Last week science helped us clearly establish that wine may or may not be good for you. You’re welcome. Now, what about fat?
In the latest is-it-or-isn’t-it nutrition debate, author and cheese advocate Nina Teicholz says fat has been misunderstood and unfairly vilified. Her new book, The Big Fat Surprise, argues that more fat—including the saturated kind found in meat, dairy, and eggs—leads to better health and weight loss. Bloomberg Businessweek wanted to know how she decided it was all right to give such seemingly indulgent advice. What follows is an edited, condensed version of the conversation.
So now you would have us get our fill of fat?
You can have a good 50, 60 percent of your calories as fat, and that’s fine. It won’t damage your heart. Don’t be afraid of those foods. They’re tasty and uniquely satisfying, and we’ve been terrified of eating them. This French woman I ran into said, “I love cheese, but I feel like I’ll be condemning my children to being orphans.” And I said, “Eat the cheese! It won’t cause your early death, and it’s delicious.”
Saturated fat does not cause heart disease, and a high-fat diet over the last decade has been rigorously tested in numerous clinical trials, and it shows that a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is healthier than a low-fat diet looking at markers for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
What do you eat?
I start my day with bacon, or egg, or sausage, or meatballs.
If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy they eat meatballs for breakfast, too—I was so amused by that. For lunch I graze because I never really sit down for lunch. I’ll have handfuls of nuts, cheese, tuna fish salad. In the evening, we have some kind of stew or roasted chicken or fish.
But I am a data point of one. Science is about looking at large groups of people—data points are anecdotes and they’re interesting, but they don’t establish truth. But you don’t have to eat chicken and fish for the rest of your life.
And you’re health is fine? Your weight?
The last time I got my cholesterol tested, it looked great; it looked better than when I was in my thirties, and I’m in my forties now. I’m not super thin because I’ve been sitting at my computer for so many months now, but my weight is normal.
Then why do all of us think fat is unhealthy?
The idea that saturated fat causes heart disease goes back to a theory rooted in the 1950s that was proposed by one scientist and became enshrined, first in the American Heart Association in 1961 and became basically over the years a fact. But it had never been tested. Evidence against it—when it was finally shown—[the claim] was really poor and inconclusive and has since fallen apart.
No offense, but why should we trust you?
I have been digging into this research for 10 years. I looked through all of the original research. I did not rely on any summary or review documents. We’re in the third generation of scientists universally believing that fat and saturated fat cause heart disease. That’s accepted, and no one goes back to read what it’s based on. I don’t accept—and have not accepted—any industry money in my research. Almost everyone in nutrition researchers [gets] funding from industry because the government just doesn’t fund that much nutrition research. It doesn’t automatically bias their results, but I came without any preconceptions in this field. I am an outsider who brings a rigorous, science-journalist perspective.