Home » Nina Teicholz: The Big Fat Surprise at TEDxEast (Full Transcript)

Nina Teicholz: The Big Fat Surprise at TEDxEast (Full Transcript)

So the next question that really came to mind was, like, okay, where does their hypothesis come from that saturated fat, and fat at all, is unhealthy for you? And like any idea, it was born in a moment in time. There was, basically- The first time it became an official policy, an official dietary recommendation, was 1961, the American Heart Association came out with the very first dietary guidelines, that’s like the gold standard in the world of nutrition guidelines. Everything flows from the American Heart Association.

In 1961, the first guidelines: diet low in fat, low in saturated fat to protect against heart disease, that’s what people should eat. That’s the first time that was ever recommended to the American people, and this guy, Ancel Benjamin Keys, who was a pathologist at the University of Minnesota, was kind of the powerhouse behind that idea.

You know there are various ideas about, like, what steers history, if it’s economic forces, or what it is, but in the history of nutrition, it really is like a “great man” theory of history. This guy steered a tremendous amount of nutrition history. And his idea was this: It’s called the Diet-Heart Hypothesis, it was developed in the ’50s, and the idea is if you eat saturated fat, you raise your blood cholesterol, in your blood – that had been shown in some scientific lab experiments and experiments on people in mental hospitals, and that would lead to a heart attack. Just a whole chain of events here, none of which has ever been proven, even today, but that was the idea that really took hold. It’s called the Diet-Heart Hypothesis, and he prevailed with that idea, and one of the reasons why is that the nation- it was like a moment in time in the 1940s when there was a kind of panic going on in the country.

There was a tremendous need for some kind of solution. I mean, heart disease, heart attacks felling men in their prime, and particularly all the men who ran the country – in this case Eisenhower had his first heart attack in 1955 – but the men who ran the country, who did the research, who were interested in nutrition, everybody – heart disease had risen out of nowhere – there were almost no cases of heart disease before the 19-teens, and all of the sudden it became this enormous public health issue, and everybody was focused on it, and they wanted a solution.

And so they were willing to kind of cut corners on the science before any idea was ever proven because they were so afraid. So the most important nutrition study ever done was done by Ancel Benjamin Keys, and he went to- It’s called the Seven Country Study, and it’s like the Rosetta Stone of nutrition studies – everything telescopes back to this study.

And he is the first-ever study, epidemiological study, it’s a study where you go out and look at people, you ask them, you know, “Who’s got high cholesterol? What do you eat?” And it observes them, and it sees if there’s some sort of correlation they can draw. He went to the island- He chose seven countries, six in Europe and in Japan, and he looked at what they ate, and he looked at he took their EKGs and stuff, and I showed you those two men because the place where his- He had already pretty much decided that saturated fat caused heart attacks, but the place that really fit his theory the best was the island of Crete.

There were long-lived people there, a high number of centenarians, there was hardly any heart disease, and they didn’t eat much saturated fat, and that fit his theory perfectly. Because other places he went didn’t fit his theory very well, and there was a lot of problematic data points in his theory, but he loved this particular data set, they were like his star data set on the island of Crete. And this is literally the study, I mean, it’s been cited tens of thousands of times, because in its day, it was the only really big study that had been done.

And so I went back — and one of the things I did was I went back and I really dug into that study because it’s been so influential, and I found some amazing stuff, like, I mean, first of all, it was post-World War II Europe, people were still, like, devastation and poverty. People were basically eating a poverty diet back then, but Keys did a lot of, you know, there’s hardly a better word for it than kind of saying ‘fudging the data’.

And he published it in obscure, German-only journals, I had to go back to obscure places – he really didn’t want this data to get out. And what I found, amongst many things, but I’ll just mention one here, is that these people that he had found- He went to the island of Crete three times for three weeks, each one week, three times. One of his data collection periods was during Lent, it turns out. So, I don’t know if you know about Lent, but it’s a highly Greek Orthodox country, and in Lent, you don’t eat any animal foods – you don’t eat any meat, you don’t eat any dairy, you don’t eat – So, this totally skewed his data. Of course it’s a low-saturated-fat diet – and he stuffed that, you know, he was like, “Oh, well, it was during Lent, but we don’t think that had any influence on the outcome,” but of course it did.

And scientists have gone back and analyzed this, too late for it to make a difference, but they went back and analyzed, “How many people observe Lent, and exactly what is the difference that makes on the saturated fat content of the food?” And it turns out to be enormous. So, this study that was so influential – I mean, that is just one of a great many number of problems, but. So the data was kind of biased from the beginning, and this is, like, a catch-all slide to try to encapsulate the next 25 years of nutrition history, but basically, that original American Heart Association recommendation, 1961.

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