Healthy food: Should we be eating more fat?
A controversial new book claims healthy eating makes us more susceptible to disease, says Victoria Lambert
For breakfast, Barry Groves had an extra large egg and a 3oz slice of liver, fried in lard. He washed it down with a cup of cocoa made with double cream.
At lunch, Barry, 72, who lives near Oxford with his wife Monica, 70, will enjoy pork chops, with the fat left on, plus a few green vegetables in butter.
Finally, the couple will have a light supper consisting of cheese with a home-grown apple or pear, topped with cream, followed by more cocoa.
Despite following this shockingly high-fat diet for more than 40 years, Barry now weighs 6lb less than he did on his wedding day in 1957 when he tipped the scales at 11st 7lb.
He and Monica break every single diet diktat that has been trumpeted as “healthy eating”. And yet, here they are, trim, fit and full of beans, albeit metaphorical ones. How on earth do they do it? And where are the rest of us – eating piles of fruit and veg, and steering clear of cholesterol-laden butter – going wrong? After all, we’ve never been subject to so much education on good dietary practice, and yet prey to so many illnesses, ranging from diabetes to heart disease.
“Most people are eating in a way that is unnatural to us as a species,” says Barry, who holds a doctorate in nutritional science and has just written a book called Trick and Treat: How Healthy Eating Is Making Us Ill. “We’re a carnivorous species – our gut is identical to that of a big cat. Yet we’re encouraged to eat foods that have been padded out with modified starch and vegetable oils, and complex carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and rice, which have all been labelled healthy – but not the fatty meat that our body actually recognises.”
He says this is why we don’t know when to stop eating: “Try to eat too much fat – cheese, say – and your body will quickly tell you when it has had enough. But when you eat processed, 'low fat’ food, your body never gets the message it has had enough, so doesn’t tell the mind it is full.”
Many people are familiar with the idea of a high-fat, low-carb diet, such as that practised by the Groves – it is not dissimilar from the Atkins diet. The couple took it up initially in 1962, after piling on the pounds as newlyweds.
But Barry believes the way he eats is healthy, too. His cholesterol measures 8.2mmol (millimols per litre of blood) – current British Heart Foundation (BHF) advice is that people who are at high risk of, or who already have, heart and circulatory disease should aim for a total cholesterol level of less than 4mmol/l. He says, however, it would be far more risky to have a cholesterol level that measures less than 7mmol/l than to have it high. Research has linked low cholesterol levels to cancer and depression. His blood pressure is irrefutably impressive at 115/62 mmHg (millimetres of mercury.) The BHF’s target for the general population is to have a blood pressure below 140/85.
But hasn’t it been proved that too much saturated fat is bad for the heart?
“The whole premise that eating saturated fat would lead to heart disease is based on two old reports,” says Barry. “The first, in 1950, showed that if rabbits were fed a cholesterol-rich diet, it would fur up their arteries. Yet, rabbits are only designed to eat plant life, which has no cholesterol. The clogged arteries were caused by feeding them an unnatural diet. It could have been an allergic response.
“The second study was in 1953 when an American called Ansel Keyes, who charted six countries’ consumption of fat, compared with their rates of heart disease and found a perfect curve upwards when he started with Japan at the bottom (low consumption) and America at the top (high consumption). Of course, Keyes had access to data from 22 countries, but simply ignored that from 16 countries which didn’t suit his hypothesis.” Barry points out that this study is often used now to demonstrate how not to do research.
Even the long-term investigation into heart disease, the Framingham project started in 1948 by the American National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and now in its 60th year, has found no evidence of a link between diet and heart disease, according to Barry. “Professor Sylvan Lee Weinberg, a past president of the American College of Cardiology, said in 2003 that the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet could no longer be defended.
“So, when you think how long we’ve been given these healthy eating guidelines and how in that time the rate of disease has gone up not down, you have to ask if our modern ailments have been caused by the very diet that was designed to stop them.”
What about those other tenets of a healthy life – five portions of fruit and veg, wholegrain cereals, soya milk, low-fat yogurts?
“Vegetables are not the problem,” says Barry, “but there’s no biological or chemical reason to eat them. Liver, for example, has all the minerals and vitamins we need. But fruit? The natural sugar it contains – fructose – is much more dangerous than simple glucose or table sugar. It has been linked to the rise in obesity.”
And he refuses to touch wheat. “It collects bacteria and dirt as it grows, and is impossible to clean. Then stored in silos, it is a haven for mice and rats, so it gets sprayed with insecticides. Put a wheat flower under the microscope and you’ll see traces of rat faeces.”
Soy milk is made with unfermented soya beans – “highly dangerous,” claims Barry. As for yogurts made with skimmed milk, they “lack conjugated linoleic acid, which prevents cancer”.
So how do we eat more healthily? “Eat purer foods, and ones that are more natural to us as a species. Cut down on bread and eat more fish, eggs, butter – any animal protein, anything that used to move around, that wasn’t stuck in the ground. Liver, kidneys, snails – even insects will do.”
• Trick and Treat: How Healthy Eating Is Making Us Ill by Barry Groves (Hammersmith Press) is available from Telegraph Bookshop for £11.99 plus £1.25p&p. To order, call 0870 428 4112, or go to telegraph.co.uk/bookshop