Nina Teicholz would really like what's in our fridge. We've got the Philadelphia cream cheese. And some tasty gruyère and brie. There's the Avalon whole milk and some nice, whole-fat yogurt. There's the big chunk of unsalted butter, soon to be spread on hot toast. The sinfully delicious sour cream from Burnaby. A nice little pork roast, and a dab of pâté.
Of course, there are also loads of fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains that keep best cold and so many condiments we almost need a second fridge for them.
I'm not sure what Teicholz would think of those last items, but she'd definitely go for our snacks — Persian cashews, pecans and Mexican chicharróns made from pork fat that's been fried out. Mmm-mm good, and satisfying.
The popular science has been rolling in for about a year now urging us to toss out the low-fat regime scientists have been advising us to follow for decades (not that we ever did) — including the margarine (whoever liked that stuff anyway?). Rekindle your love for all things fatty — real butter, cheeses, marbled meats — headlines tout.
As my mom would say, it's enough to drive you crazy: Do you jump on or stay off the fat bandwagon?
While she's not without her critics (more on that later), Nina Teicholz says jump on with a capital "J." She's been at the forefront of the return to fat with her bestseller from last year, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.
In the intro to her book, Teicholz, a freelance reporter, says she essentially stopped worrying about eating fat after a stint as a restaurant reviewer for a small newspaper in New York City forced her toward foods she had avoided all her life. Creamy soups and sauces, "beef of every cut prepared in every imaginable way," pâté and even foie gras were the rule.
To her surprise she lost 10 pounds she'd been trying to lose for years, plus her doctor reassured her that her cholesterol levels were fine.
Another freelance assignment, one for Gourmet magazine on trans-fats, put her on the trail to her bestseller, leading her into nine years of research which included reading thousands of scientific papers on nutrition, and more. It's all well documented: notes and the bibliography run more than 100 pages.
Her conclusion, in a nutshell: you can be healthy on a high-fat diet.
Over the last half-century, she writes, scientists responding to the dramatic increase in heart disease, which went from "a mere handful (of cases) in 1900 to the leading cause of death by 1950," hypothesized that dietary fat, especially saturated fat, was to blame. Ergo the low-fat, even no-fat, bandwagon even though something like smoking four packs of smokes a day, as Eisenhower used to do, may have had something to do with the heart disease spike.
It's this connection between fat and heart disease made in the '60s that she takes a big exception to, especially the Seven Countries Study run by the American physiologist, Ancel Keys, father of the Mediterranean diet concept. The study linked dietary fat, cholesterol and heart disease.
"Public health bureaucracies adopted and enshrined this unproven dogma," she writes, going on to say the entire field of nutrition has "been shaped by passions verging on zealotry."
"...And the whole system by which ideas are canonized as fact seems to have failed us."
While many of her assertions are true — No. 1 for me is the fact that the no-fat bandwagon has lead to a huge increase in sugar and carb consumption, which have had their own monstrous effects — I'm concerned that her own ideas are now being canonized.
"Why everything you heard about fat is wrong" is the sub-head for the review of her book in The Economist of May 31 last year.
"What if the government's crusade against fat fed the spread of obesity by encouraging us to abstain from foods that satiate us efficiently?" asks another review in a June 2014 Wall Street Journal.
As Teicholz would know as a freelance reporter, we journalists love anything new to write about, giving us a big role in that "canonization."
So for a sobering balance to her arguments, which are very convincing, I turned to one of the most straight-shooting scientists I know of regarding all things diet: Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, founder and director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. (Find him on his blog, Weighty Matters.)
He's not the only scientist warning people not to be fooled by the "big fat surprise," but he does it so neatly.
"We oversimplify the message of fat, just like we oversimplify the message around calories," says Freedhoff in a March CBC News article by Christopher Labos, a cardiologist at the McGill University Health Centre.
So why are we getting fatter? Simple: we're eating more — more calories and larger portions than we used to, says Freedhoff.
He cites a 2009 Cornell University study on the evolution of The Joy of Cooking called "The Joy of Cooking Too Much." In 14 of the 18 recipes published in every edition, the number of calories jumped by almost 44 per cent over the book's 70 years. Since 1996, portion sizes have risen by 33 per cent.
The idea that we should be eating more fats doesn't make sense to Freedhoff. "I don't think we should be eating more of anything," he says. What we should be doing is eating less.
As for the anti-sugar bandwagon, you can check out Dr. Robert Lustig's Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar and take that with a grain of salt, too. Lustig is an American pediatrician who spent years treating overweight children and studying the effects of sugar on our metabolism and more. The big takeaway — a calorie from sugar is not the same as a calorie from beef. You probably want the latter, but you sure don't want to go whole hog now on fats.
Certainly, no one should live on Cokes or on cracklins. In fact you should probably eat the way we did when I was a kid: much smaller portions, lots of whole foods, and all things in moderation.
As for these bandwagons we all keep jumping on and off of, Labos explains that new doctors are told that five years out of med school, half of what they've learned will be proven wrong. Problem is no one knows which half.
Sounds like more books in the works to me.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who chose chips over pop as a kid.