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A decade ago, investigative journalist Nina Teicholz set out to uncover the truth about our country’s misguided conception that eating delicious butter, beef, and cheese would make us fat and give us heart attacks.
What she found was a shocking trail of incomplete scientific data, one man’s maniacal mission to squelch conflicting information, and an authoritative body on nutrition taking handouts from Big Food, Inc.
In this incredibly open, honest interview, Nina touches on a little bit of what’s covered extensively in her new book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.” Prepare to be shocked with:
- The American Heart Association’s affiliation with Proctor & Gamble.
- How one man bullied his anti-fat agenda into the hearts and bodies of the American people, and why the community of nutrition experts was afraid to speak out.
- What should be on your dinner plate? (Bacon? Please say bacon.)
- Nina’s advice to women about how to fight the saturated fat phobia.
In this podcast, you can find out about the bacon… and all of the secret history explaining why we think that eating fat makes us fat. You’ll be relieved to know that the foods that should be on your dinner plate are way more delicious than a frozen, low-fat, weight-control dinner. Trust me, I know.
We hear a lot of conflicting information about fat, but what’s the real story?
I was a low-fat vegetarian. As an investigative journalist, I was sent on an assignment to write a restaurant review column. There was no food stipend, and the chef’s didn’t want to send out grilled chicken and sautéed vegetables. The chefs wanted to send out red meat, cream, sauce, and pate. This was my introduction to this way of eating.
All of a sudden, I lost the stubborn 10 pounds I’d been struggling with and my cholesterol markers looked great!
I wanted to try to understand the history of why we believe what we do about saturated fat—and those efforts culminated in “The Big Fat Surprise.”
1950’s: The nation panicked over the epidemic of heart disease—it was the #1 killer. A scientist name Ancel Keys proposed that saturated fats were the dietary culprit. He was a charismatic, forceful man who got his hypothesis into the American Diabetes Association.
There were NO SCIENTIFIC TRIALS to back his hypothesis.
- He deliberately avoided countries like France, where they consume a diet rich in saturated fats but enjoy very low rates of heart disease.
- PLUS, he went to Crete during lent—when they were abstaining from meats and rich foods!
- There were no clinical studies to follow up his studies.
His theory was based on epidemiological studies in seven countries that were cherry-picked to support his hypothesis.
After 50 years of following recommended low-fat diet guidelines, we are sicker than ever with a skyrocketing heart attack rate. What they’ve been telling us is wrong. We subsequently have clinical trials proving that Ancel Keys’ hypothesis is not supported.
Unfortunately, as a culture, our ingrained ideas are more from advertising than science.
Suddenly, we were told to eat unsaturated fats like vegetable and grain oils instead of saturated fats like butter and lard. Why?
1948: $1.7 million went into the coffer of the American Heart Association from Proctor & Gamble. The edible-oil producing company sponsored the AHA’s radio show and continues to back this authoritative body—which continues to recommend vegetable oils over butter and lard.
Big Food has been very wise about steering the conversation about nutrition in this country. In fact, one VP of a big edible-oil company was quoted as saying, “If you pay $25,000 for a University study, you can ensure it will say what you want.”
While you can’t totally rig a study, you can sway it so you don’t look so bad, or so that your product looks more favorable than it should.
Why was the American public so easily steered into believing that just-invented foods like soy milk and soy hamburgers would restore our health?
We had just landed on the moon. The science mindset was prevalent as we reevaluated what it meant to be a human being. All of these new things were “invented,” so they must be good. Faith in scientific invention left Americans open to these ideas.
Women’s magazines told housewives to ditch the “old way” of doing things, to put away lard and butter with the spinning wheel and grab a can of Crisco made by scientists in a sparkling factory instead! As a nation of immigrants removed from our traditions, we were quick to leave our heritage behind.
The reality is that fats have been prized over time, and many scientists have proven over and over again that diets higher in fat are beneficial to health.
- The Inuit consumed a diet comprised of 70% – 80% saturated fat, and they had no diabetes or heart disease.
- According to George Mann’s research, the African Massai consumed a diet of primarily blood, meat, and fat. The electrocardiographs of 400 Massai men revealed almost no traces of heart attack.
The nutritional expert community became so closed to any ideas other than the idea that fat and saturated fat were bad for you, that the idea became enshrined as dogma so early on that any opposing idea was shunned.
Ancel Keys would literally call people names in print when they disagreed with his theory, so much so that nutrition became a blood sport. Scientists with opposing viewpoints lost their research grants and were shut down and discredited. He would smear their names so they couldn’t work in their field.
By the 1980’s, critics of Ancel’s anti-fat theory ceased because to criticize was professional suicide. Honest, open debate was silenced. George Mann, who studied the Massai, was a critic and it cost him his research grant.
So, what did we eat before the 1940’s? There’s a common misconception that we were primarily a plant-eating people. This theory was based on really bad data. In fact, we ate:
- 3 – 4 times more red meat
- 3 – 4 times more butter
- 5 – 6 times more lard
Vegetables were considered so nutritionally poor that they were not worth growing—they were a luxury. Before we could import kiwi and avocado, where were we getting our fruits and vegetables? Unless you were living in a tropical climate, fruit and vegetable consumption was season and sparse.
“Historical facts move you to rethink this idea that returning to a plant-based diet is a good idea.”
What role do vegetables and greens play in a healthy diet? Once we decided to cut meat, cheese, butter, dairy, and eggs out of our diet, that created a vacuum, a big empty space on the plate of the American diet that had to be filled with something. That’s where the drive to eat more fruits and veggies came from.
Saying that a vegetarian diet is off-based is one thing, and it’s another to say that vegetables aren’t part of a healthy diet. In fact, there are people who are incredible endurance athletes who are on a plant-based diet.
From the scientific perspective, the reason diets of all different kinds work for people is: Most diets say to cut out sweets and desserts. Just by cutting out sugar, high fructose corn syrup, flour—just by getting rid of those things, everybody can lose weight, look better, and feel better. This is the basic starting point of why diets work.
Bodies of large rigorous clinical trials show that a high fat (50%+) diet is better than low fat in terms of markers like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. You can lose more weight on this kind of diet and lower those markers.
Yes, you should eat fruits and vegetables, but you have to be mindful about how many carbs they are adding! Some fruits are high in sugar, and some starchy vegetables are high in carbohydrates.
If you are a naturally lean person, you can do a lot more with your diet—you have a lot more leeway. But if you’re obese, or someone fighting diabetes or heart disease, you are more sensitive to carbohydrates so you have to be careful about them in your diet.
The science has been reevaluated: Saturated fats were unfairly accused of causing heart disease. They do not cause heart disease.
The foods that we’ve been avoiding are nutritionally dense, depleting us of: folate, selenium, zinc, iron, vitamins A, D, E, K and fat-soluble vitamins. Evidence supports the benefit of bringing these foods back into our diet.
Part of the problem is the word “fat.” We use it for so many bad things. What we don’t often realize is that sugar is stored as fat, but dietary fat is used as energy.
Nina, what are you eating? Eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese, nuts, leftovers, hamburgers, stews with bone broth, vegetables, chicken, fish. Generally speaking, no pasta or breads around the house.
It’s harder for women to eat more fat because there’s a phobia about it.
What would you say to women who want to change to a high-fat diet? It’s so delicious and you’re not hungry!
Many women have succumbed to the constant obsession with calorie-counting. Here’s the paradox: “The more you shift to protein and fat, the less craving you have for other foods!” For women, it’s such an ugly handmaiden to be worried about food all the time. It’s wonderful to be free of that.
To lose weight on a low-fat diet, a woman has to consume less than 900 calories per day. That’s deprivation. To have the government saying, “Here’s our solution for you: Starvation,” that’s no acceptable.
What are you up to and where can we find you?
Promoting the new book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.”
You can check me out on my web site, www.thebigfatsurprise.com.
I’m also looking for someone to found the Parents for Whole Milk Movement. It’s such a tragedy that we are depriving our children of whole milk, instead option for 2% and making that the standard in our schools. It’s time to generate a change in nutrition policy, and that could come from this kind of movement. Anyone out there interested?
The key is simplicity: The answers aren’t found in fads… and don’t be afraid to make a change.
Awesome. Now I can eat what we are designed to eat – like our prehistoric ancestors. I have always wanted to eat thick slabs of bacon (from grass fed pigs) and slather on the butter (from pasture raised, grass fed cows), and thick, well marbled steaks from grass fed, pastured cows.
Only problem for me is, where do I (and everyone in my extended family and the world at large) find grass fed pigs, pastured raised grass fed beef and milk ? Is there enough of this stuff to go around for everyone, now that we have cut down most of the trees and forest land there were in our prehistoric ancestors’ times?
Until everyone in the world should starts a movement to abandon industrialized farming and go pastured, grass fed, I guess these things will only be within the reach of people with money.
So how do I get the money to feed on this stuff? I know, I know, I will become an “expert” and start a podcast and sell stuff on my website. That way I can afford grass fed beef and pure, grass fed butter.
Ok, done. I will start my podcast, heavily market myself as an expert, sell books, sell stuff online etc etc and THEN I can eat what our prehistoric ancestors ate. Large amounts of grass fed meat, butter, cheese etc etc. But would I also need to change my lifestyle and burn the same amount of calories that my prehistoric ancestors burned while hunting-gathering, foraging and moving around protecting myself and my family—–perhaps 6000-10000 calories a day burned each day? Or would it be OK if I continued to watch Netflix on my iPhone 6 while eating slabs of butter and thick juicy steaks?
Got it. Moderation. Moderation. Moderate amounts of butter, moderate amounts of good quality meat. LOTS of veggies. Moderate to good amount of exercise……..
We don’t live in ideal world. Ppl who have problem with weight can lose weight (and thus improve their health and quality of life dramatically) with regular meat/lard/butter.
Please look for video “Lard Makes You Lean” by Bob Briggs. He touches on this topic quite nicely.
I 100% agree that fat is healthy and necessary to our diets, and I myself eat a lot of eggs, grass-fed meat, full-fat dairy, beef fat for cooking, coconut oil, etc. However, I still find some of this guest’s arguments a bit strange.
For example, she says that Ancel Keys selectively left out examples counter to his theory, such as the high-fat diet of the French. But doesn’t the French diet – which also includes plenty of bread, for everyone, and also lots of pastries for wealthier people – also go against the guest’s own strict low-carb diet? Most French people have some bread and coffee for breakfast, not a cheese and sausage omelette.
Also, I would like to see better evidence for her assertion that our ancestors used to not eat that many vegetables. Even in New England, root vegetables are available in the winter, and pickled and preserved vegetables and fruits are available year-round, as well. And don’t forget that meat isn’t necessarily a year-round food either. I have a feeling that our ancestors were just fasting a lot more than we do, rather than having meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day as the guest suggests.
Totally agree with you Laura.
Also, the way of eating that the guest advocates is unsustainable for humanity as a whole and our planet as a whole unless we wipe out a large chunk of the world’s population. or unless we make meat from stem cells.
What about looking at the 5:2 diet with intermittant fasting for longevity ?
Banana Head says
What if we stop the orthorexia and eat when we’re hungry and use only foods that are directly found in nature?
I thought the podcast was good and interesting. Abel’s podcast is the only one I regularly listen to on anything, so he must be getting something right. Keep up the good work Abel.
Banana Head says
“I thought the podcast was good and interesting. Abel’s podcast is the only one I regularly listen to on anything, so he must be getting something right.”
So, it’s only your opinion that matters? He must be doing something right, simply because you listen to him. I sure that means the world to him.
Abel seems a pretty open-minded guy. If you change your mind, I am sure he would be glad to have you as a follower. Good luck in the future on your quest.
There a lot of people posting whining comments here. What they don’t understand is the difference between “playaz” and “chumps”.
Only chumps do a 9-5 job and live paycheck to paycheck. “Playaz” on the other hand, are better than that.
Let us hear the stories of some “playaz” in their own words. These playaz all have one thing in common. They are so incredibly smart that they were able learn secrets that no chump could learn, and that too in less than a year and without much effort.
1. Bale Sajem – I graduated from college at 22. However, I was not fresh and green and inexperienced like other 22 year old graduates. I was a prodigy right after college and I was so smart that fortune 500 companies hired me, right out of college at age 22 to advise them of what strategies they should adopt to run their billion dollar businesses. By the time I was 25, I was already bored of all this and I was not using my awesome smartness and intelligence to its full extent. At age 26, I was enlightened with the answer that nobody else has. And it did not take 8 years of medical schooling or any sort of training for me either. 30 days of meditation, and I was and expert and was ready to tell the world how they should eat butter and meat.
2. Vidad Yes-rap – I realized early on that working a regular job was for chumps. After all, I am a “playa”. I cooked up a story of yak herding salt traders high up in the himalayas and the high fat, high calorie butter tea they drink several times a day. While it is true that the yak herders drink several cups of this fatty tea up in the mountains, I decided to conveniently not mention the fact that their staple food is “tsampa”, a porridge made out of roasted barley or wheat (uuuh carbs!) several times a day to sustain themselves in addition to the yak meat, dried cheese, “momos” or meat dumplings with flour, and flatbread and fried breads they eat. I also decided to conveniently not mention the fact that this high fat high calorie tea is essential for them beacuse they work outdoors all day in the harsh cold and burn 5000-10000 calories a day! After all, that would completely spoil the narrative of the story I was trying to cook up. I also cooked up a story of how coffee everywhere else in the world is moldy and I, and only I have found a little village up in the mountains that will supply a mold free coffee. And voila! my podcast and my money making machine was born. And I, the playa, was getting paid by the rest of the world, the “chumps”.
2. Dumpre Joisha – For me, it was clear that I had to get titles and degrees to be successful. I just did not want to work to get those titles and degrees. I figured out a way to watch taiChi videos and enroll in 45 credit online schools for $500 and get a “Dr.” degree and a “monk” designation, and the new “me” was born . My website and my podcast were born. I was not going to bust my butt all day in an office like the chumps out there. Are you kiddin’ me? I am a playa!
I liked very much your podcast and the discussion.
For that sole reason I began to check more about Nina’s work in the net.
I must say that Nina is a very active researcher and writer, and I could find in few minutes more than 10 pieces written by her for different pages and newspapers.
At the same time I have found several pages with analyses/ rants on her new book. According to some sites, Nina’s arguments are extremely biased and it seems that she purposefuly missinterpreted many of the studies she is refering to in her pieces. Now I am extremely confused on what to believe, better said: on how much to believe Nina’s words.
In no way I put into question the benefits of having a low carb, high fat diet, but the information I have found in the net leaves Nina’s work in very questionable shape.
Please keep up with the great podcast and keep inviting many other experts so that we can have a larger number of points of view on the topic.
Now a more personal request: When was the last time you had a blood test? Are there any changes in your cholesterol values through the years? This kind of information would be highly valuable for new guys like me who want to try this type of diet.
I personally will do some blood tests in regular intervals to see and understand the effects of this diet on my body.