“The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” Nina Teicholz’s best selling book, delves into decades of nutritional studies that indicate the low-fat movement, while well-intentioned, was based on flawed, misinterpreted data and lacked rigorous scientific study. Recent clinical studies are adding more heft to the argument that dietary fat in general, saturated fat specifically, is not unhealthy. Even more importantly, a reduction of our intake of dietary fat over the last several decades may actually be detrimental as evidenced by this study that links full-fat dairy intake with a reduction (by nearly 50%!) in Type II diabetes risk.
Which leads me to say, “Duh!” Why do we get sucked in, over and over again, by these new “rules” of diet and fitness? Does it make sense that fats, one of only three macronutrients necessary for human survival, are killing us? Ditto carbohydrates?
Let’s put some common sense out there and state what we know about the existence of humans on Earth for millennia:
- Humans are omnivores: The idea that saturated fats, which in non-tropical areas come predominantly from animals, are the main contributors to obesity and heart disease just doesn’t add up. The first humans, the hunter-gatherers, got the bulk of their nutrition from animals. Some civilizations, such as the Inuit, had little or no vegetation in their diets. For the same reasons, it’s illogical to believe consumption of animal meat causes human disease. As yet, there are no clinical studies that have proven a link between animal-derived foods and human disease, sensational and misleading headlines notwithstanding.
- The human diet has evolved: The first Agricultural Revolution happened over 10,000 years ago and several minor Agricultural Revolutions took place in Arab and European civilizations centuries ago. Also, agriculture is constantly evolving both as part of the natural evolutionary process and as humans have perfected and scaled farming techniques. As such, apples and wheat farmed today are quite different from those same crops 500-1000 years ago. But, they’re still apples and wheat. Their DNA, so to speak, is still the DNA of apples and wheat. The plants themselves have evolved and adapted and humans have ‘bred’ stronger and more fruitful plants. This doesn’t make them bad for us as those touting the Paleo diet and many demonizing gluten (the protein in wheat) would have us believe. Indeed, without these innovations, many of us would be vulnerable to famine and drought as we were thousands of years ago and, unfortunately, as many in undeveloped nations still are.
- Humans have adapted. Human survival during migration periods meant we had to adapt to changing diets. This adaptation allowed various peoples to flourish whether seaside or landlocked, whether in the desert or the rainforest. Why did the Inuit, who subsisted only on animals, not suffer from scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency? We associate vitamin C with citrus fruits and other produce. Yet vitamin C, and many other micronutrients we associate with produce, are in abundance in animal products as well. But not in the meat we consume today. Vitamin C and other nutrients are found in the organs and bone of animals. Cultures that relied only on animals to exist consumed the entire animal and, as such, those civilizations survived and thrived. Similarly, cultures that had little animal resources available have also been able to adapt to survive and thrive on a mostly vegetarian diet. Yet, somehow, vegetarian diets are viewed as more healthy than predominantly animal-sourced diets. The evidence does not support this common assumption.
So, what gives? Why are obesity and diseases like heart-disease and diabetes on the rise in Western cultures? I contend that the blame has been misplaced for quite some time and the changes that we have made in response to this is actually contributing to the worsening of these problems.
If humans have been consuming carbohydrates in the form of wheat for centuries and animal fats for millennia, why would these foods suddenly make us sick? They haven’t. But, we’ve been told they have and these food products have been altered to remove the “bad” stuff before we consume them – removing the gluten from wheat, removing the fat from milk. We’re monkeying with the food and that, in part, is what’s making us sick.
If you think about it, the emergence of these lifestyle diseases doesn’t correspond with the Agricultural Revolutions. But it does correspond with the Industrial Revolution. This is the revolution that gave us manufactured oils and shortening to replace butter, tropical oils and lard. This revolution, coupled with misguided nutrition advice, also had us removing the fat from our dairy and, a newer trend, removing dairy from our diets altogether. However, apparently, this is giving us more diabetes.
My theory is that the Industrial Revolution, and the more recent Technological Revolution, gave us food in greater abundance while, at the same time, automated a lot of the physical labor of daily living. In short, it isn’t what we were eating that’s making us sick, it’s how much we’re eating and how little we’re moving.
The common sense approach is, if you want to avoid obesity and lifestyle diseases like diabetes, eat and move like generations did before these problems existed. Stop removing fat and gluten from farmed food and replacing it with manufactured junk. If you aren’t allergic to milk, why would you shun milk from a cow to have factory-made “milk” from a soybean or nut? And, get off your duff. Long periods of sitting is linked to higher risk of disease. Common sense tells us great-great Grandpa was chopping wood and tilling his crops and he wasn’t binge-watching “The Walking Dead.”
Join me in eating and moving common sense-style. It tastes delicious and feels so good.