High Fat, Low Fat

For nearly 100 years, we’ve been warned about the dangers of a high-fat diet. The quest to remove fat from our food has been championed by governments, food producers, and individual consumers; and the battle is just about won. There are low-fat versions of everything in our supermarkets, and in some cases, only the low-fat versions are available; the traditional kinds can no longer be found on the store shelves.

You are what you eat — or are you?

The phrase, you are what you eat was first used in 1826 Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. It means that whatever you use for food has a direct effect on the health and growth of your body. (At least I hope that’s what it means. I don’t want to eat vegetables that will make me turn green and start my own photosynthesis. 🙂 ) But many people take this to mean if you eat fat, you get fat, and that’s what most people are trying to avoid.

Flawed studies?

In 1931, Dr. Paul Dudley White wrote his classic work, Heart Disease, which asserted a clear link between high-fat diets and heart problems.

Many similar studies were published in the 1960’s and 1970’s, all coming to the same conclusion: if you want to stay healthy, cut out the fat.

But the most influential study was Dr. Ancel Keys’ major work Seven Countries, which is considered the definitive work on the subject.

All of these have led to the same conclusion: THAT THE FAT IN YOUR FOOD IS BAD FOR YOU.

But Dr. Robert Lustig in his recent book (fairly recently, anyway) Fat Chance has asserted that the traditional studies have a serious flaw. That many of the foods on the “bad” list were both high-fat and high-sugar, and it was far from clear which ingredient was the actual culprit.

He has conducted his own studies that distinguished between high-fat/low-sugar meals and low-fat/high-sugar ones, and found that it was the sugar, not the fat that was at fault.

Going back to the Seven Countries study, this study was originally 22 countries — the 15 countries that didn’t match Dr. Keys expectations were simply left out of his tome. In addition, two countries that did make the cut, Japan and Italy, that were found to have low levels of heart disease and fairly low rates of saturated fat consumption — but low sugar consumption too. Again, with no differentiation between the two, how could anyone tell which was the perpetrator and which was the bystander (or at least, the accomplice)? Could we all have been charging off in the wrong direction all this time?

The fat contains the what?

In an old episode of the M*A*S*H TV show, Corporal Radar O’Reilly was sitting down to chow with a buddy of his. He told him that the fat contains the flavor. I was devastated. I was just becoming aware of the need to watch my weight (I was around 12) and started thinking I was going to have to choose between unlimited weight gain and a lifetime of bland, tasteless food.

The taste of beef

I seem to remember, decades ago, that beef tasted a whole lot better than it does today. I am getting older, so maybe my taste buds are wearing out. Or is it the meat itself that has changed? I recently bought some packaged steaks at my local supermarket and couldn’t find any fat in them at all. I couldn’t find any flavor, either — they tasted so bad I’ll never buy this particular brand again.

But I did notice it’s become common practice today for restaurants to serve beef with little pots of dipping sauce. I guess these dips replace some of the flavor because they have fat in them. With some sugar added in too, no extra charge. So eating beef with dip defeats the purpose of choosing low-fat food, and you get sugar mixed in with it as well.

I just don’t worry about it

I’m no longer concerned with the fat content of food. Since high-fat food satisfies better, I eat less of it. I can have bacon and eggs (with butter) for breakfast and not feel guilty about it. And even though I’ve put on a few pounds/kilos lately, I’m still within my normal weight range.

Why sugar tastes so good

How could something that tastes so good be bad for you? We have all evolved to like what’s good for us and avoid what’s bad for us. In particular, among foods in their natural state, those high in sugar taste the best because they give the most life-sustaining energy per bite. So among animals in the forest, if carrots are 1 on the scale of sweetness, mangos 2, and blackberries 3, an animal will prefer the blackberries (when they are available).

So where’s the problem? The problem is when sugar is refined by modern processing techniques. If the above “natural” versions are a 1, 2, and 3 on the scale of sweetness, then pure crystalline white sugar is easily a 12. I’m sure if refined white sugar were around millions of years ago, we all would have evolved in the direction of refined sugar tasting bad. But evolution hasn’t had a chance to catch up with technology, so we love to chow down on anything that tastes intensely sweet — even though it makes us gain weight and develop disease.

I’m no saint

I have previously stated I’m a sugar addict. I developed this habit back in the days when I had no reason to believe that sugar was dangerous. My grandmother taught me that sugar made me feel good, and was the cure for “whatever ails me”. While I’ve yet to kick this habit, I rejoice in the fact that I’ve severely reduced my overall sugar intake, and intend to slowly take it down even more so in the future.

I have also discovered that massive doses of Vitamin B1 (500 mg or more per day, divided into smaller doses throughout the day) offsets some my worst side effects from sugar (such as rapid heartbeat and feeling “wiped out”), and even reduces cravings.

Business opportunities

I neither have the time nor the inclination to grow a new business right now, so I’ll give these ideas to anyone who wants them:

One idea is for a candy, like gummi bears, with lots of B vitamins in them. The sugar in the candy would satisfy the immediate cravings, and the B vitamins (mostly B1 with a handful of others just for balance) would help hold those cravings off for a while. I would have called it Sweet Relief, and exclusive rights to that name is free to the first one to actually use it.

The other is for a line of “traditional” foods, like meat, that has a traditional level of fat content in it. I would have called it Mrs. Sprat’s Full-Flavor Foods, after the lady in this children’s nursery rhyme:

  • Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
    His wife could eat no lean.
    But, together both,
    They licked the platter clean.

(Some people would have a problem with this. They would complain that these foods have too much fat in them, and the fat level should be reduced “to make them healthier”. I would just tell them there are plenty of other food suppliers out there, and that they should buy from one of those.)