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Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise is a seminal investigation into the dietary guidelines that have shaped much of the world’s attitudes to nutrition, most importantly saturated fat. For decades Americans and indeed people around the world have been told to limit their consumption of fat, particularly saturated fat, with the goal of reducing heart disease and increasing their overall vitality. However, as Teicholz successfully demonstrates the so-called studies, which were the basis for these official dietary guidelines were fundamentally flawed and often completely misrepresented. Teicholz delves deep into the history of nutrition research over the last eighty years to capture the hugely political nature of dietary advice. This advice was shaped and influenced by a handful of belligerent scientists determined to prove their theories, as well as big food industry players, eager to make a profit on the eating habits of consumers.
The Big Fat Surprise is the result of Teicholz’s decade long investigation into the hundreds of largely dubious and misrepresented studies that ended up being used as the basis to scare people into cutting saturated fat, mainly from animal products, from their diet. Readers will finish this book with a new understanding of how studies can be manipulated and misreported to portray a result that is palatable to the body, which funded it, or simply to ideas that are accepted as truth.
The Big Fat Surprise is a comprehensive summary of the most influential studies that shaped our beliefs around what constitutes a healthy diet and is arguably the missing political summary in helping us understand just what lay behind the big fat surprise, which is despite years of misinformation – saturated fat isn’t the enemy. Teicholz provides a deep analysis of many of the studies that have been cited as evidence for various nutrition policy decisions and pays particular attention to methodology and results, as well as identifying gaps between the published data and the actual findings. She effectively illustrates the profound impact of major food producers in funding studies arguing that this influenced was responsible for the “slow asphyxiation of scientific research” in nutrition.
Teicholz traces the development of the so-called diet-heart hypothesis, which was mooted by Dr Ancel Keys then ‘substantiated’ with extensive (but as we see flawed) studies. The foundational study behind this hypothesis was the now well-known “Seven Country Study”, designed and executed by Dr Keys himself in the early 60s and only illustrated selected findings. She looks at the important relationship between researchers such as Keys and influential bodies like the American Heart Association (AHA) and how these impacted the development of saturated fat phobia. Also critical to the fat history is the replacement of animal fats with vegetable oils, the development of hydrogenated oils and the trans fats that are inherent in them, and the exploration of other alternatives to the once traditional American diet.
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