He won’t tell us directly, but his data certainly will suggest that we may have the wrong idea about eating healthy, according to Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. In her bestselling book on the politics and science of nutrition, Nina Teicholz describes some of the data that contradict the common understanding that a low-fat diet is best for our health.
One of the examples she uses in her book is the research of the late George V. Mann, a physician and professor of biochemistry. He researched the Masai of Kenya when he noticed that their diet did not fit the low-fat, low-cholesterol approach to healthy eating that was becoming the recommended norm in the United States. Instead, the Masai existed on 3 to 5 liters of milk daily combined with blood in the dry season. They also ate lamb, goat and beef regularly. Occasionally, they would have as much as four to ten pounds of fatty beef in one day.
Yet they were slim, healthy and vigorous even into their old age. This prompted Mann to study the people intently to discover if they were as healthy as they seemed. He found that their blood pressure and weight were considerably lower than their American counterparts who were steadily adapting to a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Mann also conducted electrocardiograms on 400 of the Masai, looking for evidence of heart disease. He found none. In addition, he performed autopsies on 50 men, finding only one who died from heart disease. He did not find evidence of other life-shortening diseases such as cancer or diabetes in the men either.
Nina Teicholz, in her TEDxEast talk in 2014, cites Mann’s research as an example of why we shouldn’t buy into the “science” of the low-fat diet advice we are getting. As proof, she points to research that the Masai were not genetically different from other people. Researchers tested Masai men who had left their tribes and moved to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. After adopting a diet lower in animal fat and higher in carbohydrates, these men had higher cholesterol levels and gained weight, just like their Western counterparts.
Mann went on to publish the autopsy results of his Masai study in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 1971. This and his other observations were met with harsh criticism by his American colleagues. According to Nina Teicholz in her CNN.com commentary, Mann was warned by a secretary of the National Institute of Health that if he continued to criticize the prevailing idea that fat was bad for health, he would lose his government funding. Nina Teicholz states that he did, in fact, later lose his funding.
In The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz thoroughly covers all of the research concerning nutrition and diet over the last fifty-plus years to explain that fat is not in fact our enemy but instead is the basis of a healthy diet.