Tag Archives: The Big Fat Surprise

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?

annemattbeef1

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.

TheBigFatSurprise

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…

17 Comments

Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)

Raising Teenage Girls Amidst a Sea Of Dietary Confusion…

Apart from my favorite farmer, my three girls are my greatest blessing. In less than two weeks, 2/3’s of them will be teenagers. Our house is a bevy of activity permeated by moments of drama, and decorated by athletic bras hanging to dry on nearly every doorknob.

While raising teenagers is unarguably an adventure, I believe that the journey of raising healthy and confident girls resembles a never ending Iron Man competition. Nagging concerns of being thin, pretty, and accepted butt up against dreams of athletic and intellectual prowess. An internal struggle capped off by an innate drive toward individualism that may conflict with mainstream culture as well as push the dogma perpetuated by parents and mentors.

AGXC.jpg

The life journey of a teenage girl proves that the road to excellence is never comfortable…

While many of these daily struggles simply come together to create the iconic journey toward maturity, some have become exacerbated by the complex dual between science and politics that make up the history of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. I was two years old in 1977 when the science of nutrition became diluted with the burden of politics. Fortunately my parents shielded me from the ramifications of the new age of political nutrition rhetoric, choosing to instead pass along to me a traditional culture of family meals and a balanced diet.

I grew up in a house where dinner was always a home cooked meal. Meat was the center of the plate accompanied by a vegetable, some sort of starch, and a glass of milk. While my mom was not a fancy cook, her meals were delicious and she taught me how to put diversified nutrients on the table. I learned to equate the basics of home cooking with healthiness, primarily due to my mom’s steadfast commitment to a pragmatic diet approach.

3girlsbale1.jpg

I do not have childhood memories of other influences (outside of my family) on the topic of nutrition. I cannot say that same thing about my daughters. The web of political influence over nutrition has grown to where it touches their lives daily through school lunches and nutrition education in the classroom.

  • I serve my girls eggs, meat, and whole milk as a part of a balanced diet at home while they are told in school curriculum that these are unhealthy even when blended with fruits and vegetables on the home cooked dinner plate.
  • I preach about the importance of protein and fat as sources of energy and nutrients in the diet while the government mandated curriculum teaches them that eating healthy means a plant based high carbohydrate and low fat diet.

Megvolleyball.jpg

The result is a conflicted and confused teenager trying to survive amidst a sea of dietary confusion.

The next few blog posts will take a look at both the science and the politics of nutrition. I will examine Nina Teicholz’s New York Times Bestseller The Big FAT Surprise, as well as the current nutrition debate that struggles to surface amidst a 30 year culture of food politics determined to create a one size fits all answer to the diet and health of Americans.

6 Comments

Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)