Here’s the relevant portion:

We examined two measures of unhealthy eating: saturated-fat consumption and total food-based caloric consumption, both of which are major contributors to cardiovascular diseases and obesity (Hu et al., 1997).  Unlike other macronutrients, which are present in all kinds of foods, saturated fats are present mostly in highly processed, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor “junk” food (e.g., pizza, cakes and cookies, dairy-based desserts).

Well, there you have it.  Unlike the other macronutrients (which would be protein and carbohydrates), saturated fat is present mostly in highly processed junk foods, according to the study authors.

The only things wrong with that statement are 1) saturated fat isn’t a macronutrient (fat is), 2) saturated fats are present in all kinds of unprocessed and natural foods (meats, eggs, whole milk, yogurt, cheeses), and 3) carbohydrates are most definitely present in countless processed junk foods … including pizza, cakes and cookies, dairy-based desserts.

In fact, I’m going to step out a limb here and say that when people eat comfort foods like pizza, cakes and cookies, dairy-based desserts, etc., it’s because they want the sugar and flour.  After all, plenty of cakes and cookies these days are made with vegetable oils.  And as the article said, When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy.

So the researchers made the usual guilt-by-association mistake:  they see people stuffing themselves with foods that contain saturated fat and sugar, or saturated fat and white flour, or saturated fat and sugar and white flour, and assume the problem is the saturated fat – because the stuff is so unhealthy, ya know.  Dr. Hu at Harvard said so, which means it must be true.

Chandon says he had seen the effects of the research firsthand. The same thing applies to soccer, he explains: “As a Frenchman, both the performance and the behavior of the French soccer team were so distressing, I’m sure it’s part of the reason why I gained so much weight lately.”

Let me offer some advice, Professor Chandon:  the next time the French soccer team loses, skip the pizza, cakes and cookies, diary-based desserts, etc., and just eat more bacon.  I promise you won’t gain any weight.


54 thoughts on “Falcons Fans Must Be Stuffing Themselves With Saturated Fat

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Women, sure, but also men with gentle souls … Stuart Smalley and Corky St. Clair come to mind.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Good grief. Anyone delusional enough to read “white supremacy” into a Patriots victory deserves all the emotional pain a miracle comeback can induce.

  1. j

    PS The “southerners are fatter than northerners” myth certainly is true in certain parts I’ve been to.. Maybe i haven’t been to enough “heavily” populated areas in the north..

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’m from Illinois, and believe we, when I visit my hometown (Springfield), the population there is fatter on average than the population here in Franklin, TN.

  2. Desmond

    As a long-time resident of Atlanta, I was rooting for the Falcons along with my neighbors the other night. I admit to not being a true fan, so my results may not be typical. But I ate all my saturated fat (brisket, brie, chili) during the game, not after. I was too full Monday to eat much. So the Falcons “pulling a Hillary” did not increase my saturated fat consumption. Of course my day-after “healthy eating” may have been because the Falcons did at least win the popular vote.

                  1. Tom Naughton Post author

                    To be fair, I have liberal friends and relatives who aren’t freaking out or seeking emotional shelter in safe spaces. They’re just quite unhappy about the election results.

                    1. j

                      Right. Was just thinking personally how rationally conflicting it could be.
                      I.e. Perhaps as a liberal or SJW I have a soft spot for illegal immigration.. Or maybe I don’t because they get exploited by employers and elites…??? Confusing.. ?

  3. JR62

    “highly processed, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor “junk” food (e.g., pizza, cakes and cookies, dairy-based desserts).”

    They should stop talking about saturated fat when they are NOT talking about saturated fat.

  4. Firebird7478

    There were even articles rehashing Tom Brady’s “insane” diet this week. 39 years old, 5 Super Bowl wins and the analysts think he can play until he’s 45.

    I’ll have what he’s having.

  5. Dianne

    Good grief — can’t scientists find something more important to study than people’s eating habits as affected by sporting event outcomes? I hope nobody’s tax money got squandered on that! That would be a criminal misuse of public funds, especially since the perpetrators’ little scientific minds missed the connection between carbs and weight gain — again — making this one more useless study to add to the heap.

    But such an egregious misinterpretation of data is almost to be expected, considering how the fat-is-bad idea seems to cause some sort of tunnel vision among scientific and medical types. For example, after a few months on Dr. Richard Bernstein’s diabetes solution diet, I recently visited my doctor’s office to get the results of my lab work. I had lost significant weight, my A1c was down, my blood pressure was down, and my triglycerides were down, but my cholesterol hadn’t budged (and I don’t want it too) so I got the “cholesterol clogs arteries and statins save lots of lives so you should take them even though they may cause joint and muscle aches and some memory loss” speech again. My response was, “ain’t happenin’.”

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      You can always try the line that ended the statin discussion with my doctor: “I wouldn’t take a statin unless you had a gun to my head and I was convinced you’d pull the trigger.”

  6. tyrone hernandez

    The superbowl mirrored the presidential campaign. One team appeared to have won it until the other team beat them. Didn’t the russians hack the superbowl?

  7. Yann

    Dear Tom,

    My name is Yann Cornil, I am one the co-authors of this study. Thank you very much for blogging about it, and thanks also for your kind advice about bacon eating.
    I’m happy to respond to your concerns about our research. Eventually, it’s a great opportunity to talk about methods in social science, operationalization, and statistical inference-making. Hopefully your readers enjoy the discussion.

    Let’s first start with what we actually find in the data, and what we infer from it:

    * What we actually find in the data: After a football defeat, there is, on average, a significant increase in the consumption of calories and saturated fat (but not unsaturated fat, protein or carbohydrates) among people who live in the city of the team that lost the game.

    *What we infer : (1) sport defeats lead to relatively more unhealthy eating. This is because compared with unsaturated fat, proteins and carbohydrates, an overconsumption of saturated fat is considered more unhealthy in numerous (not just one) nutrition academic articles. (2) Sport defeats lead consumers to eat “comfort” foods. To draw that conclusion, we rely on the fact that saturated fat is a common characteristic of foods such as processed and dairy-rich foods, which are typical comfort foods according to numerous (not just one) academic articles on emotional eating. In contrast, unsaturated fat, protein and carbohydrates might be found in comfort foods, but also in plenty of other foods such as fruits and vegetables (high in carbohydrates), fish (high in unsaturated fat), or any meat (high in protein).

    Now regarding your comments:

    *Do we claim that saturated fat is only present in processed foods? No, we cite processed foods as an example. Saturated fat can also be found in foods such as such as cream, cheese, butter, whole milk dairy product, which also have “comforting” properties according to psychological research on emotional eating. Some fatty meats, such as bacon, are also high in saturated fat although they are also high in protein and we did not find any effect on protein consumption, so I’m not sure about bacon.

    *Do we claim that when feeling down, consumers specifically and intentionally seek saturated fat? Of course not, as you point out, it is not saturated fat per se that consumers seek when feeling down, but the savory taste of a pizza, or the sweet taste of a chocolate cake. As you probably read in our manuscript, our database unfortunately did not include survey takers’ intentions, so we had to make inferences about consumers’ preferences, based on their actual consumption of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Since we found an effect only on saturated fat, we made inferences about the type of foods (i.e. high in saturated fat, but not necessarily higher in other nutrients relative to other foods) that consumers preferred.

    *Do we claim that processed foods are only high in saturated fat but not in
    carbohydrates? No, we’re just saying that saturated fat is highly likely to be found in processed foods. Carbohydrates as well, but it can also be found in fruits and vegetables, so carbohydrates was probably not a relevant macronutrient to draw inferences about survey-takers’ consumption of processed or comfort foods.

    *Do we claim that after a sport defeat, consumers eat big bags of candy (which is high in sugar, but not in saturated fat)? No, that’s a claim made by the journalist, it’s something we cannot account for!

    I hope this clarifies some of your concerns. I hope you understand that as researchers, we need to deal with available data, and draw reasonable inferences when other data (such as intentions) is missing. We also deal with averages, and of course there are always exceptions that statistical analyses cannot account for. Happy to continue this discussion.

    Yann Cornil

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Thanks for chiming in, Yann. If you read elsewhere on this blog, you’ll see that I disagree (based on rather a lot of recent research) that saturated fat is unhealthy. My wife and I recently bought some junk foods to take photos for a film product. Most of the real junk foods — chips, cookies, peanut-butter crackers, etc. — were made with soybean oil, cottonseed oil, etc. Saturated fat is natural. Industrial seed oils aren’t. So I still don’t see the basis for the belief that it’s saturated fat that’s more likely to be found in junk foods. It’s of course possible to add saturated fat to processed food, but saturated fat itself isn’t a processed food … unlike, say, cottonseed oil, which is extracted with hexane and only exists because of industrial processing.

      I also don’t see how people can eat more cookies, cake and pizza without increasing their carbohydrate intake.

        1. BobM

          One thing you could do is get parts of what people eat and actually measure the “saturated fat” in them. The main problem is that “saturated fat” is usually associated with meat, but meat actually contains a high percentage of MUFA and some SFA. That amount of SFA is higher than in say olive oil (also contains SFAs at about 14-17%) but is not nearly as high as people think it is. Thus, eating meat doesn’t mean gorging on SFA. Also, anything that’s prepared will, as Tom has said, be composed of garbage such as seed oils, sugar (and the 100+ names for such), wheat, and the like. They’ll actually be “low” in “saturated fat”, relative to real meat and high in carbohydrate content. Using something that’s actually “high” in SFA, such as coconut oil, is expensive, and food manufacturers really don’t like expensive.

    2. j

      The study seems to also infer and reinforce (perhaps unintentionally?) the view that higher saturated fat and higher calorie consumption are synonymous with bad health and/or negative consequences. Or at the very least, it seems to establish it as a known quantity.

      There is a distinction to be made between consuming saturated fats by eating fresh meats and produce, and consuming saturated fats by eating sugar-laden, highly refined starch containing processed foods.
      I know making that distinction wasnt the purpose of the study, and that it’s not making any health reccommendations, and that it’s dealing “with available data”..but ..
      I guess my opinion about the study (and others like it) is: It is not helping.. :/

      If the defeated fans were chowing down highly unprocessed, high calorie, nutrient dense foods like wild salmon, avocadoes, and coconut instead of junk food like pizza and desserts, would the study’s implication about high calories and saturated fat have a slightly less negative tone to it?

  8. Yann

    Just one more precision (sorry about the double reply):

    In the main “NFL” study, we only had information on overall carbohydrates, which include fibers and natural carbohydrates (from vegetables and fruits), but also added sugar and starch (from chocolate candies, cakes, cookies, pizzas, etc). This might be the reason why we did not find any significant effect of sport defeats.
    This is why we replicated the study in two additional experiments, in a laboratory setting, and we could verify that after sport defeats, people tend to eat more chocolate candies and chips, but fewer fruits and vegetables.


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That sounds like an interesting experiment, but again, when people respond to a defeat by eating more candies and chips, the negative effect on their health is due to the sugar and processed carbs. It’s actually rare these days to find chips made with natural saturated fats.

      1. Mike

        Really? Perhaps the preservatives have improved. I thought saturated fat was fairly common in junk food to make it shelf stable. Isn’t that how coconut oil got a bad reputation in the first place?

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Not sure about shelf stability, but when I check labels on junk foods, I see more industrial vegetable oils than saturated fats. HFCS has a preservative quality, which is part of the reason it’s in so many foods.

          1. Mike

            Other preservatives and sugar make a difference but saturated fats are more stable because undesirable stuff has more trouble latching on to the carbons if they are already bound to hydrogen.

            1. Mike G

              Trans fats were used as preservatives in junk food years ago (and still in small quantities today). The reason was that bacteria and fungi can’t metabolize the stuff. Their enzymes couldn’t handle the trans configuration of the hydrogens at the carbon-carbon double bonds. The trans fatty acids did behave more like saturated fatty acids, in that they packed together in a similar manner. I don’t recall saturated fats being used as a preservative in the past. It seems to me the microbes could easily get them across their membranes and start oxidizing them via the beta oxidation pathway (the same way we oxidize them in our mitochondria).


    2. Lori Miller

      Let’s look at some calories from carbohydrate and saturated fats in comfort foods:

      Pizza Hut supreme pizza, 1 med. slice:
      Carb: 115 calories
      SF: 54 calories

      Archway chocolate chip drop cookies, 100g:
      Carb: 253 calories
      SF: 48

      Vanilla ice cream, 100g:
      Carb: 94 calories
      SF: 61 calories

      Source: nutritiondata.self.com

      Really, it’s not a surprise that anyone would rather eat pizza, ice cream, etc. instead of fruits and vegetables. As a follow-up study to see whether people crave saturated fat a combination of fat and carbs, why not offer subjects choices including high SF but low-carb foods: coconut, lamb, butter, cheese and bacon. To make it a fair fight, use some tasty recipes from the book The Fat Fast by Dana Carpender.

    3. Mike

      So the database differentiated saturated fat and non-saturated fat, but didn’t differentiate sugar from other carbohydrate, and it counted fiber as carbohydrate? I assume it also didn’t distinguish chocolate or caffeine. That seems like a problem in a study about emotional eating.

  9. Linda

    I was pretty much convinced to quit eating processed foods by an accidental happening in my kitchen. Several years back, I had been to the grocery and bought a loaf of popular (around here) Nature’s Own Honey Wheat Bread. I put it on the counter and later that day my brother came by and was doing something on the counter and moved the loaf of bread to the top of the fridge (way back where I didn’t notice it.) I looked and looked for that bread and finally concluded I left it at the store. Two and a half weeks later, my brother came by and looked on top of the fridge and commented “you didn’t get the bread back down!” Well, he’s tall and I’m short- I didn’t see it! He took the bread down and the stuff hadn’t EVEN begun to mold or go bad in any way! Can you say “preservatives?” My motto now is that if it won’t rot, I don’t eat it!!

  10. j

    Ran across this video.. If you ignore the move more eat less claims, you get a nice explanation of the biochemical proccess through which weight is lost. (How it leaves the body when it’s lost, I should say)

  11. Elenor

    “I might go crazy on saturated fat.”

    Oh come now Tom Naughton, we KNOW you always go crazy on SatFat!! It’s the basis of your entire life! You push it on everyone you meet or talk to or write to. You’ve joined up with that (crazy-for-SatFat) Jimmie-guy to make sure more and more people try to go crazy on SatFat — probably because you own shares in the statin companies… Oh, and the heart-attack companies. (Don’t they go by “Big Cardiology”? There must be some heart-attack companies, right?)

    Heck you probably even moved out there into the wilderness just so you could gorge yourself on SatFat without anyone in authority (i.e., the Anointed Folks: you know, the ones who are SUPPOSED to control what you and your family eat!!) noticing! (We KNOW you grow SatFat in all that “gardening” you keep hiding behind, right? I wonder if Child Protective Services knows what you’re feeding those beautiful little girls….

    “BigFood” (in association with “Big Pharma”)

  12. Namu

    This is a bit of a side-track, Tom, but if you haven’t looked at Peter Dobromylskyj’s last series of posts about linoleic acid, then you are missing on something special, at least for the detailed explanation on how a scientist can get a LCHF diet to make tumors grow explosively.

    You made a very good case of how the CSPI Guy coerced fast food companies into dropping animal fats in favor of transfats, only to force them years later to switch to vegetable oils after it turned out transfats were bad, right ? Well what if the vegetable oils themselves were worse still than the transfats ? Surely there is humor to be found somewhere in this repeated tragedy…

    That, in a nutshell, is the point Peter is making: https://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.ie/2017/03/trans-fats-vs-linoleic-acid.html

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Nina Teicholz made a similar point in “The Big Fat Surprise.” The Guy From CSPI and other nincompoops led the charge to switch to trans fats despite no evidence that saturated fats are bad, then led the charge to switch to newer vegetable oils — again, with no evidence that they’re any better and some evidence that they’re worse.

      I hope someday the food producers wake up and just go back to tallow and lard.


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