Ok, I'm serious this time... NOW does anyone want to go to McDonald's with me??

A while back I mentioned an article about how a low-fat diet has not improved life expectancy.


Last night I read one of the best articles I've read in a long time: "The Soft Science of Dietary Fat" by Gary Taubes. Science 30 March 2001:
Vol. 291. no. 5513, pp. 2536 - 2545


I can't emphasize enough how fascinating this article is. Read that bad boy! It goes through the scientific and political history of fat in diets, and the US dietary food recommendations (e.g. the food pyramid).

Some highlights:
* In spite of millions of dollars of clinical trials, they have failed to show that low-fat diets extend life more than a few weeks, if that.
* Low-fat diets have led to, shockingly, weight-gain, possibly because people on low-fat diets tend to eat more carbohydrates, which are, arguably, worse for you. They also eat less protein. People tend to eat a consistent amount of calories. So if they lower calories in one area, they compensate in others.
* A ten-year study of over 300,000 Americans found no link between fat consumption and heart disease.

Fat increases cholesterol, cholesterol can clog arteries, which can cause heart disease, which can cause heart attacks, which can cause death. All these facts are true, but the connections between them are so subtle and complicated by so many factors that lowering your fat to prevent death is simply not supported by any evidence.

In my previous post on this matter a few people mentioned that the study did not differentiate what kinds of fat are being eaten. Though some fats may be more hazardous than others, it's not easy at all to know what kinds of fats you're eating. What I'm most opposed to is the simpleminded "less fat is good" attitude. To quote the article:

"To understand where this complexity can lead in a simple example, consider a steak--to be precise, a porterhouse, select cut, with a half-centimeter layer of fat, the nutritional constituents of which can be found in the Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at the USDA Web site. After broiling, this porterhouse reduces to a serving of almost equal parts fat and protein. Fifty-one percent of the fat is monounsaturated, of which virtually all (90%) is oleic acid, the same healthy fat that's in olive oil. Saturated fat constitutes 45% of the total fat, but a third of that is stearic acid, which is, at the very least, harmless. The remaining 4% of the fat is polyunsaturated, which also improves cholesterol levels. In sum, well over half--and perhaps as much as 70%--of the fat content of a porterhouse will improve cholesterol levels compared to what they would be if bread, potatoes, or pasta were consumed instead. The remaining 30% will raise LDL but will also raise HDL. All of this suggests that eating a porterhouse steak rather than carbohydrates might actually improve heart disease risk, although no nutritional authority who hasn't written a high-fat diet book will say this publicly."

I'll have the Big Mac meal with a coke.

PS: I just read that the movie "Supersize Me" actually might have caused an increase in McDonald's stock. Apparently the stock was significantly higher for the year after the film's release, and Wendy's stock was not. Personally, the effect the movie had on me was to remind me of how much I liked Big Macs. Before that I was strictly a quarter pounder man.


Jennie said…
Eat the Big Mac but not the Coke! Too many bad carbs in that Coke.
Anonymous said…
Interesting nutritional ideas....but your missing the most important aspect of your beef eating blurb: the immense environmental impact of beef production on the environment. Tremendous research has been done in this area, and amongst many deleterious effects is the impact methane has on global warming. Driving this mass market is of course your blessed McDonalds. Read the non-profit publication Nutrition Action, September 2006 edition which is dedicated to this issue and the nutritional aspects of a high fat diet.
Anonymous said…
What about a high cholesterol diet?

Does this study on a high-fat diet control for weight, I bet it does. Over weight is thought to be the result of overeating and fat has more calories per mass. I bet if they didn't control for weight, they would have seen some drastic differences. Soooo.....should we tax the overweight to pay for the rising cost of healthcare?

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