[4:26] About Nina Teicholz
[10:55] What Compelled Nina to Write a 500-Page Book After Discovering Shocking Cover-Ups in the Nutrition Industry
[17:30] – What Researcher George Mann Found in African Populations Who Were Subsisting on a Diet of Organs, Meat and Blood
[22:57] Nina’s Take on What’s the Bigger Driving Factor Behind Research Being Suppressed
[27:10] Why Lewis and Clark Were a Bit Disappointed in the Game Meat They Discovered When Traveling West
[31:49 & 38:45] – How Americans Used to Eat, and Why It's a Huge Problem That We Now Eat So Much Poultry
[39:38] Association Between Red Meat and Cancer
[43:45] MVMT Watches
[44:51] Nina’s Take on Red Meat That Has Been Cooked Well Done, Burned, Heavily Processed to Cause Colorectal Cancer
[58:52] What Was the “remarking and troublesome omission” From the Ancel Keys Study and Why the “true” Mediterranean Diet Is Far Different Than the Mediterranean Diet You've Probably Seen in Popular Literature
[62:49] The Surprising Truth Behind Why the Cretans Were So Long Lived
[69:02] When Trans Fats Got Banned What Worse Thing Entered to the Equation
[78:40] The Biggest Mistakes That People Make When Following a High Fat Diet
[85:56.3] End of Podcast
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In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“We are so divorced from our history, you know, really just two generations is where it’s, you know, my grandmother would have chopped liver for breakfast and now we thinks that’s just completely disgusting but you know the liver, the heart, the kidney, the offal, as you call it. That’s where all the nutrients are.” “None of these populations ate any sugar or very little sugar, and so that was always an alternative hypothesis. And pretty much of the belief right now that there’s a desire to condemn red meat that is based on the other agendas that have nothing to do with health.”
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield and if you saw the title for today's podcast episode called “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, And Cheese Belong In A Healthy Diet” then you might have been tempted to skip this episode because, let's not beat around the bush here, in health circles it's kind of old news now that saturated fat just might not be bad for you and we even know now, and I've talked about this before and interviewed people about this before that things like sugar, and starches, and vegetable oil could instead be the primary contributory factors to things like heart disease or other chronic health issues. And so, when I got this book called “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter Meat And Cheese Belong In A Healthy Diet” in the mail a few weeks ago, I kind of figured it would be the same old advice like you know, “eat the egg yolk when you have your eggs” and “don't be afraid of butter” and “drink whole milk instead of skim milk” blah blah blah. But I was actually pretty surprised. I was big fat surprised! Aha! See what I did there. And here's why. In the book the author, her name is Nina Teicholz, Teicholz? I don’t know. Nina, well is on the call with me and I'm just gonna ask her. Is it Teicholz or Teicholz?
Nina: It’s Teicholz.
Nina: But go ahead. You’re pretty close.
Ben: What is that? German? Jewish?
Nina: It is. German and Jewish, right. Exactly.
Ben: It’s German and Jewish?
Nina: Yes, it is.
Ben: Okay. Cool. Anyway, so in that book, Nina, lays out this really comprehensive history and treaties and extremely full argument. Probably the fullest I’ve ever read as to why saturated fats which are the kind, of course, that you'd find in dairy, and meat, and eggs are bad for your health, but then she takes a really deep dive into some cool things that I haven't read about before like myths behind the Mediterranean diet and the heart killing replacement for trans fats. You probably haven't heard about yet to the ethics of eating meat and a whole bunch more that make this a really unique book. As a matter of fact, the Economist named it The Best Science Book of 2014 and called it A Nutrition Thriller in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Mother Jones Magazine, a library journal, and Kirkus Reviews also named it The Best Book of 2014. The British Medical Journal praised it in a pretty extensive review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition said all scientists and every nutrition science professional should read this book.
So, apparently some other people thought it was pretty good too. And I actually had the chance to hang out with Nina a couple months ago when I spoke at the Weston A. Price Conference where we were able to stuff our faces with copious amounts of lard, and pork, and ghee, and all sorts of crazy sausages and fats. And so I'm sure, Nina, you were in like heaven over there. And Nina was a reporter for national public radio and a whole bunch of other publications like Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Economist. She went to Yale, she went to Stanford, so she's a pretty smart cookie ‘cause she studied biology there and also American studies. She has a Master's Degree from Oxford. She served as the Associate Director for the Center For Globalization and Sustainable Development at Columbia. She lives now in New York City and of course she now takes very deep dives into researching nutrition science and writing about it and I'm guessing, Nina, well we’re recording this on a Tuesday morning, I'm guessing did you like eggs and bacon for breakfast?
Nina: (chuckles) Well, that’d be so predictable. Actually, I don't eat breakfast so I haven't had breakfast yet. But when I have lunch I tend to have bacon and eggs for lunch. So yes.
Ben: Oh, I figured you just liked walking around with a carton full of heavy cream all the time.
Nina: (laughs) Yeah, that’s me. Just main lining cream and butter.
Ben: (laughs) One of those people who puts the 2 sticks of butter in the Blendtec blender in the morning.
Nina: No, actually I really don't do that. And it’s funny you hit right to the heart of what people criticize those of us who have tried to exonerate saturated fat. And I think you know it is true. Like the main argument of my book is the exoneration of saturated fat. The story of how it was unfairly demonized to begin with, and based on really weak science and then it really you know, that unfair idea became codified into policy. We just have never been able to get rid it. But one of the chief criticisms is, “aren’t you just telling everybody to go around and eat sticks of butter?” (laughs) And you know, ‘cause that’s sort of what the opposition would like people to think, right? That this is what we advise, and some people you know, there is this guy on the web. His name is Bob and his website is “I eat butter ‘til my pants fell off.”
Nina: (laughs) He ate like nothing but sticks of butter, but anyway, I don't think there's any harm in it. I just thought the point of my book was just say “let's let saturated fat out of jail”. Like there's no reason for them to be in jail. You could eat them, they’re good for you, but you don't have to go overboard on them.
Ben: Right, right. And later on I actually want to talk to you about some of the mistakes that people make if they do kind of like look at the cover of your book, which by the way, I headed out last night and it's essentially a rack of ribs with a halo over it. And my son, Terran, was sitting at the table as I had your book out, you know, kind of thumbing through because I knew I'd be interviewing you today and he said, “why does that meat have a ring on top of it, dad?” and so I explained to him you know the angelic meaning of the halo over the big cut of fatty meat, but I do realize that there are sometimes some issues that people develop when they kind of just look at the cover a book like this and decide they're going to say eat copious amounts of coconut oil, and butter, and perhaps get some skewed ratios. We'll talk about that a little bit, but I actually want to get into what on earth compelled you to write this 500 page book instead of you know, ‘cause you're an editor at gourmet if I understand correctly when you started writing this, so I mean you could have done a story on like sesame soy flank steak and kind of called it good and made things easier on yourself and instead you wrote this enormous book. So why is it that you took this deep of a dive?
Nina: Well first of all, I wasn’t an editor at Gourmet. I was a writer.
Ben: Oh okay.
Nina: And I was doing this series of investigative food stories for a really great editor there and she assigned me a story on trans fats which I had never heard of and I had never done a story on nutrition before and really didn't know anything about it. But it opened up this world to me which was just sort of seemingly incredible. I mean, the first stories of the scientists whom I interviewed for a story on trans fat were people like someone named Mary Enig who was telling me stories about how margarine, guys from margarine companies visited her office and would tell her stories, things like you know “we're gonna try to shut down your research”. He was one of the first researchers to sound the alarm bells on trans fats. And people, other industry officials calling medical journals trying to get her papers yanked from them before publication and stories about, seriously about scientists who had been hired to go around and harass other scientists at scientific conferences and meetings. Just unbelievable stories.
Nina: And I would interview people and they were, some people were just terrified to talk to me and I would get off the phone so there shaking feeling like, “Am I investigating the mob?” or “What am I doing here?” And I so…
Ben: Seriously, the guys in margarine t-shirts walking around with AK47 shoved into their pants.
Nina: Yeah, you just, you imagine as an outsider that science just sort of progresses rationally, and calmly, and soberly forward and you know one step at a time and instead I found this world that was this sort of steamy underworld where they was out right bullying going on, and it just you know when you're a reporter, your every tentacle in your body just goes up thinking, “This is a huge story. There is a huge story here.” So from that story which, led to a book contract on trans fats, I started researching trans fats and I really, then I talked to Gary Taubes and read his book. This is before his book could even come out yet and I realized, “Oh there's just a huge story here about all…”
Ben: Are you talking about “Good Calories, Bad Calories”?
Nina: Right. So this is that book that came out in 2007. I started my book in 2004 and during those years, Gary shared with me some of his research work and I interviewed him a number of times, and I just realized we had just gotten it so completely wrong on all fats following on Gary's work. And so, anybody who’s interested in this field, I think you must know this yourself like it's so incredibly fascinating that not only the science but the politics, I turns out that I'm just an obsessive compulsive kind of person and one of the reasons that I got out of radio journalism which is where I got my start is that it wasn't, it did not allow for the full expression of my obsessive compulsive nature. Which it turns out had it's perfect landing spot in the 10-year book project. Which is…
Nina: Which is what it turned out to be. I mean, I just you know you feel like you must track down every bit of original research and you know there's so many lies to track down. You find so many things by going back to the original data and you discover researchers who are lying about their work and review papers that lie about the papers they intend to summarize. I mean there’s been just a massive cover up going on in this field for decades now, plus the role of industry and it’s wildly complex and incredibly interesting. And then I guess at some point I felt like I understood that what I was doing was so robustly controversial that if I didn't make a watertight case and tracked down every single last line of opposition or criticism or anything I had to make a really, really solid case.
Nina: And that meant really tracking down everything. Every single paper I could find. Every criticism, every letter and every response to every paper, I mean, it’s just an exhaustive effort but you know, in the end I guess it was worth it.
Ben: It's shocking that one would take 9, I mean I took about a year and a half to write my last book and that seemed like a long time. Nine years or almost 10 years I believe to write this book, that's a commitment and there’s certainly quite a bit in there. And I want to delve into some of the things that you talked about in this book, but by the way for, those of you listening and if you would like to access the show notes for today's episode and everything Nina and I talked about, just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/bigfatsurprise, that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/bigfatsurprise.
Now, one of the things that you talked about in this book, Nina, is this son of Icelandic immigrants. This guy named Stefansson who went and lived with the Inuit and observed they’re 70 to 80 percent fat-based diet and how they would, for example, go after the fat deposits behind like the caribou’s eyes, and along their jaw, and then their head and their heart, and their kidney, and their shoulder, and they would like feed the lean parts, like the tenderloin to the dogs and that they actually would only eat vegetables when they were in famine and it's quite interesting how healthy they were and then how healthy he and some of his colleagues were after adopting this diet. But then you also go on and you talk about another gentleman who, I think about half a century later over in Africa, was seen some similar things over there and that this guy's name was George Mann. Can you talk a little bit, I thought it was really interesting how you talked about George Mann because I've heard this talk about the Inuit and the Eskimos before and how they do pretty well on a high fat-based diet, but can you talk about what George Mann found when he was over in Africa?
Nina: Yes, and just to provide a little context to this and the Stefansson story that you just told about Inuit and all these stories, many of which are chronicled in my book. It's just to show there are healthy people eating high fat diet that had been discovered and chronicled and documented around the world, and the reason for recounting these stories is not to say, “You need to eat this diet.” but simply to show that these were documented stories that existed and that our experts and authorities ignored. So one of the most prominent ones is this story of George Mann who’s actually a biochemist at the University of Vanderbilt.
He went out to Kenya and took a mobile laboratory there. He studied the people, the Messiah Warriors, and he studied the men and he found that they drink three to five liters of milk every day, and that was their main staple. And then when they could get it, they would have four to 10 pounds of fatty meat which they would eat in a single sitting and then other than that they ate blood. That was their diet. Milk, meat, and blood. They didn't take any vegetable matter although the women in their tribe did. And yet, George Mann found that their blood pressure was 50 percent lower than the average American’s similar age and that it did not rise with age which was kind of a stunning finding which was on the late seventies when he was out there. A stunning finding because it was just accepted that people with their blood pressure go up and then they get sick as they got older, but here was a tribe for whom that was not true. They were normal weight, they were muscular, and then Doctor Mann took four hundred electrocardiograms of the men and found no evidence of an infraction. He also did…
Ben: Now what about, just to play devil's advocate here, sorry to jump in but I mean these were like hunter gatherer warriors in Africa. Is it possible they were just like exercising more than their counterparts in the western world?
Nina: That's possible but he found that the elder men who did not hunt just sat around the village and didn't really do much at all and that they were, they similarly were in good health and not fat at all. And they're health didn’t get worse with age. So exercise did not seem to provide the explanation. You could also see me but they had some kind of a genetic protection and actually Doctor Mann followed a group of them who had moved to a city, Nairobi, and took their blood pressure and electrocardiogram and found that their, and their cholesterol levels, found that they looked a lot more like the city people and so they didn't seem to be any genetic protection that they enjoyed and nor did they suffer any…
Ben: So you mean they adopted more of a western diet, these folks who would normally been eating like milk, and blood, and meat, and fat, and they actually developed the same cardiovascular abnormalities that you would see in like a western population.
Nina: Exactly. Thank you. And so it seemed that the food that they were eating made was what was determining their health status. And also the Messiah Warriors who kept to their meat, fat, and milk diet, they didn't suffer from any cancer or diabetes. So this was all written up in medical journals at the time including the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which is the most widely read journal, if I'm not mistaken, in America and it was all ignored by the top nutrition experts. They were aware of Doctor Mann’s work but they did their very best to try to, well to try to bully it out of existence, really you know. Either ignoring it, that’s one tactic that has been used historically or they would write, they would nitpick it to death to try to find errors with everything that he did. So George Mann became one of the chief dissenters to the kind of the status quo thinking. But he, I interviewed him right before he, in his eighties when he was in a nursing home and I found him really to be a broken man because none of his findings had been accepted by his colleagues and he had sort of been drummed out of science.
Ben: Wow. What would be the reason that you would drum something like that out of science is that more, is it like a lobbyist issue, is it a big food corporation issue? Meaning, I guess what I'm asking, would this be more like an issue of the fact that just like Kellogg's cereal has more advertising dollars or is it more like government subsidy of grain and corn like in your opinion, what would be the bigger driving factor behind research like this being suppressed?
Nina: So this is a huge question I'm going to give a somewhat simplistic answer. Food industry money infiltrates nutrition science, really at its very source. So they fund nutrition scientist, they would fund studies, they distort the science in a number of ways, they would fund scientific conferences. In the case of nutrition, I think it's fair to say that the nutrition experts themselves have come over the last 50 years really truly to believe that fat and meat are bad for health. And so, George Mann was drummed out of nutrition science by his fellow scientists and this is how it happened. You submit a paper, it doesn’t get accepted for publication because your fellow scientists are on the board, editorial boards of those journal. You are no longer invited to be on expert panels. You're not invited to give talks at conferences. George Mann actually told me the story that he was a very prominent scientists actually and he had participated in some big government studies and he told me this story of being at the National Institute of Health, and the secretary pulling him into the hallway and saying, “you know, if you continue your vocal opposition to [24:20]______” he was one of the major leaders of the kind of status quo idea that fat and saturated fat are bad for you, “if you continue your opposition to [24:28]______you're going to lose your research grant.” And shortly thereafter, he did.
So losing your funding, a big reason that scientists just no longer do their work. And I heard many dozens of stories like this and in fact these kinds of stories continue today. And it means that not only are scientists with opposing views marginalized, but it also means that the younger scientists seeing that happen to their older colleagues, they self-sensor. They learn to self-sensor. They don't write things, they don't study things, they won’t, for instance, talk to me about dietary fat what 10 years ago when I started this they're too afraid to talk to journalists about dietary fat because there’s such kind of a power that falls over the whole process of scientific inquiry which requires openness and acceptance of alternative ideas.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And you know, more than the kind of like the, I shouldn’t say conspiracy theory because there's a great deal of truth that you outlined in the book and I mean obviously since you took nine to 10 years to write it, so there's a ton of evidence that you include in it but some of things that I found even more compelling and interesting than that maybe it's just because I'm obsessed with being an outdoor savage running around in my underwear in the snow, was like some of your stories about like these native American populations, I mentioned the Inuit and the folks up in Alaska, and then we talked a little bit about the Messiah but then you know you talk about like that Sikhs, S-I-K-H, is that how you pronounce that? The Sikhs and the Hunzas who were studied by Robert McCarrison in the early 1900s, and these were folks who were also eating a diet primarily comprised of fatty cuts of meat and an abundance of milk and milk products like butter and cheese, and the majority of their fat was saturated and you talked about how they displayed none of the major diseases of western nations like cancer, and peptic ulcer, and appendicitis, and dental decay, and of course many of us have heard of that conference that you and I were at, the Weston A. Price Conference where Weston A. Price traveled around the world and found everything from better facial symmetry to stronger bones and people who were eating diets like this.
But another couple of folks who you talked about kinda struck close to my heart was Lewis and Clark. You kind of talk about how Lewis and Clark were actually a bit disappointed in what they were getting in terms of the game as they were traveling with their hunting parties. And the reason this is near and dear to my heart is I grew up in Lewiston, Idaho across the river from Clarkston, Idaho, and so I was very very close to where Lewis and Clark kind of traveled up the Snake River area, so I'm always interested in stories that feature Lewis and Clark, but can you talk about why they were kind of disappointed at what they were finding with the game meat they were hunting?
Nina: Yes. So this is in 1805 when during their travels when they’re surviving off of the game that they hunted they returned from one hunting party with 40 deer, 3 buffalo and 16 elk, but the haul was considered a disappointment because most of the game were too lean for use, which meant there was plenty of muscle meat but not enough fat. And of course this is something that is found throughout many accounts by explorers and where they find and trappers where they find that they, meat which was too lean was considered inedible. It just didn't give the people’s strength that they needed. There's another story in 1857, a party of trappers exploring Oregon’s Klamath River where they were starving because they, although they consumed an enormous amount of meat from five to six pounds per man each day, but they continue to grow weak and thin until after 12 days. “We were unable to perform even just the littlest bit of labor because we are continually craving for fat.” So this repeated theme of lean meat without the fat was considered, it didn't give you strength that was not digestible which is so ironic for those of us today having our skinless chicken breast, chewing fat like how is it that we don't know that you know that’s inedible or…
Ben: Right, right. Especially when you look at animals you know, for example you talked about lions and tigers in the book, and how they’ll ravage the blood, and the hearts, and the kidneys, and the livers, and the brains of the animals they kill and usually leave like the muscle meat for the vultures, and in many cases that's like the loins, and the ribs, and the flank, and the chuck, and all these things that we prize and pay a lot of money for you know is, kind of funny how we call offal right? O-F-F-A-L, but a lot of people really truly think it’s awful, A-W-F-U-L when you know we include these things like braunschweiger and head cheese, and I mean like I don't know if I’ve told you about US Wellness Meats before, Nina, but I order quite extensively from now. I usually get a big box from them about every quarter that’s just chock full of pemmican and head cheese which is a mix of a whole bunch of these different fats that you talked about in the book, and braunschweiger which is very similar and you feel like a superhero after you eat this stuff. You can almost feel it hitting your bloodstream and you go into the book about these folks like that are explorers and our ancestors, and how they would literally starve when eating what we would pay 60 Bucks for at a steakhouse.
Nina: No, I mean it’s just a recurring theme about how we are so divorced from our history. Really in just two generations were as you know, my grandmother would have chopped liver for breakfast and now we think that’s just completely disgusting. But you know the liver, and the heart, the kidney, the offal as you call it. That's where all the nutrients are and so that’s why people would eat them. Every society has some, what is haggis? Haggis is like rotting intestines or something. That seems disgusting.
Ben: But you have to say it like this, Haggis.
Nina: I think John Burns knows. He’s coming up next week but all the organ meats were prized for their nutrient density and of course the fat was prized as well. So they're all the hunting strategies were designed to find animal when it was at its fattest. You would never want to hunt an animal in the spring. You want to hunt the animals in the fall when they're putting on weight and getting ready for, to go into hibernation. So you know, all the hunting strategies were designed to find the fattiest animals, the fattest parts of the animal that was consistently the way that humans survive up until…
Nina: Nutrition scientists got into the picture and told us to start avoiding all of that.
Ben: Right, you actually talked about this a little bit in the book about how Americans used to eat. Lest we give people the impression that this is all just folks running around in loincloth throwing spears and I'm not trying to sound racist but you talk about like the Hunza, and the Messiah, and these like African populations for example in their ancient tribes that they are eating milk and blood, but Americans used to eat this way. Can you get into like how Americans used to eat?
Nina: Yes. And it is important to use examples closer to home because one of the criticisms of George Mann, and the Stefansson, the Inuits those were “exotic people”. So we have nothing to do with that. Similar argument against the Paleo diet today, oh, we can eat like hunters and gatherers but in fact if you go back and you can look close to home at early American settlers who were considered, and this is incredible research that I came across, were considered completely indifferent farmers. They were considered lazy. They barely grew anything at all, and that was because they lived off of the incredible abundance of game that there was then. I mean, you have to remember this was the land before it had been over hunted, there was some of these images just are mind boggling. They would have migrating flocks of birds that would darken the sky for days. One of them is called “tasty Eskimo curlew” that was apparently so fat that it would burst upon falling to the earth covering the ground with a sort of fatty meat paste. (chuckles) New Englanders called that bird which is now extinct the Dough Bird.
The woods were full of bears which were prized for their fat and bobolink opossums hairs and just thickets of deer, and they didn't even consider worth their while to hunt moose, and elk, and bison because hauling in conserving so much meat was just consider not even worth the effort. So and even in the mid-1800s according to one researcher who went back and really exhaustively looked through all kinds of market entreaties and logs for slaves. How much they fed slaves and all kinds of different documentation. He concluded that Americans ate, and this is in mid-1800s. A hundred and seventy five pounds of meat per person per year. And you have to compare that to what we eat and that's all red meat. There was barely or mostly red meat.
Nina: People eat very little chicken. Now, we eat about a hundred pounds of meat per year. So we were eating a good three quarters more per year than we do today, and this is before the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease. So it really is astonishing to think how different our diets were not that long ago and how quickly we forget.
Ben: Yeah, and to put that into context, we're eating more from what I understand, more poultry but less red meat, and poultry is not necessarily bad for me. I raise and eat chickens and you eat them and their eggs. Of course, I primarily eat the roosters because my wife does not like the, she doesn’t like the taste of the males and I figured out how to brine them and get them somewhat tender and tasty but they are, they're tough to cook because they're so freaking low in fat compared to all the conjugated linoleic acid, and the omega 3 fatty acids that you find like good grass-fed beef or red steak like the marble-y cuts. You find quite a bit more even not considering that the component of the liver, and the kidneys, and the heart, and some of these other things that we talked about. Yeah, poultry is just a whole different can of worms. Horrible analogy there. A whole different can of worms than something like red meat. It really is not the same. I mean, people who want to step up their meat consumption, you kinda do have to look at some of these other sources. And for me not only is this part about how Americans used to eat fascinating, Nina, but you know my background is in biochemistry and physiology, and so I like to look at why is it that you would feel so much better without our ancestors would have almost intuitively prized these fattier cuts more and when you look at, for example, the amino acid profile of meat.
We find really really high levels in red meat of the amino acid methionine which is great and which you need but there's actually some evidence that that can increase risk for some these chronic diseases that you see like heart attacks or cardiovascular disease, for example, when it is heavily imbalanced without as much of the amino acid glycine which you tend to find in these fattier cuts and then in like the bone broth and the bone marrow. And so, people who do a lot of meat and decide they’re gonna go out and eat meat but ignore some these other sources that you talk about in the book, they tend to develop these methionine and glycine imbalances that kind of tip the scales in favor of health issues and our ancestors, I'm wagering, had very much higher amounts of glycine in their diets than we get these days. And so, that's one thing that I think folks are kind of missing out on and of course the other thing that you and I experience quite a bit when we were at the Weston A. Price Conference a while ago, is just much much lower amounts of these fat soluble vitamins in the meats like vitamin A, and D, and E, and K compared to one most nutrient-dense fuels on the face the planet which is liver, which is just chock full of those vitamins. And so this isn't just like historical lore there's some definite biochemistry to this practice as well.
Nina: Yeah, I mean one thing to just realize is lean meat was not a thing to eat until either we’re talking about the settlers who couldn't eat lean meat. Now we, that’s all we have in our supermarkets, right. Lean meat started being developed starting the 1980s really when the US dietary guidelines began and so the entire cattle industry in order to comply with our government guidelines, the entire cattle industry changed our herds. So cattle are bred to be leaner. Pork is bred to be leaner. Why it's so dry and tastless? (laughs) So all our meats changed which is why it’s harder to get fatty meat now, but you're right you need to have the fat with the protein in order for that meat to be healthy. You don't wanna overdose on protein without the fat, I mean, what’s healthier is a higher fat diet with a moderate protein.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Nina: Just going back to the chicken point, red meat is also much more dense in the vitamins. Has many more vitamins and minerals in general than chicken does. And you know historically like in the 19th Century, chickens were really not raised for their meat. They were raised for their eggs. And chicken was kind of a rarity to eat. So now we have had a greater increase in chicken. I think it's like since 1970 to 2005 we’ve had like 121% increase in our chicken consumption and actually a decline in our red meat consumption.
Ben: Yeah, and that's another not to kick this horse to death too much because I wanna move on and talk about a few other things as well, but we talked about heart disease but there's also this recent study a relatively recent looking at the association between red meat and cancer, and I think primarily it was a colorectal cancer that they found to be an issue when it comes to red meat. And I think that what they looked at was the ability of red meats to cause cancer or some kind of causation between red meat and mortality. Did you look into that study at all or did that come out after you had already published this book?
Nina: I have looked into the red meat and cancer issue and I will just say that all of that is based on weak, what’s called epidemiological data which has association but not causation. The associations themselves are extremely weak and unreliable and in the two large clinical trials of cancer trials where meat was significantly reduced, it did not decrease the incidence of cancer. So in a more rigorous research, cancer was not reduced when meat was cut back. So the reason that we have this scare about red meat and cancer, in my view, has a lot more to do with this kind of anti-red meat moment that we're living in because people think red meat is bad for the planet. They think it’s bad, they are offended by factory farming. There's a very strong animal welfare movement. There are many reasons that people are upset about red meat but and…
Nina: So they’re trying to rope, in my view, I think they're trying to rope in nutrition to go along with that story, but there really is not good evidence to confirm that.
Ben: Yeah, and a couple things to note about that study was that the hazard ratio in terms of the increased risk for cancer was primarily found in kind of two different scenarios. One was the high consumption of processed meats like really high in nitrates and those can cause nitrosamines formation in the body, and that can tend to increase risk of cancer. And so if you're switching to a diet high in meat and you’re kind of doing lots of sausages, and hot dogs, and bacon, and ham, and cold cuts, and what's the one that comes in a can? Is it…
Ben: Yes, spam.
Nina: I wanna say, I have to jump in.
Ben: That would certainly be an issue. Go ahead.
Nina: I have to jump in and tell you that the ratio, so what you're claiming the hazard ratio that the number for processed meat is 1.18 difference and for red meat generally it’s 1.17, and that difference is really not meaningful, in my opinion. So I don't see it for processed meat either. I just don’t see that data.
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Ben: Now in terms of the risk for colorectal cancer, I do know that the risk goes up much much higher but that is from what I understand in the research that they did in subjects who smoke and also was influenced by subject’s preference for well-done meat which I know can really increase the risk of carcinogens. When you look at like heterocyclic amines, and some of the hydrocarbons, and people who just eat grilled meat, a really well done meat, or you know, my wife’s family’s from Montana and so, bless their hearts, they really like it like black and super well done and grilled, and I think that that does actually make red meat or has the potential to make red meat a little bit more risky when it comes to getting exposed to some of the things that occur when you burn or heavily process or heavily cook meat. Do you have any take on that?
Nina: That may be true and but all I can say is that the science, the strongest association they can find between red meat and any kind of cancer is that 1.18 number and I will say that any, that risk number, that relative risk number, anything below two is completely unreliable and could be due to any kind of confounding factors. So when you're at 1.18 that tells me nothing. That tells me you should go study something else. I really don't, I just don't see it and I don't see it in that literature, and I think the literature has been greatly exaggerated and you know all that. Even at 1.18 number, think about like who's been eating red meat for the last 30 years? It’s all the people who completely ignore everything their doctor tells them, right? They’re the people who smoke so hard, they don't go to the gym, they don't go to cultural events or they don't you know, those are the unhealthy people. They don’t listen to anything their doctor tells them if they're eating red meat, right? So, all those factors are confounding or what’s called confounding factor, any kind of like slight increase you see in cancer could be due to anyone those things ‘cause you can't really control for them in those studies which is why those studies are so unreliable. So…
Ben: What you just said kind of gets after the kind of the last like chemical thing I want to talk about when it comes to meat and that’s that TMAO compound, you know. I don't know if you heard much about this but…
Nina: I have.
Ben: It was, okay. So basically this is the latest on the red meat cancer link and it was this trimethylamine oxide that can increase risk of heart disease and then we’re finding more of this in the guts of people who ate red meat, and it turns out if you look at the ability of this TMAO to cause things like cardiovascular disease, it could be very much related to the gut microbiome. And if you look at red meat eaters like you just alluded to, in many cases they are kind of like that, again not to be racist, but like that red blooded American male baseball player, and football fan who’s sitting on the couch engaging in other unhealthy behaviors that can lead to gut dysbiosis that could make that TMAO production a lot more of a problem. You know, eating fewer vegetables so you get less fermentable fiber, eating more processed flour and sugar, and seed oils and vegetable oils, and all of those would result in some pretty undesirable changes in the gut microbiota and in my opinion, again, make red meat an issue.
Nina: Yeah. You know that TMAO issue, just another giant canard really. Where do you find the highest levels of that? Not red meat. You find the highest level of that in fish. Why are they targeting red meat? Because there's an anti-meat sentiment amongst the nutrition world right now. They're not talking. Why are they not going after fish eaters? Anyway, they're trying to really you know, a bunch of tiny mouse studies which show some kind of association between high levels of TMAO in the gut and heart disease but no causation. So really it's just a very tenuous science. I mean, I'm pretty much of the belief right now that there is a desire to condemn red meat that is based on these other agendas that have nothing to do with health and so they're scouting around for little bits of science they can kind of cobble together to find a story that’s anti-red meat.
Nina: Which I know sounds kind of extreme but really, when you look at the science and I have corresponded with the scientists themselves who’ve done this research. I have gone back and forth with them about their studies and you just cannot build a case for it.
Ben: Now when we switch from red meat and we look at something like let's say coconut oil which is a pretty popular compound these days for people who want medium chain glycerides and to be in ketosis, there was a study too that showed that there could be, again, I'm kind of playing devil's advocate here, but like an inflammatory reaction to coconut oil. And I believe that this study was done in rodent models but it found a high amount of inflammation, of gut inflammation and some inflammatory autoimmune type of issues in these mice that were eating large amounts of coconut oil, and this was kind of where I wanted to get into the problem of people take what you've written in this book and it potentially adopted in their diet without making other dietary changes because what they found in this study was that the inflammatory issues caused by high consumption of coconut oil were actually balanced out and removed with a high intake of short chain fatty acids and fiber, such as you would get from high vegetable intake. And so, what I wanted to ask you about based on this is, do you see an issue these days with people who would read a book like yours and start eating a whole bunch of meat, and pork, and coconut oil, and butter, and perhaps not get enough vegetables to allow for healthy gut microbiota or for enough short chain fatty acid production to get rid of some of the inflammation that could occur with excessive saturated fat intake?
Nina: Well, that's an interesting question. First of all, the mouse study with coconut oil tells you that mice should not eat too much coconut oil. What that tells you for humans is zero. (laughs) It really is not, it's really the mouse model for something like that is really, I think, not applicable to humans. So, what they have found for saturated fat with the bigger question like, “Is there, can you eat too much saturated fat? Can that be unhealthy in some way on humans?” And actually, and all the clinical trials that they've done on saturated fat back when they were doing this huge clinical trials to see if reducing saturated fat would cause, would spare you of a heart attack. They fed people like 18, 19% of their calories is saturated fats. That’s what was considered a standard normal American diet at the time in the sixties and seventies. And then they compare that to people eating half that amount of saturated fat which is in the amount we’re told to eat now, 9 or 10%.
So the people eating more saturated fat at 19%, all kinds of saturated fat right? They didn't, if they just you know dairy, cheese, meat. They had the exact same health outcomes in terms of heart disease that people did who restricted their saturated fat. Those are trials with hard end points, meaning a more rigorous kind of end point, meaning like they follow those people ‘til heart attack or death. And that's a lot more reliable than just following people for a few months or and seeing what happens with their cholesterol, or inflammatory markers, and it's a lot more reliable than just following mice.
Ben: Yeah, and I agree with you although in this case, in these studies they weren’t and it wasn’t a heart disease as much as what they primarily we're seeing was an increase in T-cells and autoimmune disorders, and an increase in inflammatory markers with a high intake of saturated fat compared to a high intake of saturated fat with the inclusion of fiber. And so, the reason that I'm getting at this is because I've personally have followed when I was training for Ironman that I even took part in Jeff Volek’s ketotic study where I was 80 to 90% fat for 12 months.
Ben: And I tracked markers of inflammation, and what I've found is that both diets seem to result in low amounts of inflammation when you look at things like HSCRP and cytokines and some of these other inflammatory markers, but what I found for my own N=1 testing was that when I began to allow for the carbohydrates from vegetables, right, because there's kind of like two ways to do ketosis. You either count the carbs from vegetables or you don't count those net carbs. And what I found was that when I didn't count the grams of carbohydrates from fiber, my HSCRP markers dropped to rock bottom. And so, now I personally follow a diet in which I eat copious amounts of fats, right. I'd eat lots of seeds, and nuts, and all those things I just mentioned from like US Wellness Meats and oodles of coconut oil, et cetera, but I also eat the equivalents and I’m not kidding here about 15 to 20 portions of vegetables per day. You know, if you add up my morning smoothie and my big ass afternoon salad and all the vegetables that I eat with dinner. And so for me, I've actually found that to be quite favorable for my bio chemical markers. And so if you look at the front of your book with a halo over the meat and you got the little sprig of, I think that might be meant off to the left, my kind of diet would be like that piece of meat just like covered in the sprigs of greens. So I do a bit of both and I kind of wanted to get your take on that, and where you recommend the vegetable component come in. Do you think that it's necessary when you're eating a high fat diet to include a whole bunch of plant matter? Are you neutral on that or where do you fall on that?
Nina: You know, I just don't really know the answer to that. I think that we know of these populations eating a high fat diet like we discussed the Messiah Warriors, no vegetable matter, you know. Do they suffer from autoimmune diseases? I don't know, but it seems like they were seemed to be in perfect health. The Inuit, also very little vegetable matter. They in very high fat diet, so theirs was not too much saturated fat, but I think, I am not sure I don't really know the answer to that. I know that billions of dollars spent on research trying to show that dietary fat is bad for health. During that time, what did they not research? They did not research all the various ways in which you could have a high fat diet that would be healthy, right? because they thought that fat was bad for you.
So we're just like in the absolute infancy of this research of understanding. Wow, if we reverse what we think is healthy and think eating more fat is reducing your carbohydrates a little bit, but there's so little research that has been done yet. That's why we’re sort of grasping for straws with these mice studies or this, or that. We really don't know yet. Do we know if sucrose’s works worse than fructose, worse than glucose, what are their various pathways, and what if you reduce these carbs or those carbs in combination with this food, and that food. We really just don't know the answers to most of the questions now because our paradigm has only really shifted around in the last decade really.
Ben: Yeah, and I know that the last point not to kick this horse to death, I do know that the Messiah do include, I believe some kind of like, if you've heard of this like a porridge, like it’s called ugali or rugali or something like that. It's like a little bit of a fiber rich porridge. I think it’s got like four to six grams or so in a serving. And I do know that they include a little bit of that. I'm not quite sure if that's more of a modern thing or if that's something like the more ancient tribesmen were consuming, but regardless I do know that they're not eating as many salads and smoothies. They’re definitely not pushing the giant shopping carts full of kale down the aisle of Whole Foods. So yeah, it is interesting like they're definitely not eating as much fiber as a guy like me. So what I may do at some point is another one of these N=1 experiments and instead of following this extremely high ketotic based diet in which I at that time was doing lots of coconut oil, and a lot of a decent amount of meat but actually at that point wasn't a lot of organ meats. I'd be curious if I did it again and include a lot of these organ meats if things would change at all and maybe I suppose if I can get my hands on some blood. I could start drinking blood I suppose.
Nina: Blood pudding. Move to Ireland and have blood pudding.
Ben: That’s right baby. And Haggis. Let’s switch from Africa to Greece. You talk a little bit about the Mediterranean diet and for example, you go on to how when Ancel Keys was looking at the Mediterranean diet how, I think you described it as a remarking in troublesome omission. A remarkable and troublesome omission that was discovered when he was looking into this diet, I believe of the Cretans. Can you go into what occurred when it came to Ancel keys and what he was looking into when it came to especially the Greek diet?
Nina: Yeah. I’m sure your listeners know that Ancel Keys is this famous scientist who really authored the hypothesis that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad for health and that was based on his 7-country study, and one of the country’s he visited was Greece and his star subjects were the islanders on Crete who were these peasants who tilled the land all day long. They seemed to be exceptionally long lived and they seemed to eat very little animal food and so they seem to be just fit his hypothesis perfectly. So I took a deep dive into exactly what the data he had, his data on those people. It turns out that one of the things was that he'd only studied 33 or 34 men on the entire island and that was his entire data set which then are the founding men of the Mediterranean diet. But I also discovered that he had gone, so for all the populations he studied, he studied them during three separate weeks and during one of the weeks that he had gone to Crete, he had showed up mistakenly during lent. And he described the Greek orthodox fast as being a strict one meaning, they abstained from all foods of animal origin including fish, cheese, eggs, and butter. And so, he probably must have undercounted the saturated fat that they ate by at least half according to one calculation that was done. So I mean it's just…
Ben: So he showed up, they were fasting basically in Crete. And so of course, they were needing, my dad by the way he's Greek orthodox or follows a Greek orthodox diet and religious practice, and so half the time he's not eating fish, or cheese, or eggs, or butter, when I'm hanging out with him like we don’t have to ruin down there for Christmas dinner and I think he was having, he had some kind of like potato with vegetables for dinner. And so, what Keys found was that these people were super-duper healthy, and lo and behold they weren't eating fish, cheese, eggs, and butter but he didn't take into account the fact, they were freaking fasting.
Nina: Yeah, so he calculated how much saturated fat they were eating, right? But he went during lent. So the calculations that he got where just a total under counting of how much saturated fat they normally ate. Then he concluded that it was the absence of saturated fat is what made them long lived and healthy.
Ben: So don't they attribute though in many cases longevity, when I say they, I mean we know that like fasting is associated with like a decreased rate at which telomeres shorten and you know and certainly there are benefits. Everything from intermittent fasting to having occasions of time when you do like protein sparing, so you downregulate mTOR and taurine, and all these things. And so, are you saying that it's not fasting that's necessarily like the longevity enhancing component of the Mediterranean diet and it is in fact something else, or I guess what I'm asking is why are the Cretans for example so long lived? Why are they considered to be like one of the blue zone populations?
Nina: Well, Ancel Keys thought it was the lack of saturated fats, right, and he basically what you would like low animal foods that kind of like what you would call, some people might call plant-based diet and you still see that interpretation, that idea today, right. The blue zones, this idea that all long lived people live on a plant-based diet.
Ben: Right. Okinawa and Seventh Day Adventists, and stuff like that.
Nina: Yeah, I mean what Ancel Keys missed and purposely missed, it’s come out since is that they ate almost no sugar. None of these population ate any sugar or very little sugar. And so that was always an alternative hypothesis for why…
Ben: Or vegetable oils, right? I'm not saying this based on anything I read in your book but from what I understand I actually recently read a book by Dr. Cate Shanahan called Deep Nutrition.
Ben: She goes, “and now vegetable oil might be in a bigger culprit than sugar” but I don't think any these blue zones do barely any vegetable oil either, right?
Nina: I haven’t studied all the blue zones but certainly there were no vegetable oils on Crete. They were living off the land, vegetable oils are a highly-industrialized food product. So right, so no vegetable oils. So whenever you see a healthy long lived population, there are a number of hypotheses that come to mind about why they're healthy. Is it the lack of sugar? Is it the lack of vegetable oils? Is it because they seemed to eat not very much meat and cheese? Ancel Keys had it in his mind that it was the meat and cheese. That was just, he came to that conclusion in the 1950s and he did not sway from that idea his whole life, and he found what he set out to find and ignored evidence to the contrary which is not good science but that’s what had happened in nutrition sciences. It’s just focusing on what you want to see and ignoring possible evidence to the contrary.
Ben: Yeah, it's really interesting, you going to how Keys like ground up all the food that he found that the Cretans were eating when he was over there, and as you said this was during lent when the animal foods are really restricted and then he sent the mixture back to his lab in Minnesota to have it analyzed, and it really wasn't showing these people are eating things like mutton, and liver, and you talked about in the book how they’re even eating snails, but instead it was just a list of macronutrients really like how much saturated fat, and protein, and carb, et cetera, and the saturated fat content turned out to be pretty low because he visited during lent, and so we now see, when we see most Mediterranean diet recommendations, they aren’t including things like we see, you have a quote from the Iliad, which I love. I read the Iliad and the Odyssey when I was in high school and you have this quote how Patroclus, you're Greek how do you pronounce Patroclus?
Nina: Yeah. You’re Greek! (laughs)
Ben: (laughs) What’d you say?
Nina: (laughs) I said you’re Greek. You’re the one with the Greek orthodox father.
Ben: Yeah, that's true. That's true. But he's not, it's more something he adopted as I guess a mid-life crisis. But anyways, Patroclus put a big bench in the firelight and laid it on the backs of a sheep and a fat goat, and the chine of a great wild hog rich in lard. And you know, most of what you see in Mediterranean diet I suppose is primarily olive oil and fish right and not like lard, and mutton, and liver.
Nina: Which were ancient foods. I mean long before olive oil existed, olive oil actually was used as like a cosmetic to shine the muscles before athletic competitions.
Ben: That’s funny I smear it on my face every morning. Actually, I do.
Nina: Yeah, right. So it was used to make your muscle shine and to make yourself beautiful but it wasn't eaten as a food stuff until like the mid to late 1800s. So before that, what did everybody cooked with in the Mediterranean? Lard. Lard and butter, that's what they cooked with, and like Americans they didn't really eat much chicken. The reason that the Mediterranean diet, either official Mediterranean diet recommended out of Harvard recommends chicken is that those, that ground up food that was sent back to Ancel Key’s laboratory when they popped out the macronutrient content, percentages and it seemed low in saturated fat they’re like, “Oh, I wonder what meat does that match up to. It seems more like chicken to us” even though they didn’t eat chicken in the Mediterranean. They ate lamb mainly. Anybody that goes to the Mediterranean knows they eat lamb. But you know in the Harvard version of the Mediterranean diet, they're not advising that you eat lamb. They’re advising that you eat almost no meat at all. So you know, it's just bizarre how that research got distorted into these official diets that we now have, really had nothing to do with the original reality. Much less the idea that there's one Mediterranean diet. Yeah, you know what, that was another discovery. You know and Ancel Keys himself knew this and talked about in his book on the Mediterranean diet is like we're actually, the vastly different things all over the Mediterranean and really we shouldn't be having one Mediterranean diet but then he went ahead and wrote a book on it anyway.
Ben: Yeah, it's crazy and folks if you get this book, you need to read this chapter about the Cretans and their true diet. Why the Mediterranean diet that you’ve probably seen in popular literature really isn't the true Mediterranean diet. It's super interesting. Now another thing you go into that I definitely didn’t want to neglect in my chance to chat with you, Nina, was this idea behind trans fats because I know that's one of the things that kinda sucked you into it researching this book for so long in the first place. I mean most of us know now, we remember back when the French fries at McDonalds were vilified and trans fat's got banned and you have a chapter entitled “exits trans fats enter something worse”. When trans fats got banned, what worse thing entered into the equation?
Nina: Alright. I’ll try to make this as simple and as possible which is…
Ben: (laughs) Yeah, it is a 500-page book I realize.
Nina: It’s such a complicated, so trans fats exist because vegetable oils, when they were invented in the early 1900s, they're unstable. If you squeeze oil out of soybeans or cotton seeds, or later soybeans, or corn, or whatever you're squeezing that oil out of, you get an oil that’s basically a byproduct that they can’t use, so that’s why they started using it pretty much in consumption but mainly it's unstable. It oxidizes, it goes rancid, it's not shelf stable, it can't be used in anything, you can’t use it for cooking. So they developed a process to harden the oil which is called hydrogenation and one of the byproducts of hydrogenating oils was trans fat. So, trans fat they discovered and this is going back to that Mary Enig whom I mentioned earlier, she was one of the early researchers on trans fats. Trans fats are, margarine is made up of hydrogenated oils, so is Crisco which is you know, margarine was supposed to replaced butter. Crisco was supposed to replace lard. Mary Enig started researching trans fats, she discovered that back in the late 70s. Okay so we get rid of the trans fats.
What replaces them? Well you still can't use liquid oil. It still oxidizes and goes rancid and it's highly unstable. So they developed, they had to go back to the chemistry lab to figure out something to replace hydrogenation because they can no longer use that process. It was actually a massive undertaking for the food industry. Probably the biggest transformation of the food industry of the last 20 years was this problem of replacing all the oils and all their foods. So and they can't go back to what are naturally stable hard fats right? They can’t go back to lard and tallow, McDonald’s used to fry their French fries in tallow because there’s saturated fats in them and there's a kibosh of saturated fat still. So they have to go back to chemistry labs and find a new way to stabilize their oils. What did they do? They come up with something called, one idea is interesterification where they go in and they swap the triglycerides in every molecule. What are those? What’s an interestesterified oil? And has that been tested? And how do we know that’s not going to be another trans-fat in 20 years’ time? We have no idea. They…
Ben: Have there been any studies yet on interesterified oil? Have we gotten any clues yet?
Nina: You know, very little and it’s all industry funded. So who knows?
Nina: And then we modified soybeans to produce less of the unstable kinds of fatty acids. So those are more stable and it’s called high oleic. All these new chemistry, these new chemicals have entered into our food supply and we really don't know anything about them. And then the scariest thing that I found was that in many cases where they could, because it was the cheapest, they just reverted to using regular old oils. And they do this mainly in the place where it’s scary is in restaurant fryers, right? And the reason that’s scary is that oils are unstable and what increases instability is heat. So here is an environment of heating oils over long periods of time, produces hundreds degrees into hundreds of oxidation products. What does oxidation products do? They cause massive inflammation in the body. Some of these are known toxins and this was a huge problem with these trans free oils, and I'm talking about like McDonald's you know, Burger King. All the major chains and they had to basically develop all kinds of new technologies to try to prevent these oils from oxidizing too much, like they have something called a nitrogen blanket that they put on top of their fryers now and they have some of these silicon beads that they stick in the oil to absorb some of the oxidation products, but when they test the fried food that comes out of those restaurant, they still have in them hundreds of oxidation products or 200 oxidation products found in a piece of fried chicken alone.
Ben: Yeah, which is really sad when you take into account the fact that when you and I were hanging at that conference, I think one morning for breakfast they served sweet potatoes in lard, like sweet potatoes that’s been cooked in lard, and oh my gosh, they're just like out of sight.
Nina: That was so yummy.
Ben: And of course the lard is extremely stable…
Nina: No oxidation.
Ben: Exactly. You know I do some work for Wellness FX. I do a lot of their blood and biomarker consultations where I get people on the phone and go over their lab results with them, and one of the things that I point out when their cholesterol is high is the fact that if cholesterol is high I don't care in most cases. There's one genetic issue that can be at play which I do care and perhaps we’ll touch on that in a moment, but I tell them there are a few other things I look at. One is glucose elevated because that, when cholesterols are elevated, can be a risk factor if you have a lot of glucose and cholesterol simultaneously in the bloodstream. Two, is there high amounts of inflammation which can also be an issue if cholesterol is high. And then three, what's their HDL to triglyceride ratio. Which is a very strong independent risk factor for heart disease when triglycerides are extremely elevated compared to HDL, and you go into a very important point about this interesterification process in which the fatty acids are bound by this glycerol molecule and when you interesterify fat you basically distribute all the fatty acids on the glycerol and that produces a ton of new triglycerides.
So you're essentially mainlining triglycerides into your bloodstream when you consume some of these new fats that have been a replacement for trans fats. And so it's enormously concerning and by the way, and I don't know if you talk about this in the book at all or not, Nina, but trans fats aren't all bad. I mean, there are trans fats we find in nature that have all, well they’re a mix of what are called cis bonds and trans bonds, and all these industrial trans fats have only trans bonds. And when you have cis bonds and trans bonds in a trans fat, one example of that is actually something very healthy that we find in a grass-fed animal products and that’s conjugated linoleic acid which we know there's a ton of health benefits to high consumption of technically a trans-fat that we find in nature. This conjugated linoleic acid for things like lowering risk of type 2 diabetes and playing a role in cancer prevention, and so even trans-fat in general, we don't have to completely vilify.
Nina: Yeah. I mean the trans fats that are in ruminant animals, they have the same chemical formula but they're different, as you say, their different bond structure but that's just one of the things that became really gnarly issue and the FDA was banning trans fats is that they, it was very hard to carve out an exception for these conjugated linolenic acid naturally occurring trans fats that had been shown to at least do no harm if not good. And so I don't know if they actually did carve out an exception for them I would be…
Ben: I’d be shocked.
Nina: I’d be shocked but then you know, there's so much bad food policy that it's certainly a possibility. But I know that they were fighting that and trying. It just makes no sense I mean those, as you said, they're naturally occurring and they're not like industrial trans fats, so…
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I had one other thing that I wanted to ask you about and that is the issue that I alluded to just a few moments ago when I was talking about how there are some cases where I do get concerned if people are eating a high fat diet or they're eating or they’re showing high cholesterol in their blood markers. And that’s this genetic factor, this genotype you know, the ApoE E4/E4 genotype which you can get tested if you go to Wellness FX or whatever, and it changes the way you metabolize cholesterol. And basically you tend to have very very high amounts of lipoproteins when you consume a high fat diet and you’re one of these carriers of the E4 genotype.
Basically, it's linked to a higher risk for things like Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, and obesity, et cetera, and I believe even, I really hope that I don't miss attribute this thing, but I believe it was even that you know Chris Masterjohn, who’s another kind of Weston A. Price-r who was there at the conference with us, he’s mentioned that for this small subset of the population, eating something closer to something like a Kitavan diet might actually be beneficial. Like a Kitavan diet being a diet that's you know somewhat higher in carbohydrates from tubers and fresh fruit and coconut and fish and vegetables. And so do you think that prior to shifting to a very high fat diet, or taking into heart all the recommendations in your book, people should consider whether or not they have that ApoE gene?
Nina: You know here's what I think. I think, first of all I have no idea what the prevalence is of that gene in the population.
Ben: I think it's like 8 to 10%. Something along those lines.
Nina: That seems quite high to me but in any case here’s what I would do, this is what most people do. If you are suffering from, if you would like to lose weight or you have diabetes or you’re fighting heart disease, it's worth trying to go on a lower carb, higher fat diet, and then have these supervised by a doctor and watch your lipid panel. And you know and see if there are people who go on that diet and then they see something called their LDLP, their LDL particle number sky rocket. And again here we are, we don't really know why that happens to some people and that maybe they should back off a higher fat diet. So I think you just you know, one way you can do is just, and I don't know how much it costs to get a genetic panel but I mean sure…
Ben: Oh it’s like next to nothing you know. Well, I mean it’s not much. It’s like 100 to 200 bucks.
Nina: But I think for most people is to go on and they should be under medical supervision anyway, if they're going to dramatically change their diet. For some people, they have all, there’s all kinds of symptoms and making transitions to a different, to a higher fat diet. You should do it in a medical supervision and watch your numbers and see and make sure that they're all moving in the right direction.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, and that's obviously a really jam packed discussion and what I'll do is I’ll hunt down the podcast episode where Chris Masterjohn has a great podcast. I believe it’s called The Daily Lipid. He talks a little bit about this. How some people have this heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia which means they’re like, they tend to get really really high cholesterol from a high fat diet, and in this case like a high lipoprotein count and they might benefit from like a low fat, low cholesterol, high carb diet. And again you know like you mentioned, Nina, it's a small percentage of the population. I don’t have the percentage memorized, but I’ll link to that in case those of you listening in want to take a listen to that or go read the transcript because Chris has some interesting thoughts on that and this diet called the Kitavin diet. So that's another kind of wrench to throw into this equation but something to consider as well.
Nina: Well, you know I just had to geminate if it’s hypercholesterolemia you’re talking about, I didn't recognize that specific gene is speeding the mutation but that has, that’s in like 1 to 2% of the population.
Nina: It's a very small number of people and in fact, it's very interesting just historically, it was that population that was studied and kind of set off this idea of the low fat diet to begin with because researchers saw then and understood that they did not do well on a higher fat diet, and then sort of extrapolated from them to the whole American population.
Ben: Yeah, that makes sense.
Nina: Series of like disastrous weeps of logic. So yeah, so there are people who and they just naturally have extremely high cholesterol but they're really, they're real out liars.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, and that maybe sometimes when I'm talking trying to remember these things off the top my head it might be the Apoe E4 gene that's more of the Alzheimer's disease gene and it could be a different Apoe gene responsible for this familial hypercholesterolemia. I don't remember off the top of my head, my apologies to people, I should have had an extra cup of coffee before we started this episode, but regardless I'll put a couple links for you in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/bigfatsurprise because you could go get a 23andMe test done, and you could not only find out whether you’re a carrier for that Apoe E4 allele associated with Alzheimer's but you could also find out whether you carry this genotype associated with hypercholesterolemia and you could make decisions accordingly, educated decisions accordingly so that you don't paint yourself with too broad a macronutrient brush when it comes your dietary intake.
Nina: Yeah and just to say, I’m sorry.
Ben: Go ahead.
Nina: But you know if you have hypercholesterolemia, you know it because you have very high cholesterol and your parents have very high cholesterol and…
Ben: Like very very high like…
Nina: Super high.
Ben: Like a lot of times more than like 300.
Nina: Three hundred and above, and everybody in your family has died of heart disease. (chuckles) I mean, that's not a subtle trait to have in your family.
Ben: Right. Right. Yeah, it’s a good point. You make a lot of good points in this book and we really scratched the surface of what Nina has in this book. As far as like the Ancel Keys studies, and a lot of what she found in I mean, again, almost 10 years writing this thing. So there's a lot in here. I recommend you read it. It might take you a little while to get through. I won't lie, but I love books like this that are super dense and it just knock your socks off in terms of their content. So, it's called The Big Fat Surprise. If you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/bigfatsurprise, I will link to the book. I will also link to the show notes for some of the things that we talked about like other books I mentioned, the Chris Masterjohn podcast I just mentioned, and any of the other little things that we talked about in case you want to take the deep dive up, but in the meantime, Nina, thanks for coming on the show today and sharing all this stuff with us, and I suppose now you can go have your eggs and bacon for lunch.
Nina: That’s right. No, it’s 2:30 here. It’s lunch time but thank you so much having me.
Ben: Awesome. Well, thank you for coming on the show and for sharing all this stuff with us and for those of you listening in, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Nina Teicholz?
Ben: Teicholz. I’m gonna get it.
Nina: Next time.
Ben: Teicholz, the author of “The Big Fat Surprise”, signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com Have a healthy week.
OK, OK. Let's not beat around the bush here.
In health circles, it's kind of old news now that “saturated fat might not be bad for you” and that sugar, starches and vegetable oil might instead be a primary contributory factor to heart disease and other chronic health problems.
So when I got the book “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” in the mail, I figured it would be the same ol', same ol' advice, like eat your egg yolks, don't be afraid of butter, and drink whole milk instead of skim milk.
But I was actually surprised. Big, fat surprised. Heh.
Because in the book, author and investigative journalist Nina Teicholz not only lays out the most comprehensive history, treatise and full argument as to why saturated fats – the kind found in dairy, meat, and eggs – are not bad for health, but also takes a deep dive into everything from myths behind the Mediterranean Diet, to the heart killing replacement for trans fats you probably haven't heard about yet to the ethics of eating meat and beyond.
The Economist named this book the best science book of 2014 and called it a “nutrition thriller”. The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Mother Jones, Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews named it a *Best Book* of 2014. The British Medical Journal praised the book in an extensive review, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition said, “All scientists.. and every nutrition science professional…should read this book.”
So who exactly is Nina?
Before taking a deep dive into researching nutrition science for nearly a decade, she was a reporter for National Public Radio and also contributed to many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, and The Economist. She attended Yale and Stanford where she studied biology and majored in American Studies. She has a master’s degree from Oxford University and served as associate director of the Center for Globalization and Sustainable Development at Columbia University. She lives in New York City.
And I'm guessing she probably has eggs and bacon for breakfast.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-What compelled Nina to spend ten years writing a 500 page book after discovering shocking cover-ups in the nutrition industry…[10:55]
-What researcher George Mann found in African populations who were subsisting on a diet of organs, meat and blood…[17:30]
-Why Lewis and Clark were so disappointed in the game meat they discovered when traveling West…[27:10]
-How Americans used to eat, and why it's a huge problem that we now eat so much poultry…[34:45 & 38:45]
-What was the “remarking and troublesome omission” from the Ancel Keys study and why the “true” Mediterranean diet is far different than the Mediterranean diet you've probably seen in popular literature…[61:40]
-The surprising truth behind why the Cretans were so long lived…[62:50]
-How when trans fats got banned, they may have been replaced with something worse, and what that worse thing is…[68:35]
-The biggest mistakes that people make when following a high fat diet…[78:40]
-And much more!
Resources from this episode: