By Dom Nozzi
May 8, 2018
In January 1984 – 34 years ago – I “drank the Koolaide” when I read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. Like so many others who had read that highly influential book (and, subsequently, similar books), I was utterly convinced of the merits of a vegetarian diet. I abruptly stopped eating red meat and substantially reduced my intake of dairy. My mission for those 34 years was to do the best I could to completely eliminate red meat, dairy, and minimize dietary fats as much as I could. Carbohydrates became an enormous part of my diet. I told myself and others that I had, for health reasons, become an “aspiring vegan.”
Then, in March of 2018, after having heard a few people point out that dietary fat was being “rehabilitated” and was no longer the evil that it had long been, I read a book that was a shocking eye-opener. It reversed a huge amount of what I have accepted as unassailable truth for those 34 years, and the truth pushed by a huge percentage of the health and nutrition people for the past 60 years. The author makes a very compelling case, in her The Big Fat Surprise book, that high fat consumption (including saturated fats from things like meat) and low carb consumption is an essential way to avoid a long list of diseases, obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer. The book is supportive of the Adkins Diet, and work done by Gary Taube (who wrote The Case Against Sugar, which I also enjoyed).
The author points out that for 60 years, the anti-fat, (particularly saturated fat) lobby has (ironically) ruined our health and strongly contributed to our obesity problem because that crusade wrongly identified fats and saturated fats as the PRIME EVIL. They wrongly blamed fats and especially saturated fats with being the primary cause of heart disease and obesity.
So obsessed was (and is) this lobby that they spent the past 60 years ignoring the HUGE health problems associated with a high-carb diet (which was pushed to replace dietary fat). Among other things, a high-carb diet keeps our insulin levels continuously high in our blood stream, and our bodies are therefore using that instead of our fat stores to obtain and burn energy. Maggie (my girlfriend) and I are now looking at ways we can reduce carbs and be less fanatical about keeping fats and meats and cheeses out of our diets. I’ve added a number of high fat, low carb books to my reading list. Such books are commonly called “keto” or “ketogenic” or “paleo” or “Adkins” or “Primal” diet books.
A huge irony: The last book I read before picking up The Big Fat Surprise was How Not to Die. In the latter book, the author is a very strict crusader about the ESSENTIAL need to do pretty much the opposite of what is called for in The Big Fat Surprise. For example, The Big Fat Surprise says to minimize fruits and beans. And eat lots of fatty red meat. How Not to Die screams that you must eat a lot of fruit and beans. And NEVER eat meat — especially red meat. Both books, though, strongly oppose sugar and processed/refined foods.
I’ve become convinced by a great many authors that carbs are very bad news. With our 60-year obsession with minimizing fats, nearly all of us now consume excessive sugar and other carbs instead. Carbs are less filling than fats or protein, so we tend to eat too much of them (indeed, I often find myself skipping breakfast or lunch now, because the added fat and protein in my diet is more satiating). I now think the dietary fat minimization efforts have had severely negative impacts. Counterintuitively, reducing dietary fat makes our bodies fat, apparently.
I’ve spent nearly my entire life working very hard to minimize fats and red meats in my diet. And that is at least partly responsible for my having eaten a lot of high-carb stuff like beans, pasta, and potatoes. I now think that up to the beginning of 2018, I was more healthy than the average bear DESPITE much of my diet (largely due to regular exercise and avoiding refined/sugary foods).
I fully agree with the concerns and issues expressed in an article a good friend sent me on in late April of 2018 pointing out the difficulty in finding consensus on nutrition. About how we need to find reliable scientific sources to avoid emotional, personal bias regarding something as personal as diet. I do, after all, have a degree in science.
Nutrition science is very prone to confirmation bias because, as the article says, it IS very personal for most of us. PARTICULARLY since 1961, when Ancel Keys convinced pretty much everyone that dietary fats (especially saturated fats) were deadly ingredients that MUST be eliminated from our diets. Part of what made such a claim such a consensus and juggernaut was that this claim happened to buttress the claims made by the very emotional, crusading and zealotry-driven vegetarian movement. A huge number of vegetarian advocates leapt onto the anti-dietary fats bandwagon as a powerful way to increase vegetarianism. To this day, many scientists and nutrition organizations are biased and blinded by Keys and their allegiance to the emotions and ethics of animal rights (through vegetarianism), which means they are overly prone to unscientifically engaging in confirmation bias. Scientists and nutrition science, in other words, are not immune to unscientific bias.
Over the past few months, I have read a number of books and seen a number of speeches (some of which are by proponents of vegetarian diets) that are converging on the idea that we’ve been sold a bill of goods on dietary fats such as saturated fats (and meat in general). That such a campaign has been so successful in having millions of people reduce fats and meats in their diets that it has resulted in an explosion in how much sugar and carbs we are now eating instead of meat and dietary fat. We have done that largely because we have been convinced that sugar and carbs are much healthier than meat and fats. The result is that there is now an obesity epidemic, largely because this dietary switch is NOT a path to better health. Instead it is a path to being overweight and suffering the huge number of disease consequences associated with obesity.
In 1977, Dr George Mann described the misguided idea that dietary fat causes heart disease as ‘the greatest scam in the history of medicine.’
I have adopted a low-carb diet that now, for the first time in 34 years, contains saturated fats and red meat. It is a hybrid diet adopting principles from Keto and Paleo. I have also started engaging in what is called “intermittent fasting.” It is the “16/8” fast, where I eat two or three meals a day during an eight-hour window, then fast during the 16 hours of night and early morning. Since doing these things for a about 8 weeks, I lost about 17 pounds, feel like I have more strength and endurance, feel more clear-headed, and have seen my blood pressure continue to fall in the first half of 2018. It was at the dangerous level of nearing 140 in 2017, and after 13 months on a low-carb and high fat diet, my blood pressure dropped to 110 as of April 2019.
Note that I did not adopt the new diet primarily to lose weight (although that is certainly a welcome side benefit). I did so because there is now a large and growing body of scientific knowledge showing that a low-carb diet is very important for not only avoiding obesity, but also avoiding inflammation.
I learned in my research that in some diseases, like arthritis, the body’s defense system — the immune system — triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign invaders to fight off. In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal. Chronic, sustained inflammation in humans is linked to an increased risk of diseases like cancer, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
One of the most important objectives of the low-carb, high-fat diets is to minimize inflammation. To eat “anti-inflammatory” foods, which are generally the foods found in a low-carb, high-fat diet. Examples of inflammatory foods include soda, grains, pasta, bread, gluten, trans fats, vegetable oils, chips, crackers, cookies, candy, ice cream, high fructose corn syrup, cereal, pastries, cake, and fried food.
After only a few months on a low-carb, high-fat diet, I felt great, looked great, and felt much stronger. I noticed my thinking was much more clear, found that my speaking to others was much more coherent, I was “quicker on my feet” in conversation, realized my memory had dramatically improved, discovered that I had much less “brain fog,” learned that I had more energy and stamina, and noticed that people – especially women – took notice of my body much more often when they saw me in public.
In May of 2018, I ran the Bolder Boulder 10K road race and finished with a time that was nearly two minutes faster than when I ran this race in 2017. I felt stronger and less exhausted than I had in recent years in that run.
I am humored by the people who call a keto diet a “fad” diet. Humans have lived strong, healthy, thin-bodied lives for millions of years on a low-carb (ie, low-sugar), high-fat diet (ie, Keto). It has just been over the past few centuries that humans have adopted a high-carb (ie, high-sugar), low-fat diet (and have become obese and unhealthy in the process). It seems clear that this standard American diet (SAD) of high carbs and low fat is the fad diet, given how briefly we have engaged in it compared to keto.
In the past few centuries, contemporary humans (especially Americans) have consumed hundreds (thousands?) of times more sugar than in the prior millions of years of human history.
The criminal and tragic campaign of a few decades ago (that continues today) – an action which was wildly successful – was to wrongly convince Americans that dietary sugar should replace dietary fat.
There are studies today which strive to debunk the health benefit claims of the low-carb, high-fat diet. I would be interested to learn where the research funding comes from for these studies.
One common objection to the low-carb diet is that the human body needs carbohydrates to be healthy. But this is a red herring. Nearly all of those who adopt a low-carb, high-fat diet still eat far more carbs than humans ate for millions of years.
As of June 21, 2018, I have lost 22 pounds since starting the diet in March. I am now at 165 pounds, which is what I consider to be my “training weight” – the weight I was when playing high school football. I have not been this light in 37 years.
It turns out that most of the studies claiming that meat and dietary fats were bad for humans was bad science, yet eagerly latched on to by people with emotional or evangelical or ethical bias against eating meat. Or taken for granted by people raised in a society that has had a consensus belief for the past 60 years that meat and dietary fat are very bad for our diets – after all that time and all that consensus, it MUST be true!
I now know that such beliefs were wrong, and I deeply regret not having learned that until I was 58 years old.
For more information, I recommend the following.
Wheat is Fattening and Very Bad for Health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uexJlVLbDzI
This is long, but a very good look at the science of a low-carb diet:
Very interesting study…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z03xkwFbw4
Red Meat and Health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rz-8H_i1wA
Diet and Mental Health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXlVfwJ6RQU
Keto and Fasting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrIfx5pfKfk
Saturated Fat not unhealthy and how low-carb diets improve cholesterol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUY_SDhxf4k
What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Keto by Ken Berry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzE1ZsplHIQ
Transitioning from vegan to carnivore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jY4QQfNHyc
Why are so many now going from vegan to carnivore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk5R_invOWQ
Grain Brain, By David Perlmutter
Brain Maker, By David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly, By William Davis
Undoctored: Why Health Care Has Failed You, and How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor, By William Davis
The Paleo Solution, By Rob Wolf
Why We Get Fat and What We Can Do About It, By Gary Taubes
The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz
What When Wine: Lose Weight and Feel Great with Paleo-Style Meals, Intermittent Fasting, and Wine, By Melanie Avalon
The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, By Jason Fung
The Complete Guide to Fasting, by Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore
Lies My Doctor Told Me: Medical Myths That Can Harm Your Health (2019), By Ken Berry
Deep Nutrition (2016), by Catherine Shanahan
Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage, and Reclaim Good Health, by Richard Jacoby
The Keto Cure: A Low-Carb, High-Fat Dietary Solution to Heal Your Body and Optimize Your Health, by Adam Nally
Is It Environmentally Unsound to Eat Meat?
These websites provide helpful information that shows why the conventional wisdom about meat eating being environmentally harmful is questionable.
Meat isn’t unsustainable; factory farming is unsustainable.
The typical critiques of meat just don’t apply if you’re eating truly grass-fed meat from farms that don’t use the industrial-agriculture blueprint. As long as “vegan” means “I eat primarily wheat and soy products from giant industrial farms,” going vegan is not going to save the planet. What we really need is to get out of the industrial model completely, and find ways to raise animals and plants together, the way animals and plants naturally live in real ecosystems. This would eliminate the problems of growing mass quantities of feed crops, and also the ecological damage of the factory farms themselves (the manure runoff, for example). The poster child for this is Polyface Farms, but there are plenty of other small farmers out there working on a similar model.
You can argue whether or not it’s politically possible to get rid of corn and soy subsidies and replace all those amber waves of grain with real food, but the point stands that the knee-jerk environmentalist critique of meat just doesn’t apply well to a model outside the industrial system – and that includes Paleo. So if we’re talking Paleo and sustainability, it’s time to let go of arguments that aren’t relevant, and start focusing on the more useful questions: what kind of changes would it take to feed the world pasture-raised meat? What can we actually do about it? Those are the questions we need to be thinking about, and we’ll never get there if we’re all just stuck in the “meat is bad” rut.
The three top environmental offenders are the monocultures of grains, the monocultures of legumes, and the monocultures of animals—Industrial Agriculture systems which exist because we continuously buy into them as a society.
The Standard American Diet, Vegan Diet, Vegetarian Diet, and Paleo Diet all have their own unique set environmental pitfalls. Each still relies too heavily on unsustainable forms of agriculture that are culpable in environmental destruction.
Either we are purchasing monoculture grains and legumes directly in the form of cereals, breads, and pastas, or we are purchasing them indirectly in the form of grain and soy-fed animals who live in confinement. I cannot tell which is worse.
News Flash: The current system isn’t working, and Stephen Hawking thinks we’re screwed and need to find a way off this planet. Perhaps I am delusional, but I think the Paleo Diet offers us a fighting chance.
We have yet to find a dietary discipline that has proven itself sustainable, except for the hunter-gatherer, “Paleo Diet.” We have yet to find a dietary discipline that has proven itself ecological sound, except for the hunter-gatherer, “Paleo Diet.”
Again, the Agricultural Revolution is really just a failed science experiment. Like Wendell Berry said, “We didn’t know what we were doing because we didn’t know what we were undoing.” We still don’t know what we have undone, and continue to undo.
As the Paleo Movement has progressed, our focus has shifted from simply ‘what to eat’, to ‘where to get our food from’. It is now commonly known amongst Paleo adherents that finding local farms who produce pastured animals raised on species-appropriate diets is the best way to improve food quality, but also alleviate other environmental and health concerns.
Animals that are raised in this manner that perform their ecological functions foster, not hamper, the most important thing that environmental sustainability hinges upon: biodiversity. It’s also an excellent way to decentralize our food system, another vital step towards agricultural sustainability and food security.
If we can promote the proliferation of decentralized farming by financially supporting these types of animal husbandry practices instead of purchasing foods from CAFOs, we can change the direction of the market and change the direction of environmental destruction.
We can go from focusing on efforts to maintain the health of the soils, to repair the health of the soils. We can reverse the processes of climate change, desertification, land degradation, and losses of biodiversity.
If the goal is to decentralize, eschew monocultures, promote ecological function and improve biodiversity, we can accomplish much of this by gradually adhering to a more ‘orthodox’ type of “Paleo Diet”.
Is there another diet that could be adhered to without relying on monocultures? Absolutely, I think all diets can be done without relying on monocultures, but I suspect that it would be logistically nightmarish.
But the real question is, which dietary discipline is most capable of reinstating biodiversity, feeding the planet, reversing land degradation, decentralizing, and weaning off the tit of Industrial Agriculture?
The impact of the US healthcare system on the environment:
The contemporary, conventional American diet is high-carb and low-fat (and reduced or no red meat). This has strongly contributed to a population that is fat, sick and mentally ill. And has created a vast, expensive, and growing health care behemoth in the US. Here are some of the negative environmental impacts of this.
The environmental impact of obesity (ie, the impact of eating the high-carb, low-fat American diet):