Investigative journalist Nina Teicholz takes on 50+ years of demonizing fat. She takes us back to the origins of how fat earned it’s bad reputation, and how this misguided information was perpetuated by the scientific community and public policy.
Like many books out there discussing “the myth of low fat being healthier,” Nina traces it back to the 50’s when the country was searching for something to blame for our late President, Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attacks. For those that are unfamiliar, President Eisenhower began having publicly known heart attacks in 1955. The public was concerned for their President, a war hero, and the business community was concerned about the 6% fall in the stock market after the news of their President’s condition spread. With a concerned public and the media's focus on his health as well as the declining economy (due to the uncertainty of the country’s leadership), scientists and doctors alike were scrambling to find the cause of his heart attacks. The now infamous Dr. Ancel Keys compiled a scientific study called, “The Seven Countries Study” in which he claimed to have found support that saturated fat has a strong correlation to heart disease.
The Seven Countries Study examined seven countries where the population consumed high levels of fat in their diets and had a substantial prevalence of heart disease. Essentially, Dr. Keys “cherry-picked” his population to serve his purpose of validating his hypothesis. He chose to exclude countries like Holland and Norway that have populations that consume a substantial amount of fat yet have low rates of heart disease. And in a study that included 7 European nations, it was surprising, to say the least, that both France and (West) Germany were left out. Coincidentally, both countries eat a high fat diet with a low prevalence of heart disease in their people. Regardless of his biased and unscientific methods, Dr. Keys published his study claiming that fat was to blame. Shortly after, the low fat craze followed.
Dietary guidelines were created around this study promoting a low fat diet. With the USDA and the American Heart Association now behind the low fat dietary standards, food in the grocery stores started to change. Butter was being replaced with margarine and lard with Crisco/vegetable oil. Marketing took over and ads began to persuade the American consumer to buy and eat low fat. Meanwhile, the President was prescribed a low fat diet and he continued to have heart attacks. The author, Nina Teicholz continues to point out the hypocrisy of the recommendations implemented based not only on an observational study, but also on a very poorly designed scientific study. And then comes the fallout from this study.
The rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes do not go down. In fact the author points out that they do quite the opposite. How could this be happening when the medical and dietary recommendations for treating these diseases involves switching to a low fat diet? The author questions how doctors, scientists, and agriculture can continue playing its part in the furthering of disease by promoting guidelines that do nothing to curb them. The author is more than willing to give you the research and pose the questions, but she lets the reader make up their own mind.
Overall this is a very thorough book discussing the history of our transition from a moderate-high fat diet with animal based fats to a low fat one, and its negative effects on the population. Nina provides explanations, citations, and support of her views (many of which are coming from unbiased peer reviewed research).
If you have the chance to pick up her book, The Big Fat Surprise, you will not be disappointed. You may not agree with everything she says, but it is very well written and at the very least gives you methodical insight into the high fat community and an introduction to the peer reviewed science that supports it.
And to learn more about why "fat" does not make you "fat", read our blog post.