Book Review: The Big Fat Surprise

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet - Nina Teicholz

The big idea of this meticulously researched book is that contrary to popular belief, saturated fat is good for you. Teicholz explains and demonstrates how we ended up with the high-sugar, high-carb, processed oil mess we find ourselves in. Based on shoddy science and powerful personalities, we started by deciding that high cholesterol was a predictor of heart disease. From there, we decided that saturated fat causes high cholesterol. Both of these assumptions were somewhere from over-simplifications to completely wrong. But based on advice from the government and powerful experts, food makers and people replaced saturated fats with vegetable oils, sugar and carbs which may well be the actual cause of heart disease and a myriad of other ‘western diseases.’

I learned three mind-blowing things from this book.

  1. The first is about the three kinds of fat. Most fats contain all three kinds of fat. A fat is just categorized based on the kind of fat that makes up the largest percentage of it.

  2. A good example but sad example of this is that saturated fat from animal fat used to contain a good amount of the essential fat omega-3. It is naturally occuring in grass-fed beef and it was only when beef switched to grain feed that the omega-3 amounts were negligible.

  3. A third thing I learned was about the buildup of plaque in arteries that was incorrectly blamed for heart disease. Teicholz presents research that shows that it’s not the presence of the plaque that causes heart disease - it appears to be a natural result of aging. Heart disease may be impacted by chunks of rogue plaque that break off and cause problems. In any case, cholesterol was not to blame for the plaque. Cholesterol has building and protecting jobs in the body and it may gather on troublesome buildup to protect the body from it.

The book sometimes presents a bewildering amount of data. It is disheartening to see how easy it is to spin research for economic reasons. It’s hard to know who to believe. It has made me a more critical reader of research reports. But it also firms my resolve to trust my gut and to follow the paradigm that resonates with me.