If Low-Fat Foods are Bad, What Should We Eat?

This is the second of a two-part blog post written by my husband, Dave.

BogusIn last week’s post I described how some pretty shaky science known as “the lipid hypothesis” came to be widely accepted as fact, and how this, combined with political and financial pressure from the food industry, led to our becoming a nation obsessed with low-fat foods.  After decades of our eating this way (and actually getting both fatter and sicker) it is now clear that the lipid hypothesis is bogus.  But that begs the question of, if not low-fat foods, what should we eat?

Another question worth asking is, how did we go so off track with the whole lipid hypothesis thing?  Since the 2nd question is a little bit more straight forward to answer, I will start there.


As a refresher, the lipid hypothesis states that:

A) Cholesterol and/or animal fat in the diet is associated with cholesterol in the blood;
B) Cholesterol in the blood is associated with plaque formation in the arteries and, consequently, heart disease;
C) Cholesterol and/or animal fat in the diet causes heart disease.

The problem is in mistaking association with causality.  Even if the associations described in A, B and C are all true, that does not mean that A causes C.  This made up example may help to better illustrate the flaw in the reasoning.

ChocolateA) There is an association between eating chocolate and feeling happy.
B) Happy people tend to be healthier people.
C) Eating chocolate makes people healthier.

While there are many people (including the chocolate industry) who wish this were true, we can pretty easily see where the reasoning is flawed. There are many aspects about the act of eating some chocolate that might contribute to the feeling of happiness (some of which might have nothing to do with the chocolate itself), and there are many aspects about happy people that might contribute to their overall improved health.  So to assume that it’s the chocolate that causes improved health is going way too far.  Unfortunately, that’s just what we all did when we traded in animal-based fats for carb-rich low fat foods.

And now on to that bigger question, of what do we do now?  The simplest and best answers that I know of are the three simple rules that award-winning food author Michael Pollan has come up with:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

Eat Food.  Huh?  Well, first of all, we have to qualify what is meant by “food” (as opposed to edible food-like substances).  It means things that your great grandmother would have easily recognized as food, and would have been able to purchase at the market or easily make herself.  This eliminates almost all processed foods and pre-packaged convenience foods.  For example, a pizza that you make from the basic ingredients is indeed food.  A Hot Pocket pizza is not.

Not too much. Well, that’s kind of easy to grasp.  Our portion sizes have grown outrageously large.  Who really needs to guzzle down 32 ounces of chemical-laden sugar water in one sitting anyway?  It turns out the food industry has invested a lot of time and energy to create food-like products that are enormously addicting, and then they happily sell these to us in ever larger quantities.  If you stop eating all that processed stuff, and eat real food, you will be amazed at how quickly you will find yourself feeling satisfied with much less bulk.

Mostly plants.  I know what you are thinking: “Wait a minute.  Didn’t you just spend most of this blog post redeeming meats and dairy from the bad list?”  Yes, I did.  If you are not a vegetarian or a vegan, you can eat them, and enjoy them.  They are not bad for you after all.  Just don’t go overboard.  We don’t need meat at every meal, and even when we include meats on the menu, they don’t always have to be the main course.  Often times just a bit of meat on the side can really make a good meal great.  And sometimes, you just want to enjoy a nice steak.

41sZnm7tgXLThere is a lot more than can be said on this subject, but I will close by strongly endorsing a wonderful, short and easily read book by Michael Pollan called Food Rules.  He does a much better job of laying this all out than I have.  Get the book, read it, and leave us some comments telling us what you think!

That’s it for me, now back I go to the shipping department.