Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Low-Fat Scam, Then the Milk Debacle

Actually, first the milk debacle: When I started this blog, I briefly thought about the Milk Issue, and then decided I'd just leave it alone. I'm not a nutritionist, after all, and I don't need to open up that pissy opinion trunk of mine. Plus, I occupy such a weird sliver of thought in the milk debate that I can sound like I'm talking about UFO's, especially among the Low-fat Milk People, who tend to be a stolid and almost evangelical crowd.

But then I heard Gary Taubes on NPR the other day, and Michael Pollan today. And I feel like doing a little evangelizing myself, because it seems the low-fat tower is finally crumbling. In both books -- Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food -- the low-fat theory is being debunked. On WNYC today, Michael Pollan said that public health officials of the last few decades might actually owe us an apology. I'll say, and I never even really totally cut out the bacon or the butter. But think of all the people who did.

Basically, they're saying that a low-fat diet has never been proven to be healthier than a full-fat diet. It does not help you lose weight. It does not prevent heart disease. At the same time, saturated fats do not lead to heart disease or make you fat. In fact, some of these guys are not even all that sure that trans fats are the real evil. Could it be the refined carbs that are always palling around with the trans fats?

I'm not ready personally to let trans fats off the hook, but what the hell do I know? But I'm more than willing to point accusatory fingers at refined carbs. And I'm beyond thrilled to hear that my good friend saturated fat has been finally released from the slammer.

So here's how it relates to my milk thing:

I'm not against milk. Yes, there was a time when I didn't eat dairy, but these days I've given into my hedonism; I eat yogurt, I put milk in my coffee; I take my kids out for ice cream once in a while. I'll even make a cream-based soup now and then.

It's more that I'm against low-fat milk. But I don't care if people fill their own fridges with a lesser version of a liquid that god made to nourish baby cows and so that things like cream of watercress soup and creme brulee could exist. As long as they don't try to get me to use their fat-free half-and-half in my coffee, I don't care what percentage of fat works for them. I really don't.

What I'm against is public policies that try to get vast groups of people to drink low-fat and no-fat milk products.

Even more, I'm against public policies that are so maniacal about getting vast groups of people to drink reduced-fat dairy products that they will add things like high-fructose corn syrup so that the reduced fat dairy products taste good, thus turning a dubiously well-intentioned effort into a truly retarded and backward scheme to keep everyone fat and sick as long as the corn and dairy industries thrive.

And this is the kind of thing that truly gets me: that it is currently part of standard public health policy to push low fat milk on children and poor people. It's on school lunch trays all across the country, for instance (with ultra-refined carb sweeteners added to it to make it palatable), and a couple of years ago the NYC health dept sent workers out into the field to try to convince people in the outer boroughs -- people on the lower end of the economic scale, in other words, who are often more susceptible to the worst of the civilization diseases (heart disease, diabetes, obesity and the like) -- to switch to low-fat milk.

(Forget for a second the fact that it was sketchy science -- what about the fact that the vast majority of people of Latin, African and Asian descent are lactose intolerant? Like 75% of African-Africans, 75% of Mexicans and at least 90% of Asians? Well hey, what better use of its resources could the health dept come up with than to go out to bodegas in East New York and peddle 2% milk to 10-year-old black girls?

And hey, guess who's not so lactose intolerant? White people of Northern European descent. So weird, huh?

Okay, I'll stop now. Except to wonder how long it will take for the de-bunking of the low-fat myth to make its torturous way through the labrythinths that must connect (right?) the nutritional science part of the country to the school foods part of the country, and change the policy of forcing low-fat dairy products onto the trays of millions of kids every day.

Here's the link to the Gary Taubes interview.

Recipes and calmness returning shortly, I promise!


Courtney said...

I feel so shallow. I like my non-fat milk, but only because it makes for better cappuccino froth than whole fat milk ;)

Larissa Phillips said...

I lost the cappucino-froth argument a long time ago, when my father's wife proved to me that low-fat milk makes a better froth. (Why is that, though, when heavier fat cream holds air better and makes better whipped cream? Ahh, the mysteries of fat.)
Don't feel shallow. I probably like mint milano cookies and rice krispies more than you.