Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

Review: “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes

Thumbs up for Why We Get Fat and What We Can Do About It by Gary Taubes. Nonfiction/health.

Some time ago now I read – um, read/skimmed through – Taubes’s impressive doorstop, Good Calories Bad Calories. This is that, except put in a form suitable for giving your mom. And dad. And all your friends whose health you worry about, and the random strangers you meet. Except you can’t, can you, because they’d be offended, so you meekly take your skinny low-carb self and curl up in the corner wondering about the ethics of whapping your friends over the head with the first sensible book on nutrition published in the last 40 years vs. outliving them and being all sad and guilty that you didn’t whap them when you had the chance. (Sorry. Had a moment there.) Suffice it to say. My plea is general, rather than specific: whether you are thick or thin, sick or healthy, you should read this book. Also? Gary Taubes is really hot. (Sorry, had another moment. I’ll go gnaw on my grass-fed steak now and leave you alone.)

Take lard, for example, which has long been considered the archetypal example of a killer fat. It was lard that bakeries and fast food restaurants used in large quantities before they were pressured to replace it with the artificial trans fats that nutritionists have now decided might be a cause of heart disease after all. You can find the fat composition of lard easily enough, as you can for most foods, by going to a U.S. Department of Agriculture website called the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. You’ll find that nearly half the fat in lard (47 percent) is monounsaturated, which is almost universally considered a “good” fat. Monounsaturated fat raises HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL cholesterol (both good things, according to our doctors). Ninety percent of that monounsaturated fat is the same oleic acid that’s in the olive oil so highly touted by champions of the Mediterranean diet. Slightly more than 40 percent of the fat in lard is indeed saturated, but a third of that is the same stearic acid that’s in chocolate and is now considered a “good fat,” because it will raise our HDL levels but have no effect on LDL (a good thing and a neutral thing). The remaining fat (about 12 percent of the total) is polyunsaturated, which actually lowers LDL cholesterol but has no effect on HDL (also a good thing and a neutral thing).

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