Perhaps It’s Time To Stop Apologizing For Fat…

How often do you eat a steak, an omelet, or cook with real butter? What kind of milk is in your refrigerator?


While animal protein arguably tastes good and makes us feel satiated, the nutrition community has steadfastly steered Americans away from eating red meat and whole fat dairy for the past four decades. The diet-heart hypothesis (coined by a biologist named Ancel Keys in the early 1960’s) proclaimed that a low fat and high carbohydrate diet provided the basis for good health. Although not proved through clinical trials, the hypothesis gained support from the federal government and provided the basis for mainstream dietary advice during the ensuing decades.

In my lifetime, the culture of the American diet has shifted dramatically. According to USDA, the consumption of grains (41%), vegetables (23%) and fruits (13%) rose significantly from 1970-2005 while red meat (-22%), milk (-33%) and eggs (-17%) fell dramatically. Overall carbohydrate intake for Americans rose with low fat starches, and vegetable oil took the place of animal protein and fat in the diet. Animal protein lovers shifted from beef to chicken, and many traded whole fat dairy for skim milk and margarine thereby forsaking nutrition density for lower saturated fat options.

All of this occurred during a time in the United States when obesity rates more than doubled (15-32%), the prevalence of heart failure, cancer and stroke all increased, and the rate of diabetes increased from less than 1% to 11%.

An association hypothesis (mirroring the process used by Ancel Keys to develop the diet-heart low fat mindset) might suggest from these two sets of data that replacing animal protein with vegetable oil and carbohydrates actually reduced the quality of health of Americans – the direct opposite from the intended consequence of Keys’ hypothesis. Uncovering this discrepancy inspired Nina Teicholz, an investigative food reporter, to delve deep into the nutrition archives. After nine years of research covering thousands of studies and a wide array of interviews with nutrition scientists, Teicholz uncovered a laundry list of interesting findings in her New York Times Bestseller The Big Fat Surprise.

  • The current U.S Dietary Guidelines are based on Keys’ hypothesis and drawn from epidemiological studies primarily done on middle-aged men. Clinical trials have not confirmed the epidemiological data, and virtually no data exits supporting this hypothesis for women and children.
  • The causal associations seen between red meat consumption and heart disease are minimal.
  • The saturated fat found in animal protein increases HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) which appears to play a positive role in heart health. Additionally, fat plays an important role in providing energy as well as ensuring that a number of essential vitamins be fully absorbed by the body.
  • Total cholesterol is not a good predictor of heart disease for most people. In particular, LDL (bad) cholesterol does not consistently predict an increased risk of heart disease. The cholesterol argument is the primary basis for the advice to reduce red meat consumption.
  • No health studies exist to discern the effect on health of liquid vegetable oils; and studies have shown that the process of solidifying vegetable oils (to make butter imitations) creates trans-fat which are incredibly unhealthy. Vegetable oil use is up 8% since the diet-heart hypothesis began to drive dietary advice.
  • Carbohydrates are a primary cause of insulin secretion – the constant consumption of carbohydrates throughout the day creates elevated insulin levels in the bloodstream which renders the body unable to digest its fat stores. This leads to metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. Eating fat and protein do not cause insulin secretion during digestion.  High fat, low carbohydrate diets like the Atkins diet are more effective for achieving lasting weight loss.
  • Multiple clinical trials demonstrate that a diet which trades carbohydrates for protein and fat can be healthy suggesting that a shift in thought process and nutrition study focus is prudent.


I encourage each of you to read Teicholz’s book. It is an eye opening experience that inspires the reader to guiltlessly enjoy a steak while thinking that perhaps it’s time to stop apologizing for fat…


Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)

17 responses to “Perhaps It’s Time To Stop Apologizing For Fat…

  1. Kathy Bottrell

    Anne, I am so glad you are doing this series. Good fat is healthy, I get so frustrated when we go out to eat, food is less than nutrient dense, and we are starving within 2 hours. Give me good meat, butter and eggs.

    • Amen to that, Kathy! Glad that you like this topic— sometimes its hard to figure out what folks are interested in as it does not always match what I am interested in 🙂


  2. I just bought The Big Fat Surprise yesterday and started reading it last night. It’s definitely a ‘can’t put it down’ book!

    • Glad that you went out an bought the book, Roberta! I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts went you are finished with it. It is certainly a “thinker’s” book and inspires some interesting family discussions 🙂


  3. Carol Ingram

    (Jim writes…) You mentioned the relationship between fat consumption and satiation. Gee, could it be that reduced fat consumption on a cultural scale has driven unhealthy snacking? And it raises the larger question of what other areas of our lives has the federal government misled us for generations, so that alternative viewpoints and information are outside our cultural consciousness? We really need to be more discerning and less gullible about everything any government says. (Carol adds…) Has the development and influx of artificial sweeteners over the same period of time exacerbated the problem? Wasn’t this development driven by the same dietary nonsense? Tomorrow is shopping day in town, and we’ll look for a copy at Wally World…

    • I’m right there with you, Jim. The larger the federal government gets, the more our cultures changes from a “thinking culture” to a “robot culture”. It is a disappointing shift and one that I pray we can reverse. Sometimes I feel like I am immersed in Dystopian literature when I look at the current politics of our country — not a comfortable place for me.

      Yes, Carol, I personally believe that is likely the case although I have not researched that specifically. Nina touches a little bit on that in her book.

      Glad that you all are going to read the book. You will enjoy it.

      Hope that all is well in Wyoming!

  4. dulcimerpete

    So glad to see you writing these pieces! I’m *very* interested is seeing people like you who understand real-life production agriculture starting a dialog with people like NIna Teicholz. So many have been so misled by so many related narratives. Well done.

    • Thank you, Peter. I am looking forward to some strategic teamwork on this issue! I appreciate you reaching out to me. Together we are most effective as well as most educated on a diversified level.


  5. Jack Knight

    its so interesting that some health fooders, who were once largely low fat veggitarian types come around to fat in meat and dairy as just fine. some day soon it will be very clear that is sugar, not meat/dairy that has caused most of the modern diet related health concerns.

    • I agree, Jack. And, I would also add that I think that physical activity is an important part of the equation. We need to teach our kids to love fitness and exercise just as much as we need to teach them about cooking and a balanced diet. As you mention, carbohydrates and sugar are not the answer.


  6. Richard Simonsen

    Surar is bad? Does this mean I have to give up my M&Ms? Fighting words!

    • I’d rather give up my M&M’s than my beef, Richard 🙂 I am a firm believer in “moderation” — I doubt a package of M&M’s will be tragic to your health on an occasional basis.

      No need to bring out the boxing gloves!


  7. I am an almost 64 yr old woman. I am fat, but I have no diet related health issues. My BP is higher than I like, but no meds are needed, no diabetes.

    My diet is a disaster, to many Cokes and too much bacon. But I rarely eat deserts, I don’t eat a lot of carbs either. Somehow it is not making me sick. I would weigh less if I could exercise. I blew out my knees by doing a full contact sport into my late 30s when I had no insurance.

    When I go out to eat, I almost always have enough for 1 to 2 meals at home. The serving sizes are far too large.

    • Cairenn,

      You bring up a great point — everyone is unique. There is scientific data that shows that some people are perfectly healthy while over-weight. To me, the important thing is that you feel good and are healthy. One of my main concerns with Dietary Guidelines is that they treat every person the same (as long as they are over age 2) with a “one size fits all” mind-frame. I believe that is a ridiculous way to fix individual health as everyone is different.

      I also think that diet is a personal choice — and should not be a government mandate. We are moving in the direction toward a mandate in this country relative to diet, and that bothers me. The dietary guidelines began as educational information relative to diet and have morphed into the current system which is much much more encompassing. Where does it stop? My daughter told me last night that she read an article yesterday saying that First Lady Obama is trying to make it so that preschool children are weighed at school as an early identification system relative to obesity. I think that is appalling.

      Thanks for joining in the discussion. You’ll have to try a good steak instead of all that bacon 🙂


  8. Joanne

    I really want to read this book. Thanks for the info.

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