Dietary Fat

Review of The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.  From the book:

The sum of the evidence against saturated fat over the past half-century amounts to this:  the early trials condemning saturated fat were unsound;  the epidemiological data showed no negative association;  saturated fat’s effect on LDL-cholesterol (when properly measured in subfractions) is neutral;  and a significant body of clinical trials over the past decade has demonstrated the absence of any negative effect of saturated fat on heart disease, obesity, or diabetes.  In other words, every plank in the case against saturated fat has, upon rigorous examination, crumbled away.

So, as most recently tested, a majority protein and fat diet, like Atkins, is the most healthy, with health at this point defined as improved blood markers for heart issues (low small cell LDL, higher HDL, low triglycerides,) prevention or reversal of type II diabetes, weight loss if needed, fewer events of all types of chronic disease, and no adverse effects.  It was MUCH healthier than a low fat, high carb diet.  It performed better than Zone, but if you check out zone carefully, it seems to promote only lean proteins and then added vegetable (unsaturated) fats.  So it may be that there are real benefits in the animal (saturated) fats, not just lack of ill effects.  Here’s a non-official summary of Zone.

I can’t maintain an all animal based diet, myself.  Not when there are berries growing all around me and farmers markets everywhere.  But this can still be Atkins, as long as you don’t add in refined carbohydrates like white flour and refined sugar.

In addition, the author included a lot of information about all the types of fats that are currently in our foods, as well as what is in development for future use.  This part was really scary.  Saturated fats, which are mostly animal fats plus palm oils, are the ones that we have been taught to avoid.  But they are neutral or maybe good for us, and nothing bad happens to them (or us) when they are heated.  So fry stuff using saturated fats.  All the rest of the fats break down into various poisons with heat, and those poisons go into whatever food we are cooking in them.  As well as the air.  Most of the plant based oils are not very good for us anyway.  Olive oil appears to be neutral (but don’t fry it!).

Labeling has not caught up with the development of new oils yet, so there is no way to know in a processed food, exactly what it is that you are getting.  If it is best made with butter or lard (like baked goods), and the label says soybean oil, then beware.  This is why processed foods are considered evil – it’s not that they MUST be bad for you, it’s just that you have no way of knowing it when they are.

Carbs are clearly implicated as the bad guy here, but this book is about fat, so there is only discussion of carbs as they related to the diets tested.  Hopefully she will write her next book about carbs – it would be nice to know if all carbs are equal, or what studies are being done.

The other theme of this book is how human nature caused this demonization of saturated fats, which has really led to or at least contributed to, at this point, a public health crisis.  In this case, the scientists were trying to act on something complex and difficult to quantify.  They started out with nothing they knew to look for before a heart attack occurred, so they had to find some test that would predict it.  Then they had to figure out what might affect that marker.  Then they would have to verify that if they moved the marker, it would in fact impact their goal metric.  So you start with a goal metric of heart attacks (and that has to be pretty well defined, all on its own).  Then look for anything in blood tests, or other kinds of tests, that is different between those who went on to have a heart attack as defined, and who did not.  Then look for what will change that metric, from all possible actors on the body.  Diet, drugs, exercise, environment, sleep and other personal habits of daily routine, meditation, religion, who knows???  It’s not simple.  What they did have were populations with very low rates of heart attack, so they did have some places to start looking.  And the story of how that all worked out is fascinating.

It does, in all honesty, make me more of a climate change science skeptic.  The “97% of scientists agree” argument is not valid.  And compared to heart attacks in humans, changes in the world climate seem much more complex to me.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t real, or that humans are not contributing to or possibly causing it outright.  It just means, in my mind, that there is very likely a lot more that we don’t know than what we do know, and so when I hear a lot of certainty coming from people in regard to this, I’m skeptical of whatever it is they are telling me.  There are plenty of reasons to stop using fossil fuels that have nothing to do with climate.  My point is that scientific research is by its nature chaotic, and prone to 180 degree changes as we improve our measurements and understanding of the physical world.  And the more complex the system being studied, the more likely these changes will occur.

For me, the bottom line of this book, for my own diet, is simply to avoid refined carbs and most vegetable oils, because not enough is known yet.  Oh, and yay bacon!!

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