Bacon Is Good for You

Those who love rib-eye steaks and double-cream Brie will feel better about their guilty pleasures after reading Nina Teicholz’s article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, “The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease.”  She writes, for example:

Too much whole-grain oatmeal for breakfast and whole-grain pasta for dinner, with fruit snacks in between, add up to a less healthy diet than one of eggs and bacon, followed by fish.

Gary Taubes covered some of the same ground in his excellent 2008 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health.  Taubes argued that that consumption of saturated fat does not cause obesity and heart disease; the culprit, instead, is refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar.

Teicholz describes the flawed methodology of Dr. Ancel Keys, the director of a large nutritional study conducted in the early 1950s:

The study's star subjects – upon whom much of our current understanding of the Mediterranean diet is based – were peasants from Crete, islanders who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr. Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative period of extreme hardship after World War II. Furthermore, he made the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when they were forgoing meat and cheese.

Once the American Heart Association, funded by Proctor & Gamble, makers of Crisco, got behind the crusade, Teicholz argues, “there was no turning back”:

Too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Dr. Keys's hypothesis. A bias in its favor had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense.

Teicholz cites a recent study that confirms the “dubious science behind the anti-fat crusade”:

"Saturated fat does not cause heart disease" – or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.


The new study's conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

The parallels with global warming science are striking.  In both cases, a thesis declared to be “settled science” is supported by “institutional energy and research money.”  People who question settled science threaten the money, power, and prestige that come with being on the side of the so-called consensus.  “Deniers” of  “Science” with a capital S are attacked mercilessly as being either ignorant flat-Earthers or corrupt liars, on the payroll of big corporations who profit from their lies.  Ironically, the opposite is true.

Teicholz’s book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, will be released later this month.