Archive for the “News and Reviews” Category

I mentioned in a previous post that even after we turned Rocky Raccoon into chicken-killer stew, something came around and killed another of Sara’s chickens.  In fact, it climbed to the top of the hoop-house and ripped open the tarp.

I figured it was yet another raccoon and baited my trap.  The next day, the bait was gone and the trap had been dragged 10 feet from where I’d set it.  So I baited it again, set a heavy concrete block on top so the trap wouldn’t move, and set my trail camera.  The next day, the bait was gone and there were deep scratches in the ground by the opening.  Something had eaten the cat food but still managed to back out of the trap.  The trap is 12″ high and 32″ long, so I figured maybe it was extra-large raccoon or a fox.

When I checked the trail camera, I found that the @#$%ing thing is now refusing to snap pictures after dark, no matter what settings I choose. So I borrowed a trail camera from a co-worker and set the trap again.

Lookie what I saw when I checked the pictures yesterday:

My first thought was, “Oh, great.  Some neighbor’s cat is sniffing around our chickens at night.”

But then I noticed this particular cat seems to be significantly taller than the trap — which, like I mentioned, is 12″ high.  And it seems to be as long as the trap or longer — long enough to stick its snout in and eat the food without getting trapped inside when the spring door is tripped. Hmmm, what breed of cat is … and then I saw this picture:

The picture is dark, of course, but if you look closely, you can see the cat has stripes and spots — kind of like this:

So that would be a bobcat.  I’m pretty sure my 32″ trap isn’t going to snag this little kitty.


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Back when I was using a weed-whacker with a blade attachment to hack my way through the briar jungles around our property, a couple of readers predicted that I’d end up buying a bush-whackin’ mower someday.

Yup.  The jungles are getting away from us again, plus Chareva wants to reclaim quite a bit of the overgrown field behind the house for chickens, fruit trees and gardens.  Rather than continue paying people to come out and bush-hog, we decided it was time to bite the bullet and buy something that will let us stay ahead of the growth.  So here it is:

Nothing like writing a post about a tick whose bite can cause a meat allergy, then heading out into the deep weeds the next day, eh?  As you can see, I tucked my jeans into my boots, as a reader advised.  I also sprayed my boots, pants, arms and shirt with Deep Woods Off.

Anyway, this particular model is called a Predator.  Pretty powerful little machine for the money.  The reviews were almost uniformly positive, although several people complained that the cables running from the engine to the handles hang loose, which means they can get snagged and yanked out.  So on the advice of the same reviewers, we wrapped plastic tubing around the cables and secured them to the side handlebars with zip-ties.

My only other minor complaint is the speed.  Even in fourth gear, it’s a slow walking pace.  I’d like to move a little faster, but I guess the slower speed is necessary to give the blades time to tear up all that brush.  According to the both the manual and the reviewers online, this thing will suck in and tear up saplings up to an inch-and-a-half thick.

Yes, it would have been nice to just mow down all that briar, even at a slow walking speed.


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Okay, I admit it: some of you tried to warn me.

I went outside yesterday to play a round of disc golf, and as I was standing on the second tee and lining up the mandatory shot between the trees, it struck me that something didn’t look right.

As Chareva has reminded me several times over the years, I’m not the most visual person in the world – I fail to notice things like a wife’s new haircut, for example – so it took me perhaps 20 seconds or so to figure it out … i.e., long enough to throw my shot, walk down to the creek, and then wonder why the hell I was about to step into shin-deep water when I know darned good and well I built a nice bridge some months back.

Some readers warned me at the time that a hard rain could wash my bridge downstream, but I knew better. Those 4 x 4 beams are heavy. Soon after I built the bridge, we had a buckets-of-rain thunderstorm, and I watched from my office window as water rushed over and under my bridge without budging it. I had surgery on my shoulder some years ago, so I was careful not to strain it while patting myself on the back. Yup, I’d constructed a fine, heavy bridge.

Besides, for the bridge to wash downstream, it would have to get past all those trees you see in the picture below, then pass through a tunnel under our driveway. No way. So I came to the only logical conclusion: some ne’er-do-wells living in this area were so envious of my beautiful, well-constructed, won’t-budge-in-rushing-water bridge, they came by in the middle of the night and stole it.  Probably been planning the job for weeks.

But I didn’t see any tire tracks near the creek, and frankly, anyone strong enough to just pick up the bridge and walk away with it is someone I don’t want to confront with any loose accusations about property theft.

Okay, I thought to myself, I’ll take a peek through that tunnel that goes under the driveway, but there’s no way–

Um … wow. Thing is, I wasn’t even aware of any heavy rain the night before. Certainly we didn’t have a thunderstorm. It must have just been a hard rain minus the fireworks.

For the bridge to end up that far downstream, it had to pass over this:

I won’t strain my shoulder patting myself on the back, but the bridge is solidly built. That had to be bumpy ride, with a nice little fall at the end, but there’s not a crack in it.

So then came the fun part: getting it up and out of the creek and onto dry land.

After I figure out the best way to move it back where it belongs, I’ll be chaining it to a tree.



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Lawmakers Consider Mandating Low-Fat Milk

Well, I am shocked … some politicians are considering a law to (ahem) help curb childhood obesity, but the theory behind the law isn’t backed by science. I know, I know: you can’t believe members of The Anointed would try to impose a Grand Plan without first presenting solid evidence the Grand Plan will work. Anyway, some quotes from a news article:

Milk — it does a body bad? Some Connecticut lawmakers seem to think so. The state legislature is considering a bill that would ban day care centers from serving whole milk or 2 percent milk to children. The move, according to the bill’s sponsors, is aimed at curbing childhood obesity — but opponents say the information is outdated.

I’m not sure outdated is the correct word here. If you ask me the population of the U.S. and I quote a figure from the 1990 Census, my information is outdated – it was correct at one time, but isn’t correct now because the data has changed. The idea that whole milk makes kids fat isn’t outdated.  It’s wrong.  It’s wrong now, and it was wrong when this happened:

While the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a 2008 recommendation that children switch to low-fat milk after the age of 2 because they don’t need the fat content, others argue that the fat isn’t the dietary demon some claim.

That’s we why ignored our pediatrician’s low-fat milk advice when the girls were toddlers. Kids do need the fat content. They need the fat for their rapidly-growing brains.

The Connecticut bill would set stringent standards.  It reads: “No child day care center, group day care home or family day care home shall provide milk with a milk fat content greater than 1 percent to any child 2 years of age or older under the care of such facility unless milk with a higher milk fat content is medically required for an individual child, as documented by such child’s medical provider.”

Family day care home … that means if your friends or neighbors pay you to watch their kids, the Connecticut legislators are telling you what kind of milk you can serve – in your home.   It’s not up to you, and it’s not up the parents who have entrusted their kids to you.  It’s up to some legislators to decide what’s best for those kids.  They are, after all, The Anointed.

In a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, reviewers found that high-fat dairy was associated with a lower risk of obesity.

Yup.  Here’s a link to an abstract for another study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, in which the researchers reached this conclusion:

A high intake of dairy fat was associated with a lower risk of central obesity and a low dairy fat intake was associated with a higher risk of central obesity.

That’s because dairy fat doesn’t make people fat.  I’m guessing those Connecticut legislators didn’t bother reading the research.

Stop worrying about your weight and go hit the weights

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice: BMI is a lousy method for determining who’s fat and who isn’t. Turns out it’s also lousy at predicting longevity:

Doctors routinely measure a patient’s body mass index, or BMI. And if that weight-to-height ratio points to obesity, the doc might prescribe exercise, to shed the extra pounds. But when it comes to longevity, a focus on weight loss may be misplaced. Because BMI isn’t actually a very reliable indicator of life span. A more useful measure, some physicians say, might be muscle mass.

Researchers analyzed BMI and muscle mass data from more than 3,600 seniors in a long-term study. And they tracked which seniors had died, a decade later. Turns out BMI wasn’t much good at predicting chance of death.

Quick, somebody inform the feds! Better yet, somebody inform all the insurance companies that consider BMI in their life-insurance rates.

But muscle mass was: more muscle meant better odds of survival. The study appears in The American Journal of Medicine. There’s no cause-and-effect here—just correlation for now. But study author Preethi Srikanthan, of U.C.L.A., has this recommendation: “Get up and start moving. Focus on trying to maintain the maximum amount of resistance training that you can, and stop worrying so much about dropping calories.”

Good point about the correlation. Muscle mass itself may or may not influence longevity directly. Perhaps the kind of exercise that produces more muscle mass also improves metabolic factors that lead to a longer lifespan. Either way, I’d reach the same conclusion: don’t fret so much about achieving a particular weight on the scale. Hit the weights and add some lean muscle mass.  Even if you don’t live longer, you’ll live better.

FDA considers demanding “voluntary” reductions in sodium

Well, here’s how you get people to stop eating so much packaged food – regulate the flavor out of it:

The government wants Americans to get used to eating foods with less of their favorite seasoning — salt. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning on issuing new guidelines to food companies and restaurants to decrease out-of-control sodium levels, officials said.

Now, don’t you libertarian types go get all in a tizzy. The FDA says these new guidelines will be “voluntary.” You know how government officials are always going around issuing “voluntary” regulations and then just saying “Aw, geez” and going on their merry way if the regulations are ignored.  I mean, it’s not as if The Anointed would want to force compliance.

Experts said the guidelines are a good starting point, but would not put enough pressure on eateries to limit their use of salt.

“If one company doesn’t lower it, then another one won’t,” said Lisa Young, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. “If it’s mandatory, and everyone starts lowering sodium, then we’re in good shape.”

Allow me to interpret that: Members of The Anointed agree that “voluntary” guidelines are a good starting point, as long as they’re not actually voluntary and everyone is eventually forced to comply.

Frank Sacks, a professor of nutrition and medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health, said restaurants and food companies would have to confront the issue sooner or later. “It just appalls me how much salt the chefs will just pour on the food,” said Sacks. “It’s sort of a lazy way of flavoring food. The food industry will eventually be pushed to respond.”

Allow me to interpret that: Frank Sacks, a member of The Anointed, agrees that restaurants and food companies should be forced to comply. “It just appalls me how chefs are salting food to match their customers’ preferences. The food industry should eventually be compelled to serve the low-sodium foods I believe people should eat.”

Average Americans consume an astounding 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day — about 33% more than the federal government’s recommended intake and more than 50% higher than the American Heart Association’s suggested figure. Americans eat about 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt daily, a level of consumption that increases the risk of high blood pressure and strokes.

Allow me to interpret that: We in the media are convinced that 3,400 milligrams of salt is way too much because the federal government and the American Heart Association say so – and as members of The Anointed, we don’t expect them to provide any evidence.

But wait … I seem to recall that a different branch of the government did weigh in on the salt issue awhile back. Let me see if I can dig it up … ahhh, yes, here it is:

CDC Admits Long-Standing Error in Medical Science – There Is No Benefit In Reducing Salt Intake And It May Even Be Dangerous

A recent report commissioned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed the health benefits of reducing salt intake and the take-home message is that salt, in the quantities consumed by most Americans, is no longer considered a substantial health hazard. What the CDC study reported explicitly is that there is no benefit, and may be a danger, from reducing our salt intake below 1 tsp per day.

So following the AHA’s sodium guidelines could actually be dangerous.

This review by the National Academies Institute of Medicine (IOM), commissioned by CDC, considered dozens of studies, from cross-cultural (less reliable) to prospective, randomized with control (most reliable). Most studies showed no relationship between salt intake and any health outcome. Some seemed to indicate that more salt had a beneficial effect.

Well then, let’s force the food companies to comply with “voluntary” reductions as quickly as possible.

To translate this last study into teaspoons: the finding was that anything between 1-1/2 and 3 tsp of salt per day is just fine, and there were adverse effects from eating more than that or less than that. Most Americans who are not consciously restricting salt fall in this range (1-1/2 to 3 tsp).

So the FDA is about to mandate a reduction in sodium for restaurant and packaged foods because Americans are consuming an “astounding” 1 ½ teaspoons of salt per day — which (according to the CDC) is at the lower end of the beneficial range.  In other words, the FDA wants you to reduce your sodium intake to what could be a dangerous level — for you own good, of course.

Your brain health is in your gut

As Dr. William Davis pointed out in Wheat Belly, the rate of celiac disease has increased by 400% in the past 50 years – and that figure is based on antibodies found in blood samples, so we’re not just seeing the result of better diagnosis.

The number of people diagnosed with attention-deficit problems has also taken a huge jump over the past 50 years. I suspect in that case, the rush to diagnose kids with ADHD does figure into the rise. But comprised gut health probably figures into it as well. Take a look what a study reported in this article found:

Individuals with celiac disease often experience ‘brain fog’ in addition to intestinal problems, but a new study shows that adhering to a gluten-free diet can lead to improvements in cognition that correlate with the extent of intestinal healing.

The Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics findings indicate that ridding the diet of gluten may help address problems that celiac disease patients can experience related to attention, memory, and other mental tasks.

“The study outcomes highlight the importance for individuals with celiac disease of maintaining a gluten-free diet not just for physical well-being but also for mental well-being,” said senior author Dr. Greg Yelland.

Considering that an estimated eight out of 10 people with celiac disease are never diagnosed, you have to wonder how many kids taking drugs for ADHD would be better off dumping the grains, healing their digestive tracts, then dumping the medications.

The USDA, of course, will continue mandating that kids in schools include a grain product in every meal. Then some other branch of the government will step in with a big, expensive program to help kids who have a difficult time concentrating in school.

Fruits and vegetables! Whole grains! Fruits and vegetables!

Poke a government nutritionist (or Michelle Obama) in her sleep, and she’ll blurt out, “Fruits and vegetables! Whole grains! Fruits and vegetables!” Because by gosh, if we could just get people to buy and eat those fruits and vegetables, the obesity epidemic would be solved.

Uh … but not according to a new study:

It is a commonly recommended weight-loss tactic to increase the feeling of being full by consuming more fruits and vegetables, but that may be another diet recommendation dead-end, according to a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Of course it’s a dead-end recommendation. That’s why it’s also government policy.

Kathryn Kaiser, Ph.D., instructor in the UAB School of Public Health, and a team of investigators at UAB, including Andrew W. Brown, Ph.D., Michelle M. Bohan Brown, Ph.D., James M. Shikany, Dr.PH., and David B. Allison, Ph.D., and Purdue University investigators performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of data of more than 1200 participants in seven randomized controlled trials that focused on increasing fruit and vegetable intake to see effects on weight loss. Their results show that increased fruit and vegetable consumption per se does not reduce body weight.

“Across the board, all studies we reviewed showed a near-zero effect on weight loss,” Kaiser said. “So I don’t think eating more alone is necessarily an effective approach for weight loss because just adding them on top of whatever foods a person may be eating is not likely to cause weight change.”

Fruits and vegetables! Whole grains! Fruits and vegetables!

Sorry, was I asleep? Yes, and I was dreaming I was a government nutritionist. What a horrible nightmare.

“There are many studies where people are spending a lot of money figuring out how to increase fruit and vegetable intake, and there are a lot of healthy things that this helps; but weight loss isn’t one of them,” Kaiser said. Because this recommendation is so widely shared, Kaiser believes these results should bring change to public health messaging.


Dr. Kaiser, if you believe evidence (or a lack thereof) is going to bring change to public-health messaging, you’re the one who’s dreaming. Have you noticed the USDA still mandates skim milk in schools? Did you hear about how the FDA is demanding a lower sodium content in packaged food, even though a CDC study says Americans are actually consuming a beneficial amount of salt?

GMO labels not necessary

Farms groups and mutant creatures agree that GMO labels won’t make a difference, according to an article online:

The public’s unfounded safety concerns over genetically engineered foods might result in higher costs in the grocery store, as well as a potentially catastrophic battle between the forces of good and evil.

A powerful grass-roots movement is fueling legislation that could soon require companies to disclose on food labels if products contain GMOs, or Gigantic Mothra-like Organisms.

The food industry is pouring millions of dollars into lobbying efforts to defeat GMO food labeling bills. Educating a misinformed public about the benefits of genetically engineered products has become the voluntary responsibility of farmers, scientists, and those people who have gained preternatural powers through freakish accidents.

Okay, that last article was on my buddy Dave Jaffe’s Write Good! humor blog, so it was probably a joke. But with all the government (ahem) experts out there setting health and nutrition policies, it’s hard to tell comedy from reality.


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The goats did such a bangup job of chewing away the miniature jungle in their pen, we decided it was time to let them attack some of our overgrown side fields.  We’d planned to use cattle panels for temporary fencing, but based on some feedback from readers, we decided an electrified fence would be a better (though considerably more expensive) option.  If nothing else, we can use it to expand the chicken yards once the goats are gone.

The fencing is light and flexible.  The only problem with stringing 200 feet of the stuff around part of a field is that we live in Tennessee – whose theme song is Rocky Top for good reason.  To anchor the fence posts, you stomp a two-pronged stake into the ground.  I don’t think a single prong went into the ground on one attempt.  We’d try one spot, hit a rock, try another spot, hit a rock, finally hit paydirt.  So let’s just say the corral looks like it was installed by someone who prefers angles over straight lines.

The electricity is provided by a solar-powered unit that sends a 4,000-volt pulse through the fence about every second or so – frequently enough to keep the goats in and predators out.

The fun part (for me, because I was standing there taking pictures) was watching Chareva and Sara chase the goats around their pen to catch them and put on harnesses.  Man, those goats can move when they’re motivated.  But they got the job done, and Sara walked them (well, dragged them) into the new corral.

Both goats tried nuzzling the fence a few times, and both jerked back with a WTF?!! expression — if goats have expressions.  Anyway, they learned quickly that getting too close to the fence is a bad idea.  So now they’re out there chewing up the weeds and, I presume, fertilizing the ground.


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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.


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