The Pioppi Diet | (c) Dr. Sabine Bonneck

Time for anything new? Convincing plea for “High Fat”

The Pioppi Diet

Why is it so important that we take care of our nutrition? Because it has more effect on our health than many medications. Even the American military has recognized the problem: In 2012 the army chief physician reported that obesity threatens national security. According to Professor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, the last credible book on nutrition was published in the 1950s. It says you can eat meat, fish, poultry, all green vegetables, eggs, cheese and fruit without getting fat and sick. Avoid bread and everything made with flour, cereals, puddings, potatoes, white root vegetables and sugary foods. Then this book seems to have fallen into oblivion.

The “Mediterranean Diet”

The British cardiologist Aseem Malhotra and the documentary filmmaker Donald O’Neill use “The Pioppi Diet”, their plea for a healthy diet, to bring up many heavy guns that clean up with widespread principles. Pioppi is a village in Italy where people not only grow unusually old, but also maintain good health into old age. The American researcher Ancel Keys had already noticed this in the 1970s, from whose observations the “Mediterranean diet” was derived.

According to the authors, however, the “Mediterranean diet” does not reflect properly what happens in Pioppi. Keys had only looked at a part of people’s lifestyles with diet. He did not take into account the fact that the inhabitants of Pioppi exercise regularly. This is not to be equated with sports, but simply means that they are physically active every day. He had also ignored the fact that people fast at intervals. This means that they skip meals regularly, simply because they don’t have enough to eat. Keys himself had already noticed that he had overestimated the importance of cholesterol levels.

Malhotra and O’Neill are not trying to give a perfect explanation of how the way people live affects their life expectancy. They aim to work out basic principles instead. It is well known that modern health care systems neglect prevention. The health insurance companies only pay for a nourishing consultation if one gained already substantial at weight. The authors criticize that societies spend much money for research into diseases, while leaving the healthy alone to stay healthy.

State must fight overweight

Two fundamental misjudgements blame Malhotra and O’Neill for the fact that the number of overweight people continues to rise: Firstly, we cannot see that everything we eat either keeps us healthy or becomes a time bomb that brings us disease and early death. Secondly, we believe that we consciously choose our food. However, the strong urge to satisfy our needs in the short term drives us to unhealthy choices. The prospect of being rewarded with good health for our healthy choices sometime in the distant future is often lost for many because of the seemingly limitless choice of nutrient-poor and tasty junk food that is now so easily available.

If people were to grow old in a healthier way, this would not only bring a lot of happiness and contentment, but the economies would also no longer have to worry so much about population trends. The cost of medical care will only rise if people become chronically ill. This can be prevented in a living environment where healthy choices are easier. Here Malhotra and O’Neill see the state as more than ever under obligation. The fact that the state in our present living environment only relies on information and education is for them as if one wanted to forbid a child to eat sweets when it grows up in a confectionery shop.

Big mistake “Low Fat”

Ancel Keys’ research led to a change in dietary guidelines in the USA and Great Britain. These now used “low fat”, i.e. the people should consume no more than 30% of the daily calorie intake in the form of fat and no more than 10% of this should contain saturated fats. The authors see this recommendation as an explanation for the increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes rates. They quote a study by Credit Suisse that 90% of the calories that Americans additionally have consumed since the 1960s come from refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils.

The Pioppi Diet | (c) Dr. Sabine Bonneck
Aseem Malhotra und Donal O’Neill: The Pioppi Diet | (c) Dr. Sabine Bonneck

They describe the claim that saturated fats clog the arteries as “simply wrong”. In their opinion, there are several reasons for a higher-fat diet: the body needs essential fatty acids and fat to absorb certain vitamins. Unprocessed natural foods with a high fat content always contain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids; only dairy products contain the majority of saturated fatty acids. Pork chops even contain less saturated fatty acids than Olive oil. Fat fills the stomach and has the least effect on the increase of glucose in the blood. Some high-fat foods help to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The authors explain the connections and prove them with scientific study results. From this, they derive a “life program”. In addition to an extensive collection of recipes, it contains exercises for physical fitness and stress reduction.

Time for a new nutrition experiment?

The “low fat” philosophy has long since become part of our culture. Slowly we start to understand that we eat too many carbohydrates. And we learned that it is best not to eat meat at all. If you look at the dietary recommendations, many prohibitions or at least restrictions remain beside low-fat vegetarian dishes. It is not surprising that many people are insecure and either ignore the recommendations or take refuge in niche diets. In recent decades, we have conducted a kind of experiment: we have largely eliminated fat from our diets and replaced valuable fat with margarine and sunflower oil. At the same time, we have dramatically increased our intake of carbohydrates, especially sugar. It is clear that the changes in diet must have an impact on the increased prevalence of diet-related diseases, especially obesity and type 2 diabetes.

You know studies that show that saturated fats are harmful? Malhotra and O’Neill list other studies. In a few years or decades, new knowledge will probably correct one side. Just as it took decades to uncover mistakes in Ancel Keys’ research. Until then, we will have to live with both opinions and decide for ourselves how to deal with them.

Malhotra and O’Neill are finally giving permission again: fat and meat are simply delicious and filling. But you don’t have to be a meat lover. You can also live according to the Pioppi rules as a vegetarian. The recipes are mostly practicable.  It’s time to try something new. “Low Carb” is already the order of the day. High Fat” brings a lot of quality of life and fun while eating. Hopefully a sequel with more recipes will follow, hopefully with less meat dishes. If we want to stay healthy we must take care of the environment as well. And therefore we must reduce our meat consumption.

Dr. Sabine Bonneck