Saturday, 23 August 2014

Big Fat Lies - a review

Big Fat Lies by David Gillespie
          'Big Fat Lies - How the Diet Industry Makes You Sick, Fat and Poor' is by an Australian lawyer, David Gillespie. He was fat, and he wanted to be thinner, but found, like so many of us, that diets don't work. So he started researching the subject.  
          As he says, he may not be a doctor or nutritionist, but what lawyers are really good at is following the evidence - which he presents in Big Fat Lies.
           The tale that Gillespie uncovers about sugar and High-Fructose Corn Syrup is the same one told by Yudkin and Lustig in books previously reviewed here.  Sugar is an addictive poison, which is stuffed into almost every manufactured food item because Big Food knows that it's hard for us to resist its addictive sweetness. So they sell more, and we end up with 'an obesity epedemic.' 
          Also, sugar is a cheap preservative, and helps to make it possible for packaged food to sit in warehouses and on shelves for months, even years, without decaying. (And food should decay - if it doesn't, then the colonies of bacteria who live in our guts, and do the work of digesting for us, can't do anything beneficial with it.)
Be afraid, be very afraid
          But Gillespie doesn't simply repeat what Yudkin and Lustig have told us. He discovers additional nuggets.
          Chromium, for instance. We need tiny amounts of the stuff to be healthy, and it's virtually impossible to be deficient in it (though that doesn't stop the food & diet industry from selling it to us in 'supplements' which don't work, and may even do harm.)
          However, if your diet is high in sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup - if, say, you drink a lot of soft drinks, or ready meals, or takeaways with sugary sauces - then the sugar very efficiently carries the chromium out of your body, resulting in the theoretically impossible chromium-deficiency.
          And what is the effect of chromium-deficiency? Oh, have a guess - go on, guess. Chromium-deficiency makes us resistant to insulin, that's what. Which means high blood-sugar and diabetes 2.
          It also means high insulin levels, as the body floods the blood-stream with insulin in an attempt to reduce blood-sugar. And how does insulin reduce - or attempt to reduce - blood-sugar levels?
          By turning the excess sugar into fat. and tidying it away into fat cells.
          So you're constantly hungry, constantly craving more sugar, and your weight gain is accelerated. A state of affairs that the processed food and diet industries are very happy about. A cynical person might suspect that, if they didn't exactly set out to create that state, they're very happy to perpetuate it.
        (Remember how the tobacco industry denied, for decades, that there was any link between smoking and cancer? And banged on about 'the freedom to smoke?' (And the freedom to acquire all the disease associated with it.) Then it turned out that Big Tobacco had known there was a link with cancer for decades, for almost all the time they'd been denying there was and insisting that 'the research was inconclusive.'
          (What does the food industry say, when it's told that sugar is poisonous and addictive? Sounding very like the tobacco industry, it says that sugar is simply a food like any other, that there is no clear link to disease or weight gain 'as part of a calorie controlled diet' and consumers should have the freedom to choose. So stop worrying, shut up, and have another fizzy drink.
          (When huge, multi-national industries start being ever so worried about your 'freedom', be afraid, be very afraid.)

          There's another condition which has been increasing, besides diabetes, and that's thyroidism. Pollution's been blamed; radioactive fall-out has been blamed. But you know what? There's another possible cause, much closer to home. A high sugar/fructose diet blocks the absorption of iodine, which means thyroid problems. Fancy that.

          Big Fat Lies book is not so much eye-opening as eye-popping - and one of its most eye-popping aspects is on just how little research and poor evidence the 'government' and 'medical' nutritional advice has been based for the past thirty years and more.
Good for us all along?
          For thirty years we've been told that saturated fat is bad for us, gives us strokes and heart attacks. We should avoid fat, and eat a lot of carbs to fill us up - potatoes and bread and rice and pasta. And if we have to have fat, it should be vegetable oil.
          It turns out that not only is this wrong - but it was always known to be wrong.

          Ancel Keys was the man who designed the American army's field rations for WWII - that's why they're called 'K-rations,' the 'K' being short for 'Keys.' This seems to have given him a lot of influence at government level.
          So when he published research demonstrating a link between high saturated fat consumption and heart-attacks, the American government listened. Keys' study, published in 1953, looked at the saturated fat consumption in 7 countries: Japan, UK, Italy, Wales, Australia, Canada and the US. His stats showed, with perfect correlation, that the higher the fat consumption in these countries, the higher the rate of deaths from heart disease. This research is what all the 'avoid the killer fry-up' advice has stemmed from.
          And it was nonsense. Even at the time, Keys' contemporaries pointed out that if he'd used the figures for Israel, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Finland and Norway instead, his graph would have 'proved' exactly the opposite: that the more saturated fat consumed, the fewer deaths from heart disease.
          Combine the figures from these 14 countries, and there is no significant correlation at all. The figures prove nothing whatsoever - unless you cherry-pick those that show what you've already decided the result should be.
           Nor is there any proven link between cholesterol in the blood and heart-disease - but statins, which disrupt the body's natural functioning in order to lower its cholesterol production, are the highest selling drug in the world.
          I wonder if there's a connection between that and the continuing message that 'high cholesterol means a high risk of death from a heart-attack.' (It doesn't. There is no clear connection between cholesterol in the diet and heart-attacks, and no evidence at all that eating a diet low in saturated fat has any effect on cholesterol levels in the blood.)

          Dr William Castelli, part of the long-running Framingham Study, said in 1992 that, in fact, Framingham was finding that those who ate the most saturated fat, weighed least and were most active.

          Gillespie uncovers evidence - and names the papers - to show that, in fact, the most dangerous fats are those we're constantly being urged to eat: the polyunsaturated seed oils, such as sunflower, rape and canola oil. They have been strongly linked to cancer - and may even be the cause of the increasing number of skin-cancers. Not sunlight and sunburn after all - since we've evolved, over thousands of years, to cope with sunlight. Rather, the cause seems to be the action of sunlight on the polyunsaturated (and therefore, chemically, highly reactive) fat stored just under our skin.
          If you're interested in your own or your family's health - or are just increasingly suspicious of the multi-nationals which control our food and sway our governments, this is a book worth reading.
          It's also worth reading if you'd like to get back to this:

          Lard is good for you!
          Or, at least, not bad for you.           You might also find this link interesting.


madwippitt said...

How very cruel to put a picture of a full fry-up on, like sweeties next to the supermarket (also bad for you) check-out! :-D

Susan Price said...

But Mad, the whole point is that the fry-up is NOT bad for you - in fact, it's very good for you, and very filling, so makes it much less likely that you'll be snacking madly on high-carb junk an hour later.

The sweeties, I agree - very bad for you.

madwippitt said...

It is bad for you - and painful - if you have a gall bladder that plays up and fatty liver ... :-(

madwippitt said...

While I'm having a whine, another thought on the subject of lard (nothing else makes such good fried bread) ... it's impossible to make decent lardy cake without it! :-)

Leslie Wilson said...

You have written an excellent and timely blog post here, Sue!
Yes, the Mediterranean diet, which has been proved superior to the 'conventional' low-fat diet for treating heart disease, is emphatically not low-fat. However, according to a recent New Scientist article, dairy fat and lamb fat are healthier for your heart than beef fat (Mediterranean diet again...) Personally, I detest lard, and I think one should be cautious about assuming that one can consume excessive quantities of dietary fat and avoid heart disease; probably it is a case of my mother-in-law's saying 'a little of what you like'. One might also consider the high salt levels in your big fry-up.. It is a complex business - but what I have found recently is that severely cutting refined sugars in the diet has taken three inches off my waistline, and David is also tightening his belt. We began by cutting out milk chocolate (the most more-ish thing, which fits with findings that fat plus sugar seriously affects satiety signals) and then went to only eating cake (home-made, sugar-reduced, still tastes as good) at weekends. I make a cake every four weeks and freeze enough for a weekend (a little of what you like, again). If I want something sweet during the week, I have dried dates or apricots. I don't find that dried fruit is a problem, and we eat as much fresh fruit as we like which, at present, is easy, with early apples, raspberries, blackberries and figs in the garden. All this works because I cook from scratch and make most of our own bread (so-called 'wholemeal' sliced bread tastes horridly sweet to me). I realise this isn't easy for most people - though my daughters manage it, with jobs and kids. Bread is possibly the most insidious, as making bread is time-consuming and requires you to be present - easy if you work from home, tougher if you need to go out, though there are bread machines.What I am saying, I realise, is that you have to be reasonably well-off, well-informed, and time-rich to eat healthily. (Sigh). What we need is regulation of the food industry, and that is what our government won't give us...

Susan Price said...

Leslie, Karen - I'm not really suggesting that we should eat buckets of lard or fry-ups for every meal! - But butter and lard are decidedly better for you than all the adulterated 'spreads' the supermarket wants you to buy.

Leslie - I completely agree that what we need is a government with the guts to take on the Food Industry and regulate them, with strong laws. The kind of regulations, for the benefit of all, that we used to have before Thatcher (excuse me while I spit.) I doubt it's going to happen.