Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat (and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay)

The Big Fat Surprise

The Truth About Animal Fat: What the Research Shows

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet lays out the scientific case why our bodies are healthiest on a diet rich in saturated fat from animal products. Analyzing study after study, Nina Teicholz leaves no doubt that the number one cause of the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is the low fat high carbohydrate diet doctors have been pushing for fifty years.

Blaming the Victim

My initial reaction on learning how the low fat diet became official government policy was to feel ripped off and angry. For decades, the medical establishment has been blaming fat people for being obese, portraying them as weak willed and lacking in self control. It turns out the blame lay squarely with their doctors, the American Heart Association (AHA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Congress and the food manufacturers who fund the AHA (Proctor and Gamble, Nabisco, General Foods, Heinz, Quaker Oats and Corn Products Refining Corporation) for foisting a diet on them that increases appetite and weight gain.

The law fat diet is based on a “theory” put forward in the 1950s that heart disease was caused by elevated cholesterol levels – and a few deeply flawed epidemiological studies. In other words, the low fat diet is a giant human experiment the medical profession conducted on the American public while attempting to prove that saturated animal fats cause heart disease. Fifty years of research would show the exact opposite: not only do low fat high carbohydrate diets increase the risk of cardiac death, but they’re also responsible for a myriad of other health problems, with obesity and diabetes being the most problematic.

The studies Teicholz cites also debunk the myth that animal fat increases the risk of breast and colon cancer.

Heart Attacks Rare Prior to 1900

Coronary artery disease and heart attacks were virtually unknown prior to 1900. When Ancel Keys, the father of the low fat diet, began his anti-fat crusade in the 1950s he claimed that industrialization and an improved standard of living had caused Americans to switch from a plant based diet to a diet that was higher in animal fats. This was total rubbish. Prior to 1900, Americans had always eaten a meat-based diet, in part because wild game was much more plentiful in North America than in Europe. Early cookbooks and diaries reveal that even poor families had meat or fish with every meal. Even slaves had 150 pounds of red meet a year, which contrasts unfavorably with 40-70 pounds of red meat in the current American diet.

What changed in the twentieth century was the introduction of cheaper vegetable fats into the American diet, starting with margarine and Crisco in the early 1900s.

Keys was also responsible for the theory, again without research evidence, that high cholesterol levels cause heart disease. This was also rubbish. Fifty years of research negates any link between either total cholesterol or LDL* cholesterol and heart disease. In study after study the only clear predictor of heart disease (in study after study) is reduced HDL. The same studies show that diets high in animal fats increase HDL, while those high in sugar, carbohydrates and vegetable oils reduce HDL.

Teicholz also discusses the role of statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) in this context. Statins do reduce coronary deaths, but this is due to their anti-inflammatory effect – not because of their effect on cholesterol.

Researchers Silenced and Sidelined

For decades, researchers whose findings linked low fat diets with higher rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke and tooth decay were systematically silenced and sidelined. As frequently happens with doctors scientists who challenge the powerful health industry, their grants were cut off and, in some cases, their careers destroyed.

For fifty years, the medical establishment simply ignored the growing body of research linking the high sugar/carbohydrate component of the low fat diet to heart disease, as well as those linking vegetable oils to cancer. Vegetable oils oxidize when cooked, leading to the production of cancer causing compounds such as aldehyde, formaldehyde and 4-hydroxnonene (HCN). Unsurprisingly diets in which vegetable oils (other than olive oil) are the primary fat are linked with an increased incidence of cancer. Several studies overseas have found high levels of respiratory cancer in fast food workers exposed to superheated vegetable oils.

The Atkins Diet

The Big Fat Surprise includes a long section on the Atkins diet, a popular high fat/protein low carbohydrate weight reduction diet in the 70s and 80s. The use of a high fat low carbohydrate diet for weight loss dates back to 1862 and was heavily promoted by Sir William Osler in his 1892 textbook of medicine. According to Teicholz, recent controlled studies totally vindicate Dr Robert C Atkins, who was ridiculed as a dangerous quack during his lifetime. They also debunk claims that high levels of protein in the Atkins diet cause kidney damage. In addition to being perfectly safe, controlled studies show it to be extremely effective for weight loss and treating diabetes.

The USDA and AHA Quietly Reverse Themselves

As Teicholz points out in her conclusion, the nutrition researchers who blindly pursued their anti-fat campaign – and politicians and corporate funders who supported them – have done Americans an immense disservice by creating a virtual epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

A few years ago, the tide began to turn, largely due to the 29,000 subject Women’s Health Initiative launched in 1993. In 2013, the USDA and AHA quietly eliminated fat targets from the dietary recommendations. Because they made no real effort to publicize their change of heart, many doctors are still giving their patients the wrong dietary advice and hounding them about their cholesterol levels.

Dump the Skim Milk

The take home lesson from this book is that it’s virtually impossible to eat too many eggs or too much red meat, cheese, sausage and bacon. Americans (and their overseas English-speaking cousins) need to dump the skim milk and margarine down the sink because whole milk and butter are better for you. People need to go back to cooking with lard, bacon drippings and butter. Cooking with vegetable oils can give you cancer.

Anyone with a weight problem needs to totally eliminate sugar and carbohydrate (the Atkins diet recommends less than half a slice of bread a day).

And if your doctor hassles you about your cholesterol tell him or her to read this book.


*LDL (low density lipoprotein) is referred to as “bad cholesterol” due to its alleged link to heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein) or “good cholesterol” appears to provide some protective effect against heart disease.

Also published at Veterans Today

38 thoughts on “Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat (and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay)

  1. Unfortunately it’s not just sugar that is problematic but all carbohydrates. Both overstimulate insulin production. According to the best available research, people need to eat a minimum amount of fat to maintain reasonable insulin levels – and healthy intestinal bacteria, it seems.

  2. Excellent post. The Atkins diet, when done properly, is not a high-protein diet. It’s high fat. This little distinction makes all the difference in the world and nullifies any claims that the diet can lead to kidney damage. Readers of this book would also like books by Gary Taubes and Alan L. Watson.

    And in terms of government nutrition guidelines, they’re wrought with flawed logic, shoddy science, and surprisingly inaccurate assumptions about disease processes. I tried to sum up the usefulness of these agency’s nutrition recommendations in a recent article (www.skeptictaproom.wordpress.com). The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial was hopefully the first of many nails in the coffin of the low-fat dogma.

    • Great blog, DH. Thanks for sharing. Re Atkins Diet: Teicholz emphasizes that the only time people get into trouble on the Atkins Diet is if they fail to eat enough fat. If people have enough fat in their diet, the kidneys clear creatinine and other protein wastes just fine.

  3. Hi Doc – Great post. I have been a type I diabetic since my late teens and always insulin dependent. My personal experience over the last ten years has been that an Atkins type diet has been good for my health. I use less insulin, my A1C levels are better controlled, my cholesterol levels are fine and I lost weight. Works for me! Regards

    • Same here. I more or less stumbled on a modified Atkins type diet about five years ago in dealing with clostridium difficile (a chronic intestinal infection). Reading this book was a big relief for me. So long as I eat enough fat, my kidneys won’t have any problems clearing protein breakdown products. I’m really happy to learn I can continue the diet indefinitely because it makes a big difference in my symptoms.

  4. Looks like classic damage control to me – far too little, too late. Before it was recently issued in paperback, the hard cover version of The Big Fat Surprise was a best seller. American doctors and the American Heart Association have a lot to answer for. They are directly responsible for the current epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a class action suit against the AHA for this.

  5. Another insidious side effect is the millions of people suffering from high cholesterol pharmaceuticals doctors have so freely bandied to make people suffer. I work in the health care industry and it is so bound up in medicine rather than teaching people how to live lives of wellness.

    • When I was still practicing, I saw scores of patients suffering from depression, anxiety and insomnia from their statin medications. My 93 year old neighbor was taken off all her medication a few months ago and is sleeping normally for the first time in decades.

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  8. Once you understand how low carbohydrate consumption works, low-fat makes no sense. I am glad I learned this first, because I wasn’t able to read anything promoting low-fat, it felt like nonsense. Thanks.

    • We were always told there was something wrong with us if we couldn’t tolerate the low fat diet. In the 70s and 80s people like me who had big blood sugar drops when they ate carbohydrates were diagnosed with “hypoglycemia” and put on a high protein diet. Back in the 90s, they changed the terminology and called it insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. Now it seems that the vast majority of people have big blood sugar swings on a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.

  9. Well, Tubularsock has spent his entire life to date cooking EVERYTHING in bacon drippings, period!
    If that isn’t the way it’s supposed to be then “They’re” wrong!

    • Well, it appears that bacon drippings save lives. According to 50 years of accumulated research, people who don’t get enough fat in their diet eat too much sugar and starch and put themselves at risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

    • Ah yes, you have learned the secret to good cooking — bacon and hot sauce! Well, not together, but those are 2 ingredients that improve whatever you put them in!

      • The more deeper I dig into research that is widely available on the Internet, the more I am convinced that we need to forget everything we have ever been told by the corporate elite and their middle class gatekeepers and start over from square one in constructing a knowledge base about how our bodies work and what’s good for them.

      • Ok, you got me — I will check over here regularly b/c I need all the ‘diet’ help I can get. When I was young I was underweight for my age and height; I gained weight each time I was pregnant but then lost it within weeks after giving birth; when i was 30 I weighed 169 pounds and decided that if I went into menopause weighing that much I would have way too many health problems so I decided to simply lose that 30 pounds — not only did I lose it, I kept it off for more than 20 years! But then menopause hit and now all i have to do is look at food and I gain 5 pounds! I get a fair amount of exercise, and I don’t really have any health issues, but if I start paying attention to these articles on your blog i can only get better. I am 62, 5′ 11″ and I weigh 177; I figure if I start looking for the book you discuss in this article I can only get healthier no matter what I weigh! 🙂

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