What inspired you to write this book?
I was intrigued by a mystery: in the early 2000s, I had a side job reviewing restaurants for a small neighborhood newspaper that didn’t have the budget to pay for meals, so I had to accept whatever the chef decided to send out to me. This turned out not to be the stir-fry vegetables and chicken breasts I had been eating as a near-vegetarian for decades but instead red meat, creamy cheeses and buttery sauces. I found these dishes to be rich, earthy, and satisfying—they filled me up. But what’s more, I found that I effortlessly lost the stubborn ten pounds I’d been fighting for years; and the next time I went for a check-up, my doctor told me my cholesterol levels were fine. So here was the mystery: how could foods that were supposed to make me fat and give me heart disease appear to be doing the exact opposite? It didn’t make sense, and trying to get to the bottom of that question was what led me to write this book.
What was the journey like to write it?
It took me a very long time to dig up all the scientific studies on diet and disease, going back to the 1950s when scientists first suggested that eating fat raised cholesterol and clogged the arteries. However, even harder than finding the known studies, was finding those that wereunknown. Many scientists from the earliest days had results that did notsupport the prevailing notion about dietary fat being bad for health. These studies, however, were ignored and not included in standard reviews of the literature. They’ve been called “silent studies” because although they were published, scientists never discussed them. Overall, I read 3,000 studies at least and also interviewed everyone I could in the field to understand what was really going on. I spent a lot of time getting to know oil chemists in the food industry, since these people know everything about “Big Food.” My research was a huge endeavor! In the final year of writing, I barely saw a friend and neglected my children terribly (they have begged me never to write another book!). But in order to have a complete picture of our last 50 years of dietary history, as I hoped to do, it just takes time.
Why is it important for people on a low-carb lifestyle to read this book?
People on a low-carb diet know that it works for them, but probably they’ve had the experience of having friends and family say that their diet is extreme, a “fad,” or might provoke a heart attack. My book is a solid piece of science reporting, with thousands of footnotes, explaining why none of those things is true. It’s a book you can take to your doctor. Also, my book tells the story of how we came to believe that fat is bad: how did it become government policy? Why has that idea lasted so long? What about the Mediterranean diet? Trans fats? My book has been called a “nutrition thriller”—it tells how personalities, politics, bias and bad science intertwined to create the last 50 years of nutrition policy. And it’s quite an unbelievable story! If you want to understand why the Atkins Diet is the healthiest diet and why it has been misunderstood for decades, this book will do that for you.
What was the most educational piece of info you came across when doing your research?
Great journalists and researchers before me paved the way. Probably the most important one was Gary Taubes, and his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. He was the first journalist to describe the soft science behind the low-fat diet and to suggest an alternative hypothesis—that it might be excessive carbohydrates, not fat, in the diet driving obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
What is the key takeaway you want readers to leave with after reading your book?
The Atkins readers already understand the key take-away—that a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat is most likely to fight obesity and other chronic diseases. What they will also learn is that nutrition science is driven more by personalities and politics than they could possibly imagine.
For more information on The Big Fat Surprise, click here!