Tonight I served my five-year-old a big bowl of rat chow for dinner, then asked her to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which she (supposedly) learned in school yesterday. She couldn’t do it. This was annoying, because she recited the whole thing last night.
So I fed her some fish food. That didn’t work either. I tried dried cat food. No better. Rabbit chow. Nada.
I was experimenting because I’d seen several articles on … what’s that called? … the spider web … no… the tennis net … volleyball net … ah, the internet! There were all these articles about how a high-fat diet can adversely affect your mammary. No wait, that’s not it … your mummery. Hang on, it’ll come to me … nope, I’ll have to look it up again.
Got it. There were these articles about how a high-fat can adversely affect your memory. I found this disturbing because as a performer, I have to memorize a lot of material. When I act in plays, I memorize every line in my scenes – mine and everyone else’s. That way I know if another actor forgot a line and I can cover.
(Once, in a bad production of “A Shot in the Dark,” I spent more time covering than I did saying actual lines from the script. Strange, because the actor who forgot half his dialog was a vegetarian.)
When I perform on cruise ships, I do two different half-hour standup shows … alone, with no teleprompter and no one to cover for me. So I take memory seriously. I also eat a lot of fat, and my memory is just fine. I still remember the phone number my parents had when I was a kid in Iowa. My dad used to call me “Total Recall.” So when I saw the headlines, I smelled a rat.
Yup, it was a rat, all right. For this study, researchers fed some rats a low-fat diet (7.5%) then tested their physical endurance and memory by having them run on a treadmill and find their way through a maze. Later, they fed the rats a high-fat diet (55%) and repeated the tests. Wouldn’t you know it, the rats didn’t do so well on a high-fat diet.
Let’s set aside the possibility that after eating all that fat, the rats became much more intelligent and thought to themselves, “Running a maze is stupid. I’m going to just sit here until that dumb @#$%ing researcher gets tired of writing on his pad and gets me out of here. I haven’t finished reading the sports section on that newspaper lining the bottom of my cage.”
The point is, a high-fat diet isn’t natural for rats. I looked it up, and rats are listed as omnivores who will eat pretty much whatever is available, but prefer cereal grains. (They probably like looking at that American Heart Association seal of approval on the box.) When you feed an animal – or a human – an unnatural diet, you’re going to get negative results.
The Lipid Hypothesis became accepted partly because when researchers fed rabbits lard and cholesterol, the rabbits rapidly developed heart disease. Well, go figure … rabbits rarely attack pigs and eat them. When other researchers tried the same experiment on dogs, they couldn’t induce heart disease, no matter how much lard they fed them. So they concluded that dogs don’t get heart disease. But they do – if you feed them grains.
If rats eat a lot of fat and then become lethargic and stupid, that says nothing about how a high-fat diet affects humans. We’ve been eating fatty diets for hundreds of thousands of years. We didn’t become fat until we started eating grains. (And we didn’t become stupid until we started feeding fat to rats and thinking the results mean anything.)
In another rat study that hit the news this week, researchers suggested that high-fat, high-protein diet leads to insulin resistance. Once again, we’re looking at animals that aren’t eating anything close to their natural diet. If a high-fat, high-protein diet had the same effect on humans, the Inuits and the buffalo-hunting tribes should’ve been plagued by diabetes. They weren’t. But after Native Americans were herded onto reservations and forced to live on flour and sugar, they became one of the most diabetic populations on the planet – more than 50% in some tribes.
Studies on actual humans don’t show these results. In fact, they show exactly the opposite. In one recent study, Alzheimer’s patients showed improvements in memory when they were given ketones. The natural way to produce ketones, of course, is to eat a high-fat diet and skip the carbs.
In another recent study, subjects who ate a Paleolithic diet – which means low-carb, consisting mostly of meats, nuts, vegetables and some fruits – showed a significant drop in insulin levels. That hardly sounds like the path to insulin resistance. Other studies have also shown dramatic improvements in diabetes symptoms when subjects went on a low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet.
If you’ve seen these headlines, please, don’t worry. You’re not a rat. You won’t develop diabetes and forget where you parked your car unless you eat rat chow.
By the way, my daughter loves eggs, cream, meat, nuts, butter and cheese. When we had lamb steaks last night, she begged – as usual – for some extra fat from my steak. (She got it.) Since she would just now be in kindergarten if she’d started school in Tennessee, her first-grade teacher had her come in for a reading test before the semester began. Afterwards, the teacher told my wife, “Your daughter blew me away. I can’t believe how many words she recognizes already.”
I’d say her memory is just fine, too. And she actually knows the Pledge of Allegiance word-for-word.