Health News Review

Anchorman Dan Harris reads his lines:

Is it possible that everything we have long held as dietary gospel is backwards? Tonight you will meet a mom/investigative reporter who says all of those high-fat foods we have been told to avoid are actually good for us. Not only that, she says if you eat things like cheeseburgers, meatballs, and bacon, all my favorite foods, you may actually lose weight.

And with that, ABC’s Nightline was off and running last night/early this morning with another episode of “You write a diet book, we’ll give you lots of publicity.”

Nightline devoted more than 6 minutes to promoting the new book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Could Saturated Fat Be Good For You?”

First, the idea isn’t new. For example, for years Gary Taubes has raised such questions.  He has written several books on this topic, and now works on The Nutrition Science Initiative to research such questions. That work may have deserved the air time rather than the book promotion ABC delivered.

The anchor intro above smacks of the storyline from Woody Allen’s 1973 movie, “Sleeper,” forecasting a future in which deep fat, steak, cream pies and hot fudge become health foods.

Even the reporter’s first sentence was:  “It is an age-old debate: Low carbs? Or low fat?”

So, why, then, was this new book considered to be worthy of 6 minutes of network TV time?

For expertise, the segment featured dueling book authors, the personal doctor of one of them, and a restaurant waiter as the experts.  Period.  Those were the sound bites in the piece.

It was a diet of pure puffery – for 6 minutes.

Now go to bed, Nightline.


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Paul Scott posted on June 4, 2014 at 10:04 am

Hi Gary

The Nightline segment was pandering and by the numbers for sure — did we need to know anything about Kim Kardashian or Gwyneth Paltrow — but The Big fat Surprise is an amazing book and I encourage everyone go pick up a copy today. Having read it from cover to cover — she is not a friend or anything, but I had a chance to review it — It is the most deeply reported narrative of what happened to dietary policy over the last 40 years we have ever seen, seriously. The NIghtline segment focused with big coloring crayons on on how to lose weight, a topic which of course Gary covered so well, but they really missed the goods here: the book obliterates the notion that saturated fat promotes heart disease, a topic GCBC covered as science but not historical narrative in this way. It suggests the much lauded Mediterranean diet is neither Mediterranean nor supported by good data and has a long hilarious section on how the olive oil industry created the veneration of an otherwise average cooking oil. (Saturated fat is healthier for your cholesterol than olive oil….). OK I will quit. :)

Roger Bird posted on June 5, 2014 at 5:33 pm

I feel so much better and am so much easier to get along with since I went hardcore low-carb with plenty of fat. I will never go back to high carbs.

    Gary Schwitzer posted on June 5, 2014 at 8:23 pm


    Good for you.

    But I trust you realize I was commenting on the weak journalism…not on the diet.

Anton Kemps MD posted on June 13, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I understand your position on the journalism aspects of the report but the reasons for this book to be evaluated by the general public and not just the medical community bespeak of how we got into this controversy in the first place. You are right in saying she is not the first to put this information out and she does reference Taubes in her book but the information needed to be put out. If in fact we were all led down the low fat path by imperfect science then we have an obligation to find the right answer to healthy eating if at all possible. One thing does stand out though in both these authors research–the switch to increased carbohydrates has led to a proliferation of obesity and diabetes. I am glad the book is out there and being well received because most of the public was unaware of Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.

    Gary Schwitzer posted on June 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Dr. Kemps,

    Thanks for your note.

    This is a deserving topic, demanding a more thoughtful, analytic approach than that provided by ABC in this piece.

    That was my point.

Mendy Hecht posted on June 19, 2014 at 8:40 am

It is important to note some of the public-health history here:

In the 1970s, there began the “low-fat” trend, which rendered animal-derived fats and oils–and the foods containing them–increasingly “bad.”

In their place, vegetable-based oils–primarily partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)–were then considered “good.”

However, PHOs turn into trans fats in baked goods–especially when used in mass-produced goods like cookies, which are baked in enormous commercial factory ovens. So when the food industry switched from animal-based fats and oils in their cookies and what not to PHOs, they merely substituted one health problem, if it even really was one, for another.

Now the FDA is talking about removing the Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) designation from PHOs because they turn into trans fats in the production process, and trans fats are increasingly linked with obesity.

So now PHOs are “bad,” too.

So which is it? Are animal fats good or bad? And what about PHOs?

I think the real issue here really is a much larger one–one of personal morals. It’s easy to blame this food or that for the fact that some people are carrying a few extra pounds–but is it really the food? Or the person making the choice to eat that food? What happened to good-old-fashioned discipline?

My humble opinion here is that if they hadn’t kowtowed to the forces of trendy political correctness and switched from from animal fats to PHOs, we might not be having this so-called obesity epidemic in the first place.

Daniel Pendick posted on June 21, 2014 at 11:13 am

“Is it possible that everything we have long held as dietary gospel is backwards? Tonight you will meet a mom/investigative reporter who says all of those high-fat foods we have been told to avoid are actually good for us.”

The issue I have with Harris’s intro narrative is that it uses the same tired old fallacy that if new research questions whether something is really “bad for you,” then inevitably it must be “good for you.”

I recall the headline for Gary Taubes’ NYT magazine story way back when, “What if it was all a big fat lie,” with a photo of a steak with a slab of melting butter on it. Was avoidance of saturated fat ALL a big fat lie… or just overapplied?

I recently ran a story urging readers to stop demonizing fat and see its role in diet in a more integrated way. Inevitably, a reader wrote an angry “cancel my subscription” letter to me, claiming that I was implying we should all eat as much saturated fat as we can stuff in.

I think readers pick up that simplistic reasoning from the media. We need to report findings, not market catchy ideas for book writers being interviewed on TV shows. But I realize that is naive. We all have to sing for our supper.