Big Fat Lies - a review, by Susan Price

It's Christmas Day, so I don't suppose anyone is reading this post. Which means
Big Fat Lies by David Gillespie
I won't be accused of  killing the joy.

          On the other hand, Christmas is a traditional time for telling creepy stories - and I am here to make your flesh creep.
            '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 ghastly monsters which emerge from fridge and pantry, to gibber, mop and mow, are Sugar, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, and Polyunsaturated Fats, aka 'vegetable oils' - though as Gillespie points out, they aren't vegetable oils at all, but seed oils.
          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.)

          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 eat a lot of 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 blood-sugar levels? - By turning the excess sugar into fat.
          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 at least happy to perpetuate it. (Remember how the tobacco industry denied, for decades, that there was any link between smoking and cancer? - And then it turned out they'd known there was a link all along? - And what does the food industry say, when it's told that sugar is poisonous and addictive? It says that sugar is simply a food like any other, and a valuable addition to a varied diet. So stop worrying, shut up, and have another fizzy drink.)
          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? A high sugar/fructose diet blocks the absorption of iodine, which means thyroid problems. Fancy that.

          This 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 on for the past thirty years and more.

          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' is 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.
           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 cholesterol, 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.

          You might also find this link interesting.


Chris Longmuir said…
The moral of this story is - eat what you want and enjoy life to the full - because the healthy messages we've been getting are all 'big fat lies'. Thanbks, Susan for a thought provoking article.
Great post, Susan, and very appropriate for today as I view the ridiculous amount of sugary treats on my Christmas table. Fascinating re chromium. I hadn't realised the business about high sugar intake blocking the absorption of other essentials. Poor body! We only have the one and we thoughtlessly wreck it! I agree with Chris,though, eat what you want and stop worrying. Who said 'Everything in moderation and 'less sugar?' I think he had something there.
Lydia Bennet said…
I've been appalled to see how much sugar is in 'savoury' food these days - my boyfriend is diabetic so I read labels on stuff I'd not eat, being veggie myself - honey glazed this, sweet and sour that, and sugar in all the gravies and sauces hidden away on the ingredients list, often disguised as 'fructose' or similar. So called 'experts' who pronounce on health issues are often funded by big business and that fact should be recognised more widely.
Susan Price said…
I agree Valerie - my fella is diabetic too, and it certainly makes you pay attention! I think the soundest advice is, as far as possible, buy nothing in packets that has 'value added' - which usually means sugar or fructose in some form. There are a few things - big bags of porridge oats, for instance. But as a rule of thumb, buy meat and fish to cook yourself, with no sauces or stuffings added - buy raw fruit and veg and cook it yourself.
glitter noir said…
Yes, Sue, another great entry. Over the years, I've grown more and more appalled by the antics of the Sugar Game: now calling it this thing, now calling it that, as the public grows more concerned. Organic cane sugar, beet sugar...Who knows? By now, everyone knows that aspartame is very bad. So we get sweetened with Stevia.
I watch the labels as best I can, but am also guided by craving and taste: anything resulting in an irresistible craving for more, right now, is packed with secret sugar, imo. Case in point: the average 'healthy' chocolate bar vs. Green and Black's. I can eat one or two squares of the latter with no instant craving for more. Anyway, the fight goes on. :)

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