Eating Fat Doesn't Make Us Fat

For decades, many people have believed that fat, especially saturated fat, makes us gain weight, but that turns out not to be true. Investigative journalist Nina Teicholz documents how the low-fat nutrition advice of the past 60 years has had disastrous consequences for our health. 

The idea that we should limit saturated fat from eggs, cheese and meat dates back to 1961, when the American Heart Association published that guideline. “The story of our dietary recommendations is really taking the dietary advice for middle-aged men, who were trying to prevent heart disease, and recommending it to all women and children over the age of 2.”

“There have been critics of this hypothesis all along…but they found that it was then hard to get research dollars.” The pressure was so intense, Teicholz says, “it got to a point where scientists would just self-censor, they just wouldn’t go into the field.”

Dr. Ansel Benjamin Keys’s seven-country study, which became the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet, is “like the Big Bang of nutrition research.” But it was also seriously flawed, and now “scientists are unable to conclude that [olive oil] really spares people from heart disease.”

Teicholz notes that, at high temperatures, vegetable oils “create oxidized products that cause inflammation and other problems that have really not been talked about much.” And she says that many Americans are wary of coconut and palm oils because of a PR campaign in the 1980’s when the soybean industry was in something of a trade war.

Low-fat products often have more carbohydrates. “When they take out fat out of products like yogurt, salad dressing, they have to use what’s called fat replacers. And fat replacers are almost always carbohydrate-based and sometimes they’re just sugar.”

The best hypothesis today, Teicholz says, is that foods like sugar and flour – carbohydrates – could cause heart disease as well as diabetes and obesity.

Nina Teicholz's book is The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese belong in a Healthy Diet.