Finally – A mainstream book praising all the best fats, the saturated ones like tallow, lard, butter and coconut oil.
Written by investigative reporter Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in A Healthy Diet traces the implementation of low-fat nutrition advice into every facet of American food, from the factory floors to the supermarket shelves, and proves why such modern adaptations of human nutrition are wrong in the face of ancestral wisdom.
Nina Teicholz has written for Gourmet magazine, The New Yorker, The Economist, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Her journalistic chops shine in the pages of Big Fat Surprise, as she deftly navigates the channels of food policy jargon and scientific data while still maintaining her narrative voice.
The Big Fat Surprise is a fascinating read, and in it Teicholz pledges first and foremost to uphold solid science: “While good science should be ruled by skepticism and self-doubt, the field of nutrition has instead been shaped by passions verging on zealotry. And the whole system by which ideas are canonized as fact seems to have failed us.”
Impeccably researched and expertly written, the prose glides while the citations are more than 100 pages in length. Through nearly a decade of research for the book, Teicholz consulted experts in the fields of research and epidemiology, clinicians and physicians, politicians and journalists, authors and food industry leaders. The Big Fat Surprise is a cross between a Who’s Who of the food policy world and Edward Gibbon’s extensive work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: it offers a complete record of the nutrition paradigm shift, from the birth of the diet-heart hypothesis, to the fabrication of the Mediterranean Diet, to the study of the Atkins Diet in action. Teicholz leaves no stone unturned, and in her digging unearths many hidden truths about conventional nutritional wisdom that have somehow never reached the mainstream.
While the book focuses on the adoption of low-fat diet dogma in mainstream nutrition science, the back channels of politics, agriculture and industry are not untouched. Teicholz draws connections between them and emphasizes how quickly traditional nutritional wisdom, passed down through the generations, was rapidly traded for crop subsidies and career-boosting committee hearings. (See the section on Senator McGovern and the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs.)
Eventually, The Big Fat Surprise arrives at present day and aligns with the studies promoting high-fat, low-carbohydrate nutrition plans. Teicholz cites Gary Taubes’ landmark work Good Calories, Bad Calories, and inserts scientific data to support a high-fat, ancestral diet approach over the standard low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet promoted by the American Heart Association, among others, for decades.
The end of The Big Fat Surprise concludes that, for better or for worse, Americans’ health has been at the mercy of policymakers. But now, instead of the accepting more dogma, the tide has turned – it’s time to take personal responsibility of personal health, starting with what we put on our dinner tables.
“If, in recommending that Americans avoid meat, cheese, milk, cream, butter, eggs, and the rest, it turns out that nutrition experts made a mistake, it will have been a monumental one. Measured just by death and disease, and not including the millions of lives derailed by excess weight and obesity, it’s very possible that the course of nutrition advices over the past sixty years has taken and unparalleled toll on human history. It now appears that since 1961, the entire American population has, indeed, been subjected to a mass experiment, and the results have clearly been a failure. Every reliable indicator of good health is worsened by a low-fat diet. Whereas diets high in fat have been shown, again and again, in a large body of clinical trials, to lead to improved measures for heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes, and are better for weight loss. Moreover, it’s clear that the original case against saturated fats was based on faulty evidence and has, over the last decade, fallen apart. Despite more than two billion dollars in public money spent trying to prove that lowering saturated fat will prevent heart attacks, the diet-heart hypothesis has not held up.
“In the end, what we believe to be true – our conventional wisdom – is really nothing more than sixty years of misconceived nutrition research. Before 1961, there were our ancestors, with their recipes. And before them, there were their ancestors, with their hunting bows or traps or livestock – but like lost languages, lost skills, and lost songs, it takes only a few generations to forget.”
For more information about The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in A Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz, check out thebigfatsurprise.com.