Meat of the Matter: The curse of 'carbobesity'

What's for dinner?

That is a question whose frequency is exceeded only by another lingering question: What are we supposed to eat to stay healthy?

There's no right answer to the first question, and sometimes it seems that there's no wrong answer to the second question.

Ask 10 diet "experts," and you'll get 10 different answers, ranging from nothing but purely raw foods to vegan-only choices to a pseudo-vegetarian mix to the Paleo/Caveman/meat-at-every-meal "natural" diet.

About the only commonality is the concept of "low:" Low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie. If you're reading or listening to somebody proclaiming to have the answer(s) to our modern obesity crisis, they're recommending that you lower one or another dietary component on your way to the ideal weight and optimal health.

But the loudest voices, the most prominent experts and virtually all "official" authorities on diet and health have spent three decades united behind a low-fat mantra: Saturated fat is evil, and eating meat and dairy foods that contain this harmful substance will eventually kill you via a heart attack, a stroke or worse.

To be honest, it seemed to make sense when government authorities told us that "eating fat makes you fat." To this day, there is a stigma surrounding full-fat foods. Asking a waiter for real butter at a restaurant these days is the equivalent of asking the hostess, Hey, where can I light up a cigarette?

Either question nets you a surly glare, silent condemnation and a curt response dripping with sarcasm.

A shot of common sense

But amidst the ocean of negativity about animal foods, a contrarian story occasionally surfaces — in this case, a report from Great Britain that is pretty straightforward:

Here's the headline: "A low-fat diet does not stop obesity and can even damage health, experts have claimed."

In a lengthy story in the Daily Mirror newspaper, a "damning report" from Britain's National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration insisted that the "official advice" to avoid fatty meat and dairy is ill-advised.

"For decades, the public has been told to cut down on fatty foods to avoid becoming overweight and to prevent having a deadly heart attack someday," the report stated. "But a group of experts has sensationally now claimed that government advice is useless in the war on obesity and could even damage our health rather than help it."

In the context of so-called conventional wisdom, perhaps endorsing meat and dairy qualifies as "sensational advice." However, there's no denying that obesity has become a full-fledged public health problem in Britain, the United States and every other westernized, developed nation on Earth.

The only commonality among dozens of North American and European nations all facing a similar crisis is the demonization of high-fat animal foods. If statistical evidence, morbidity and mortality data and just plain visual evidence available to anyone who goes out in public in any city anywhere in the affluent countries of the world means anything, what we've been told to eat turns out to be less-than-ideal in terms of health and well-being.

The NOF and PHC report stated that "eating fat does not make you fat" or cause heart attacks. The report called for a return to "whole foods," such as meat, fish and dairy, as well as high-fat healthy foods. The authors even claim full-fat dairy — milk, yoghurt and cheese — can help with weight loss and protect the cardiovascular health.

Interestingly, the British report even fingered the reason that the low-fat diets tend to trigger obesity, noting that eating low-fat, low-cholesterol foods encourages people to end up snacking between meals.

And what we're snacking on is a raging river of refined carbohydrates: bread, bagels, muffins, donuts, cookies, crackers, chips, candy, soda and other heavily sweetened goodies.

It all leads to a phenomenon properly called "carbobesity," if I may coin a term: Excessive weight gain due to the excessive consumption of refined carbs and sugar-loaded snacks.

How to avoid carbobesity? A statement from Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and an advisor to Britain's National Obesity Forum, summarized it neatly. Here are his bullet points, as reported by the Daily Mirror:

  • The low-fat message is based upon what we now know is flawed science. The biggest risk factor for heart attacks in men is insulin resistance, and the best way to combat that is to go on a diet low in refined carbohydrates and low in sugar.
  • When you eat foods high in saturated fats, your overall cholesterol risk profile improves. Eating low-fat, "lite" foods increases snacking, a major cause of obesity. If you eat good, nutritious food, you feel fuller longer and don't snack.
  • It is irresponsible to give the public low-fat, low-cholesterol diet advice as it is based on flawed science and is driving Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

We've been misled about the "right diet" for decades now.

But there's an easy way to correct flawed science: Ignore it.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator