Why we all need a Big Fat Surprise!

Nina Teicholz

The Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz

By Marika Sboros

For her birthday in May 2016, American journalist and author Nina Teicholz has a brilliant idea. Buy her bestselling book, The Big Fat Surprise, as a present for someone you really love – or yourself.

Better still, buy it from the Hickory Stick Book Shop, an independent US bookstore located in Washington Depot, Connecticut, for more than 60 years. She’ll sign and dedicate the book. 

I couldn’t think of a better investment in that special someone’s health right now – or yours. 

The book was a game changer in nutrition science in May 2014. It continues to make seismic waves in medical and dietetic quarters as its second birthday rolls around.

It reveals the truly “unthinkable”:

That everything you thought you knew about dietary fats is most likely horribly wrong. It’s not your fault. Teicholz documents with chilling scientific accuracy the effects of  60 years of low-fat nutrition advice, which doctors, dietitians and health authorities have dished up. She shows how this has amounted to “a vast uncontrolled experiment on the entire population (in the US and many other parts of the globe)”. The consequences for our health have been “disastrous”.

Nina TeicholzFormer BMJ (British Medical Journal) editor Dr Richard Smith read The Big Fat Surprise for a feature which the BMJ published in December 2014. Titled Are Some Diets Mass Murder, it is a thought-provoking read. He begins with a quote by French-American Dr Jean Mayer, who was known as one of the “greats” of nutrition science. The quote is in what Smith calls the “colourful language that has characterised arguments over diet”. Mayer said that prescribing a diet restricted in carbohydrates to the public was “the equivalent of mass murder”.

Smith gained a different impression after ploughing through five books on diet and some of the key studies. Experts can direct same accusation of “mass murder” could at “many players in the great diet game”.  In short, he said the experts have based bold policies on fragile science, and the long-term results “may be terrible”.

What do those latter sentiments have to do with Teicholz’s book? Everything, including the effects of prescribing a diet not restricted in carbohydrates to the public. After more than 40 years of high-carb, low-fat official dietary advice there are global epidemics of life-threatening diseases. These include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, even dementia. Doctors now call dementia type 3 diabetes because of its proven links with diet.

Smith found The Big Fat Surprise to be by far the best of the five books he read to write the BMJ feature. He didn’t like the cover picture or the title. He considered them “demeaning”. However,  the power of Teicholz’s “forensic demolition of the hypothesis that saturated fat is the cause of cardiovascular disease” bowled him over.

Dr Richard Smith

Dr Richard Smith

Smith describes the book as “deeply disturbing”. He said that it shows how overenthusiastic scientists, poor science, massive conflicts of interest, and politically driven policy makers can make deeply damaging mistakes”. 

Over 40 years, Smith says that he now recognises what he might always have known.  “Science is a human activity,” he said. It is also fraught with “error, self-deception, grandiosity, bias, self-interest, cruelty, fraud, and theft”. All these are “inherent in all human activities (together with some saintliness)”. However, Teicholz’s book still “shook” him.

Other specialist reviewers are similarly fulsome in praise of The Big Fat Surprise.

In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015,  Dr Donald McNamara says that it should be read by “every nutritional science professional”. He sees it as “a guide to risks of hubris and the unquestioning belief in whatever the conventional wisdom of the day is”. It also points to the consequences of basing public policy “on belief as opposed to evidence of positive, beneficial effects”.

McNamara is a fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Nutrition, current Director at Eggs for Health Consulting. He has also done extensive research in coronary heart disease, cholesterol and lipid metabolism. 

He says that all scientists should read Teicholz’s book as “an example of how limited science can become federal policy”. Consequently, this policy may, in the long run, be harmful, he says.  That’s the risk when experts set aside the “basic tenets of science, skepticism, and consistent questioning … to appease the powerful voices convinced that we must do something (even if we do not have the proof that that something is the right something).”

That’s a chilling scenario.


In June 2014, the Wall Street Journal called the book as “a lacerating indictment of Big Public Health”. It posed the question: “What if the government’s crusade against fat fed the spread of obesity by encouraging us to abstain from foods that satiate us efficiently?”.

The WSJ gave The Big Fat Surprise their highest accolade as one of their Top 10 NonFiction of 2014. Forbes magazine named it the Most Memorable HealthCare Book of 2014. The Economist rated it their Best Book of 2014. It quickly became a New York Times best-seller.

Dr Michael Eades

Dr Michael Eades

US physician and low-carb, high-fat specialist Dr Michael Eades has written a detailed review of Teicholz’s book on his Protein Power website.  (Scroll down for a link to the full review). Eades says that it is the “most difficult and demanding (review)” he has ever written for a few reasons.

Firstly,  psychologically, because he wants to write a review so good it inspires everyone to buy the book immediately and read it. Why? Because Eades think it is one of the most important books on nutrition ever written, maybe the most important. And he feels a responsibility to inspire as many people as he can to get their hands on it.

Secondly, he says that the book is “so brimming with valuable information” he had difficulty trying to figure out which parts to excerpt. Thus, aAfter he started reading it, Eades says he was “absolutely riveted”. Instead of trying to carve out time to read it, he carved out time from reading to do all the other things he needed to do.

“It was that good,” he said.

Teicholz has also had some detractors –  critics who support conventional medical and dietetic “wisdom”. Therefore, they support high-carb, low-fat eating regimens. Some said that the book has no value because Teicholz is not a medical doctor, scientist or dietitian. However, that’s a ridiculous argument I hear regularly from doctors and dietitian academics.

Teicholz is a Yale and Stanford graduate where she studied biology and majored in American Studies. She also has a master’s degree from Oxford University in the UK and studied journalism at Columbia.


One critic claimed that Teicholz plagiarised the work of fellow US science journalist Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad CaloriesWhy we Get Fat and others. He dismissed that suggestion with the contempt it deserved. Thereafter, when all else failed, critics tried to discredit the book because it contained a few errors. However, all they proved is that Teicholz is human, fallible and has integrity. And that if she ever makes a mistake, she owns up and corrects it.

 Teicholz read thousands of scientific papers and attended many conferences in researching the book. She also learned the intricacies of nutrition science. And she interviewed “pretty much every single living nutrition expert in the US, some several times, plus scores more overseas”.  She learned that we can’t – or shouldn’t – pin mistakes of nutrition science primarily on “the nefarious interests of Big Food”. Thus, the source of our misguided dietary advice is in some ways more disturbing, Teicholz says. She also says that experts at some of our most trusted institutions have driven that advice for what they believed to be “the public good”.

Consequently, what passes for official dietary advice is often the result of zealotry, passion and dogma, not science. 

Sweden’s “diet doctor”, Dr Andreas Eenfeldt,  reviewed Teicholz’s book on his website, titled The Beginning And The End Of The Fear Of Fat.  He says that the book’s main message –  that butter, meat and cheese are healthful foods – is perhaps no longer a “surprise”. However, “the story has never been as crystal clear or entertaining as in The Big Fat Surprise”. Therefore, he highly recommends it. 

 Eades recommends that you give this book to every “lipophobe you know who is able to read” because it “will change many minds”.