Review: The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz

March 23, 2016 2016 The Mt. TBR Struggle is Real, 4.5 Stars, Book Review, Did Not Finish (DNF), Edu - Self help, Food, Hardback, Non- Fiction, recommendations 0 ★★★★½

Review: The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz four-half-stars
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz
Published by Simon & Schuster on May 13, 2014
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 479
Format: Hardcover
Buy at Amazon
In The Big Fat Surprise, investigative journalist Nina Teicholz reveals the unthinkable: 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 it must be because we are not trying hard enough. But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? What if the very foods we’ve been denying ourselves—the creamy cheeses, the sizzling steaks—are themselves the key to reversing the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease?

In this captivating, vibrant, and convincing narrative, based on a nine-year-long 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. This startling history demonstrates how nutrition science has gotten it so wrong: how overzealous researchers, through a combination of ego, bias, and premature institutional consensus, have allowed dangerous misrepresentations to become dietary dogma.

With eye-opening scientific rigor, The Big Fat Surprise upends the conventional wisdom about all fats 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.

I purchased The Big Fat Surprise on 27-Jan-2015 – it stayed on Mt. TBR for 1 year, 3 months.

I want to start this review with a little information about me:

I am currently an omnivore and I consume all foods with the exception of bananas (allergy). I do have a rather severe lactose intolerance to actual milk but I can consume cooked milk products and most other forms of dairy in limited amounts.

Historically, the women in my family have long, healthy lives on both sides: My great, great grandmother died (age 120) when I was about 8 years old. Her daughter – my great aunt – lived to be 105. My mother’s mother is still alive at 89. With the exception of my father’s mother, none of the women in my family have had any “real” (non-genetic) health issues. Both my grandmother and aunt were mentally agile until very close to death, maintained a decent weight and did not take a lot of medications. They served red meat regularly and they cooked with lard and butter. I recall my mother complaining about the large quantities of fats they cooked with and how unhealthy it was. My mother’s mother has health issues but lived the same way – and to be honest, all of her health problems are genetic. To this day my grandma (mom’s mom) demands fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh meat with low salt/preservatives on a daily basis and she has outlived her medical diagnosis by over 20 years.

In comparison, my father’s mother decided to remove dairy and fats from her diet. She cooked exclusively with Canola Oil®* and “buttered” everything with Country Crock® instead of butter. She ate/purchased very little red meat preferring poultry instead. This grandma has a lot of health problems – most of which do not seem to be genetic.

In retrospect, it is perplexing why scientists did not question the assumption that entirely new foodstuffs could restore a population to good health. How could it be that a healthy diet would depend upon these just-invented foods, such as milk “filled” with soybean oil?

It’s true that vegetable oils had been shown to lower total cholesterol successfully, and this effect held great appeal to a research community obsessed with cholesterol. Yet cholesterol-lowering was just one of the many effects of these oils on biological processes, not all of which seemed to be so beneficial. In fact, no human population had been documented surviving long term on oils as a major source of fat until 1976, when researchers studied the Israelis, who at the time consumed “the highest reported” quantity of vegetable oils in the world. Their rates of heart disease turned out to be relatively high, however, contradicting the belief that vegetable oils were protective.

When I asked [Jeremiah] Stamler about the novelty of vegetable oils he said that he and [Ancel] Keys had been concerned about the absence of any historical record for human consumption of these oils, but that ultimately it wasn’t considered an impediment to promoting a “prudent” diet.

– page 81-82

As I read through The Big Fat Surprise, I found myself feeling quite proud (of myself). I really, seriously dislike reading long form articles, they irk me for some strange reason. The Big Fat Surprise is one extremely long news-like article but I managed to force my way through 212 pages! Yaaaaaaayyyy Me!!

The style of the book really started to grind my nerves after some time so I put The Big Fat Surprise down. And never picked it up again. I read 212 pages and a lot of those pages started to feel a bit redundant. A lot of The Big Fat Surprise is focused on letting the reader know that – unlike scientists – Ms Teicholz did her research!

As I read page after page I took note after note. I have pages and pages of notes that…show I paid attention? IDK, the longer I’m away from this book the more I feel it’s redundant and I don’t care to include said notes.

The entirely of The Big Fat Surprise can be boiled down to this:

Scientists/Doctors are willfully and/or ignorantly misinform/ing the US public about heart disease and it’s cause(s). They do not really know what causes heart disease but it’s been scientifically proven it’s not fat. Also, ignore all “heart safe” diets because they were created from bullshit. At the end of the day, eat what you want knowing that it may – or may not – kill you.

The parts that really stood out for me was the section on the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean was created by two Greek women – Anna Ferro-Luzzi and Antonia Trichopoulou who were desperate to discover a way to preserve their Greek culture – especially olive trees.

“…the two women shared a common fear that they were on the front line of a battle to defend an endangered way of life. Their fellow Mediterraneans were starting to eat fast foods at alarming rates, and it seemed that modernization threatened to extinguish the region’s traditional cuisine before it had even been properly understood. Both women therefore felt the issue to be pressing.”
-page 179

The idea for the Mediterranean Diet came to Trichopolou when a fellow Greek came to her complaining of the type of oils recommended for heart health: the Greeks were used to olive oil and disliked vegetable oils. Over time, as the two women tried to hammer out the details of the “Mediterranean Diet,” they ran into more problems than they anticipated.

“Did any single Mediterranean Diet even truly exist? There was so much variation in eating patterns across countries and even within countries that it seemed nearly impossible to define any kind of overarching dietary pattern with any specificity. How could something so vague be evaluated, much less promoted as an ideal?”
-page 179

Great question, right?? Well, in order to push the Mediterranean Diet forward, it was narrowed down considerably. Instead of encompassing the entire Mediterranean, the Mediterranean Diet is limited to the cuisine of Southern Italy and Crete. Only. This was the only way to narrow the diet down enough for it to be “sell-able” to the public. It was decided that France, Portugal, Spain and Northern Italy did not reflect the model diet – even adding the entirety of Italy would create too many variables – and only Southern Italy and Crete were applicable since they shared a similar culinary regime. Huh. Way to change a region into 1/2 a country and an island.

All in all, I enjoyed the read – as much as I could stomach, that is – and I would recommend The Big Fat Surprise to those who are interested in this kind of thing. And don’t mind reading absurdly long articles.




*Per The Big Fat Surprise – Canola Oil® is not named “canola” because it’s made from corn, it’s named “canola” because it originated in Canada. O_O Ignore the big picture of corn on the front…ain’t no corn in Canola Oil®.

The oils from linseed and rapeseed, in a genetically modified form, are blended to make “canola” oil. The “can” in canola is named for its origin, in Canada.
-page 86

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