big fat surprise book.jpg

I’ll admit it – I’m a bit ‘out there’ when it comes to nutrition, food, and health.  Call it crunchy, holistic, primal, whatever…but my ideal kitchen would include vats of fermenting yogurt and soaking grains and sprouting seeds, along with animal products of all shapes and sizes, plus every unnamable veggie and fruit out there.  We put beet powder in smoothies and sweet potatoes in pancakes.  Alas, reality hits and I do what I can with what I have, but when I stumble across books like this one by Nina Teicholz, I’m all over it.

Disclaimers up front – obviously, the author has a point to prove and will go to great lengths to do so.  I read these types of books with a grain of salt (ha – pun!) and take it in context of the greater expanse of food and nutrition knowledge that exists.  Last night I finished reading it (minus the 115 pages of notes and annotations) and came away with three main thoughts:

1. Some fat is good, especially animal based or hardens-at-room temperature types (think, coconut oil).

2. What benefits do those types of fats give me?  Teicholz spent 10 chapters systematically dissecting and destroying the mainstream beliefs of nutritional health (eat less fat, more carbohydrates).  However, when it came time to reveal why fats are good for us, the essential theory seemed to be simply because if we eat more fat, by default we will eat less carbs, and less carbs is better for us.  Huh.  She did explain how carbs affect our bodies (keep reading for more on that) but I kept wanting to get to the point that said, “….and this is why fats help you!  They do this and this and this for your body and brain and systems, and no other food can do that for you!”  Either I completely missed that part of the book, or it simply wasn’t there.  I find it hard to swallow (ha – pun again!) that the only benefit of eating fat is that it means I’m not eating something else.  Sally Fallon’s classic text does an excellent job of explaining how fats help us, and in a much more succinct fashion, plus there are recipes.

3. This passage will stay with me for awhile.  After I finished reading it I thought, “Now that’s how carbs affect my body!  I get it now!”  It’s one of the simplest explanations of how carbohydrates actually trigger certain biological responses.  Teicholz writes:

“The study of hormones, called endocrinology, had revealed by 1921 that insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, appeared to trump all others in the deposition of fat…The body secretes insulin whenever carbohydrates are eaten.  If cars are eaten only occasionally, the body has time to recover between the surges of insulin.  The fats cells have time to release their stored fat, and the muscles can burn the fat as fuel.  If carbohydrates are eaten throughout the day, however, in meals, snacks, and beverages, then insulin stays elevated in the bloodstream, and the fat remains in a state of constant lockdown.  Fat accumulates to excess; it is stored, not burned…on a diet restricted in carbohydrates: the absence of carbohydrates would allow fat to flow out of the fat tissue, no longer held hostage there by the circulating insulin, and this fat could then be used as energy.  A person would lose weight, not because they necessarily ate less but because the absence of insulin was allowing the fat cells to release the fat and the muscle cells to burn it.”

My recommendation?  Start with the final chapter and the conclusion.  The book is over 300 pages (plus the previously 115 pages of notes) and the meat (oh man, I’m on point today!) is found at the end.  The rest of the book is a step by step walk through how nutrition science got to where it is today, along with the author’s attempts at disproving or questioning all those findings.  It’s a worthwhile read, but without the hope of an answer (thus my suggestion to read the end first) it can get a bit repetitive and droll.


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