Could a single man, Ancel Benjamin Keys, indirectly be responsible for more mayhem than any other figure from the 20th century?
Keys’ so-called “diet-heart hypothesis” convinced a generation to eschew eating fat and turn instead to sugar, carbohydrate and processed vegetable oils for nutrition. It may turn out to be one of the most deadly ideas of modern civilization.
These and other troubling thoughts can’t help but bubble to mind as you read Nina Teicholz’s dazzling new nutritional thriller: The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet
After spending 10 years doing a “deep dive” into the history of nutrition science, Teicholz, a widely respected journalist who has written for The New Yorker, The Economist, The New York Times and The Washington Post, came to conclusions that are startlingly similar to the ones Gary Taubes reached in his 2008 opus, Good Calories Bad Calories — also a product of 10 years of independent journalist investigation.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan both of Taubes and his work. Reading Good Calories Bad Calories prompted me to overhaul my own diet, radically, and to take to the web advocating for his ideas here at Caloriegate and at www.why-low-carb-diets-work.com. I’ve read both of Taubes’ nutrition books twice as well as many other books on the topic.
Nevertheless, Teicholz’s book was full of surprises and (to me) startlingly new information. We’ll get to the juicy details in a second! But first, the overview:
The gist of both books is that, in the middle of the 20th century, thanks to Keys and several other pigheaded, scientifically daft researchers, we began to fear dietary fat as an agent of heart disease and other ills. So we revised our diet to be “healthier” and wound up, ironically, suffering through profound epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases as a result.
Teicholz’s lucid, powerful summary of this disaster, The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease, was the #1 most read editorial in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal. Her piece prompted conservative pundit, Rush Limbaugh, to do a lengthy expose on his talk show about the low fat diet myth.
I hesitate to be optimistic, but we may be witnessing a wave of mainstream support for Teicholz and Taubes’ signature ideas about nutrition and health.
In addition to Limbaugh’s harangue against Keys and the low fat diet, Dr. Oz — arguably the most influential doctor on TV — recently admitted that he was “wrong” about saturated fat being dangerous. Guest appearances by Dr. Peter Attia and Dr. David Perlmutter on Oz’s show also attest to Oz’s change of heart.
Meanwhile, documentarian Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize Me fame) recently admitted: “I am not eating carbohydrates, no bread, no pasta, no sugar. I feel better than I ever have.”
Katie Couric’s new documentary, Fed Up, which opens this weekend, also calls B.S. on the low fat high sugar diet and questions the idea that all calories are equal.
And a massive meta-analysis of 72 studies published in February in the Annals of Internal Medicine ,which exonerated saturated fat in no uncertain terms, is just the latest in a growing fusillade of attacks on the conventional “eat less fat and more carbs” nonsense.
We’ve still got a long road ahead, though, and many misconceptions persist. That’s one of the reasons Teicholz’s book is so important.
Interview with Jeremiah Stamler
Stamler was a colleague and contemporary of Keys, and he and Keys advocated aggressively for the diet-heart hypothesis. Stamler led the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT), a $115 million dollar experiment carried out from 1973-1982. It was a catastrophic failure for the diet-heart hypothesis, as Teicholz describes, yet its failure changed nothing about how the nutrition establishment operated.
In an interview with Stamler, she pointed out the following paradox: a 1997 follow up to MRFIT found that the treatment group had higher rates of lung cancer than the control group did, despite the fact that 21% of the treatment group had quit smoking compared with 6% of the control group. Stamler responded: “I don’t know! That could be a chance find… it’s just one of those findings. Troublesome. Unexpected. Not explained. Not rationalized!”
Slaying Dean Ornish’s Cherished Study Claiming That His Diet “Reversed” Heart Disease
Teicholz also interviewed Dean Ornish, the most celebrated modern advocate of low fat diets, and analyzed the study that made him a nutritional star. A 1998 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) helped make Ornish a household name. But this study was PLENTY flawed and got outsized pressed.
Teicholz writes: “Curious about the findings, I called Key Lance Gould, director of cardiology at the University of Texas, who helped Ornish launch his research career and was a co-author with Ornish on the JAMA papers…. On the phone, I could almost hear Gould’s incredulity over how Ornish promoted their study results. ‘Most people do a study and get one paper. Dean does one study and gets a bunch of papers. There’s a certain skill in marketing a small little piece of data. He’s really a genius at PR.'”
Fascinating Critical Reappraisal of Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet
We all “know” olive oil is one of the healthiest substances known to humanity. Right? Well, how did these beliefs develop, and is there good science to back them up? Teicholz’s explosive expose on the origins of the Mediterranean Diet and our (modern) fetishization for olive oil will blow your mind.
Here’s a nice gem: “…when [famous Harvard University nutrition professor] Walter Willett unveiled the Mediterranean pyramid in 1993, no controlled clinical trials of the diet had ever been done.”
The Scary Rise of Soybean Oil
Teicholz recounts the bizarre story of multimillionare, Philip Sokolof, who bought a full page ad in the New York Times in 1988 trumpeting “THE POISONING OF AMERICA” by saturated fats.
She also reveals a deeply disturbing graph published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing how soybean oil consumption has skyrocketed. “Americans now eat over 1,000 times more soybean oil than they did in 1909, the biggest change in the American diet.”
I could go on and on. The book is a brilliant whodunnit, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Stop. Do not pass go: get your copy NOW: The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet