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The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

by Nina Teicholz

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3531160,361 (4.34)15
Investigative journalist Nina Teicholz reveals here that everything we thought we knew about dietary fat is wrong. She documents how the low-fat nutrition advice of the past sixty years has amounted to a vast uncontrolled experiment on the entire population, with disastrous consequences for our health. For decades, we have been told that the best possible diet involves cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, and that if we are not getting healthier or thinner, we are not trying hard enough. But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? Based on a nine-year investigation, Teicholz shows how the misinformation about saturated fats took hold in the scientific community and the public imagination, and how recent findings have overturned these beliefs. She explains why the Mediterranean Diet is not the healthiest, and how we might be replacing trans fats with something even worse. She upends the conventional wisdom with the groundbreaking claim that more, not less, dietary fat--including saturated fat--is what leads to better health and wellness. Science shows that we have been needlessly avoiding meat, cheese, whole milk, and eggs for decades and that we can now, guilt-free, welcome these delicious foods back into our lives.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 00
    Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon (SnootyBaronet)
  2. 00
    Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes (melmore)
    melmore: Both books explore the same thesis, that mainstream dietary science has been hijacked by researchers with an agenda (low-fat, high-carb diets), and the results have been disastrous for Western society. Both works are painstakingly researched and show in great detail the ways in which scientific consensus can develop despite, rather than because of, empirical research.… (more)
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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
health, diet
  akmck | Mar 31, 2022 |
The Big Fat Surprise is revelatory. I consider this essential reading for anyone interested in health and modern diet. It offers a powerful challenge to the governing paradigm that a low fat-high carb diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is the healthiest way to eat.

The goal of this book is to look closely at the history of the science behind that low fat-high carb diet and determine if the data actually supports it. Especially impressive is the fact that Ms. Teicholz doesn't simply rely on summaries and abstracts of the numerous studies conducted on this subject over the years—she read all of the original research, the complete published papers, and dug through the full data sets. I know some readers of this book will disagree with me, but I found her analysis of this science to be fair and even-handed. She didn't embark on this project with any agenda other than to discover the truth.

The big fat surprise is simply this—there has never been any compelling scientific evidence to suggest that animal fat leads to heart disease. Beyond that, Ms. Teicholz explores in more detail how certain individuals, private interests, and governmental inertia coincided to sell the American people—and the Western world—on a dietary strategy that clearly isn't working.

This isn't a story with any bad guys. I appreciate that Ms. Teicholz goes to some pains to emphasize that each step in this history was taken with the best of intentions in the quest to fight heart disease and to help people be healthier.

Rather, this is a story about the failure of science. The self-criticism and self-correction that the scientific method depends on broke down in the face of strong personalities and a sense of overwhelming urgency.

It's to be expected that this book has already generated controversy. After all, the low fat-high carb diet has been prescribed as the key to fighting heart disease for nigh on half a century now.

One of the major criticisms of The Big Fat Surprise that I've encountered is that it's just another version of the Atkins Diet. It should be made clear—this is not a diet book. It offers no specific prescriptions about how people should eat, and it contains no hard-and-fast rules or recipes. Ms. Teicholz does offer some very compelling evidence that an Atkins-type diet works, and that carbs appear more closely connected to health issues than fat, but that's as much as can be fairly laid at her feet. People who dismiss this book as "just another Atkins book" clearly miss the point.

One criticism of Ms. Teicholz's work that seems to bear weight is that it largely restates analysis and arguments made by Gary Taubes in the 1990s and early 2000s. This is unfair, though—Ms. Teicholz may have been inspired by Mr. Taubes but she spent several years digging through all of the data herself and personally interviewing numerous individuals. Her research for this book is entirely her own. That she identifies the same flaws in the diet-heart hypothesis as Mr. Taubes, and comes to many of the same conclusions—that two independent researchers uncovered the same issues—merely reinforces the strong possibility that the science behind the low fat-high carb diet is flawed.

Besides, Ms. Teicholz openly acknowledges the work of Mr. Taubes in her book and points out these parallels herself, so we can't take this criticism too far.

Other than that, most criticisms of The Big Fat Surprise that I've read are to be expected: many people disagree with her conclusions and continue to support the low fat-high carb diet that's still recommended by most of the major scientific and governing bodies in America.

This is an important debate for us to have—one of our most important debates—and whether you agree with her or not, Ms. Teicholz offers an essential challenge to conventional wisdom.

Right or wrong, The Big Fat Surprise is an important work.

The one thing about The Big Fat Surprise that disappoints me is that Ms. Teicholz has a tendency to resort to overstated, overly dramatic language. I understand that she's rightfully passionate about this subject and this book is written with the intent to sway readers to her argument.

But this book is also intended to be a clear-headed reassessment of the actual science that underpins Ancel Keys' dominant diet-heart hypothesis, and there are moments when her overly dramatic language belies that clear-headedness.

The history of the diet-heart hypothesis is one of people overstating their cases, taking inconclusive findings and over-selling what the data seemed to say. In light of this, Ms. Teicholz's overly dramatic language can be somewhat galling. Then again, her conclusions do seem better supported by the data.

I understand that Ms. Teicholz isn't a scientist and that The Big Fat Surprise is meant for popular consumption—but I would've preferred a more scientific tone to her work. I think it would sell her argument better. ( )
  johnthelibrarian | Aug 11, 2020 |
This rather impressive tome surprised me by immediately sucking me in and keeping me turning pages to the very end. It's a very detailed overview of all research concerning the American diet recommendations that have formed the basis of our society's understanding of healthy food. Beginning just after WWII, it follows the most influential scientists and the faltering steps taken to understand the extremely complex questions surrounding diet and disease. An alarming uptick in heart disease drove the research. Why were so many middle aged American men dying suddenly from heart attacks? What could individuals do to help protect themselves and extend their lives?

What follows is a well-intentioned effort that quickly devolved into a game of egos and money. Many recommendations were made to the American people based on very flimsy and preliminary research. Before proper studies hand been conducted, many experts were on record that saturated fat was the cause of all our heart related woes. As more and more studies were done, the results were continually skewed to support this initial finding. Inconvenient data was suppressed and conflicting studies were buried in obscure journals. As the accretion of bias piled up, and industry mobilized to protect their products, it soon became the kiss of death to even question this shaky hypothesis.

Even up to the present day, many highly placed nutritionists continue to cite studies performed in the 50's and ignore or dismiss outright the findings of far more recent and much more controlled studies. It's only now after many years and steadily increasing incidence of heart disease that this question of saturated fat is being openly studies and reexamined. The conclusions of this book are pretty persuasive and I will likely be altering parts of my diet as a result.

A very well written and fascinating story about how science is done and the dangers that come from over-confidence and pride. ( )
  Juva | Feb 22, 2019 |
Excellent review of the current state of nuutrition science, with a strong debt to Gary Taubes, showing the errors of the past 50 years and providing strong support for a low carbohydrate diet which adds back healthy animal fats and proteins. ( )
  bodhisattva | Sep 8, 2017 |
Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
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added by melmore | editWall Street Journal, Trevor Butterworth (pay site) (Jun 4, 2014)
 
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I remember the day I stopped worrying about eating fat.
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Investigative journalist Nina Teicholz reveals here that everything we thought we knew about dietary fat is wrong. She documents how the low-fat nutrition advice of the past sixty years has amounted to a vast uncontrolled experiment on the entire population, with disastrous consequences for our health. For decades, we have been told that the best possible diet involves cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, and that if we are not getting healthier or thinner, we are not trying hard enough. But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? Based on a nine-year investigation, Teicholz shows how the misinformation about saturated fats took hold in the scientific community and the public imagination, and how recent findings have overturned these beliefs. She explains why the Mediterranean Diet is not the healthiest, and how we might be replacing trans fats with something even worse. She upends the conventional wisdom with the groundbreaking claim that more, not less, dietary fat--including saturated fat--is what leads to better health and wellness. Science shows that we have been needlessly avoiding meat, cheese, whole milk, and eggs for decades and that we can now, guilt-free, welcome these delicious foods back into our lives.--From publisher description.

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