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The Big Fat Surprise

Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

By Nina Teicholz
18-minute read
Audio available
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz

In Big Fat Surprise (2014), author Nina Teicholz dismantles the common misconception that a low-fat diet is good for you. With examples both from research and experts, she explains how fat can even be healthy, if eaten correctly. The book offers guidance on how to adjust your diet to maximize the benefits of certain kinds of fats while lowering your risk of heart disease.

  • Anyone interested in nutrition or health
  • Anyone interested in the debate on fats, cholesterol and heart disease
  • Anyone interested in leading a healthier lifestyle

Nina Teicholz is a highly respected science journalist who focuses on nutrition. She’s written for the New Yorker, the Economist, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

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The Big Fat Surprise

Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

By Nina Teicholz
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz
Synopsis

In Big Fat Surprise (2014), author Nina Teicholz dismantles the common misconception that a low-fat diet is good for you. With examples both from research and experts, she explains how fat can even be healthy, if eaten correctly. The book offers guidance on how to adjust your diet to maximize the benefits of certain kinds of fats while lowering your risk of heart disease.

Key idea 1 of 11

Not all fats are created equal: butter and meat are saturated fats, and oils are unsaturated fats.

To best understand the two main types of fats and how they affect your body, it’s important to grasp the chemical composition of each.

In general, fat is made up of chains of carbon atoms, surrounded by hydrogen atoms. These carbon and hydrogen atoms are connected by bonds. There are two kinds of bonds: single and double.

Imagine a bond as a sort of handshake between a carbon and hydrogen atom. In a single bond, the atoms are connected by one hand each. In a double bond, the atoms hold both hands together.

If a chain of fat is connected by single bonds, it's called a saturated fat. If the chain has at least one double bond, it's called an unsaturated fat.

Animal fats, such as butter, cheese or meat, are saturated fats. Olive oil or other vegetable oils are unsaturated fats.

Importantly, the differences in the bonds of saturated and unsaturated fat explain some of their characteristics.

A saturated fat is called thus as it is saturated with hydrogen; its single bond can’t grab any other molecules to add to its chain, which makes it stable. These single bonds pack molecules together densely, which is why saturated fats – like butter – are solid at room temperature.

Unsaturated fats, with their double bonds, are essentially “looser” as the extra “hand” can grab other molecules, such as oxygen in the air. When unsaturated fats are exposed to air, they oxidize, or go rancid, quickly. These type of fats are usually liquid – like cooking oil – at room temperature.

Saturated and unsaturated fats are the two most important kinds of fat. Understanding how they are chemically composed is important in understanding how they affect your body.

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