Thursday, April 5, 2012

Interview: Tom Naughton of Fat Head

Can You Lose Weight Eating Fast Food?

The responses to the interview questions may not represent the views of The Echo Boom Bomb's author. These interviews are provided to inform readers of information from experts and provide these experts with a medium where they can answer questions without any content changes. You can also read other interviews at this link.

Super Size Me received a ton of attention with Spurlock "proving" that McDonald's fast food was unhealthy.

Or did he?

Tom Naughton produced the documentary, Fat Head, which challenges Spurlock's assertions in Super Size Me. Fat Head also addresses some of the other common nutrition idioms such as "high fat diets are bad" and "saturated fat will give you a heart attack." Fat Head will be well worth your time, whether you're looking to be in better health, lose weight, or view the opposite side of the attack on fast food restaurants (and people's freedom to choose what food they want to eat). A little more information about Tom:

Tom Naughton spent various portions of his adult life working as a health-magazine editor, freelance writer, standup comedian and software programmer before writing and producing the comedy-documentary Fat Head.

You can also check out his website, Tom Naughton.

1. The food pyramid suggests that we limit our fat intake while keeping up a good carbohydrate intake. Based on some of your research while doing Fat Head, what have you discovered about fats, and are they always bad for us (for the record, my testosterone levels seem to enjoy saturated fat)?

Most fats not only aren't bad for us, they're good for us. The fats that are bad for us are unnatural fats that have to be chemically extracted and processed, like corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and any kind of hydrogenated oil. Natural fats like olive oil and animal fats raise your HDL, help keep your blood sugar more stable, reduce triglycerides, and keep your appetite in check as long as they're not mixed with sugars and flours. They can also raise your LDL, but they shift the LDL pattern away from the small, dense variety towards the large, fluffy variety. Large, fluffy LDL is good for you. It protects against cancer and infections, in addition to being the building block for a variety of hormones that are important for your health.

There's a reason we've become fatter and more diabetic as a nation since the Food Pyramid was promoted: we started consuming less natural fat and more grains and other carbohydrates, exactly as we were told to do. The result was a cascade of biochemical reactions that led to overeating, high blood sugar, low HDL, high triglycerides, small LDL particles and pretty much most of the conditions we now call Metabolic Syndrome. The Food Pyramid was created by people with good intentions, but they never had any real science backing up their advice. They just assumed they were correct ... but they were tragically wrong.

Editor's Note:

In one of my favorite books, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford points out that the Mongolians ate a diet of mostly fat and protein - "The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones. Unlike the [Chinese] soldiers, who were dependent on a heavy carbohydrate diet, the Mongols could more easily go a day or two without food” (Weatherford, 87).

2. You challenge Spurlock on his assertion of how many calories he consumed during his documentary Super Size Me. His documentary also seemed to imply that McDonalds is "tricking" people by using tactics like close locations and marketing to kids. With such poor logic, how did this documentary ever catch on?

It caught on because it played to the beliefs of people who were predisposed to dislike McDonald's. It's an unfortunate aspect of human nature that we tend not to apply much critical thinking when people are telling us what we want to hear. I've actually heard from many, many people that after they saw Super Size Me, they were craving a Big Mac and went out to get one. I had the same reaction. Those of us who don't think McDonald's is some kind of evil empire recognized that Super Size Me was essentially a publicity stunt without any real science or logic behind it.

3. Fat Head gave me a good smile when you discussed how sedentary our culture has become, especially with young kids. What do you think has contributed to the way we raise children - especially the attitude that almost discourages kids from going outside and playing (for instance, some adults worried that kids might get hurt by trying some things in The Dangerous Book For Boys)?

I think there are a few factors involved. When I was a kid in the 1960s, the only mothers in our neighborhood who worked outside the home were the very few who were divorced. So kids came home from school, had a quick snack, then went outside to play. Now a lot of kids go from school to some organized, indoor activity where they're kept busy until Mom or Dad picks them up after work. When we moved from California to Tennessee, we noticed most of the mothers in our neighborhood were stay-at-home moms, just like in the neighborhood where I grew up. Sure enough, most of the kids played outside after school.

Our neighorhood in Tennessee was also a very safe area, which relates to the point you raised. A lot of parents these days are afraid to let their kids play outside without supervision. To some extent, it's a legimate fear. I wouldn't have let my daughters run around loose in our neighborhood in Los Angeles. It was too busy, with too much traffic and too many people we didn't know. In some suburban areas, however, I think parents are giving in to exaggerated fears of things like child abductions. I've seen the statistics, and while every one of those incidents is a tragedy, they're really not more common than when I was a kid. But they've gotten a lot more media attention, so parents are more afraid.

4. From your interviews with doctors and experts from various fields, what are some good guidelines for nutrition and health?

I believe the diet that's best for human health is what's now called a Paleo diet, which means avoiding the foods that came along very recently in human history and mimicking -- as best we can, anyway -- the diet of hunter-gatherers. That means giving up sugar, grains, and any kind of processed vegetable oils. The stricter paleo types also give up dairy foods, although I think a little full-fat cream, butter and cheese are fine for most people if they don't have issues with lactose or casein. If you go back through the anthropological records, what we correctly call the "diseases of civilization" -- heart disease, cancer, diabetes -- didn't show up in human populations to any significant degree until people began consuming grains and sugars. To make matters worse, the grains we consume today have to a large degree been genetically altered and are biochemically different from the grains people consumed just 60 years ago. We're not adapted to eating these grains, and they cause a whole slew of problems after we ingest them.

5. Have you stuck with the high fat diet and what's been your experience while on it?

My diet has evolved. It's still a high-fat diet, but it's more along lines of the paleo diet I described above. I don't eat grains anymore, except for a very occasional indulgence in pizza -- usually when I'm in Chicago and can get the awesome stuffed pizza from Giordano's. I've also given up processed foods for the most part. My wife cooks nearly everything from scratch, and we only eat fast food a couple of times per month. As I demonstrated in Fat Head, it's possible to make smarter choices when eating fast food and still lose weight, but whole foods you cook at home are still the best.

We're even going a step further now. We moved to a five-acre mini-farm in Tennessee and are preparing to raise our own chickens and sheep for meat and eggs. My wife has spent much of this spring preparing a huge garden. So while we won't be living completely off the land, we'll be growing or raising much more of what we eat.

Moving to the farm was also great for my girls. They not only play outside, they have a five-acre yard with trees, a creek, pastures and hills. They love to run around and explore. I saw them out there one day recently washing their clothes in the creek and hanging them on the bushes to dry. They were pretending they were pioneer girls. They also like to climb trees and build forts out of branches and sticks. In other words, they're living more like kids did in previous eras. If either one of them ends up fat or diabetic, I'll be the most suprised father on earth.