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Another Look At Fat's Bad Rap

With Anthony Brooks

The Big Mac is turning 50, and fat is still getting a bad rap. But the right mix of high-fat foods might be the ticket to a healthy diet. We’ll weigh the evidence and options.


Candice Choi, Associated Press reporter covering the food industry. (@candicechoi)

Lisa Sasson, clinical assistant professor of nutrition at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Courtney Ferreira, registered dietitian nutritionist. (@f00dCOURT)

Dr. Clyde Yancy, associate director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern University. Chief of cardiology in the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. (@NMHheartdoc)

Interview Highlights

On the decline of McDonald’s dominance

Candice Choi: “They do have to disclose some numbers as a publicly traded company, and within the U.S., which is its big, flagship market — they’re growing globally — but within the U.S. they’ve actually been reducing their number of stores. So they’ve been shrinking their store base in the U.S. And then even at the remaining stores, the number of customer visits has been declining. That’s really an important measure of popularity.

“I think the idea that it’s a move toward healthier eating is sort of too simple. When you have a chain that’s as big as McDonald’s and you have this proliferation over the years of so many different options, it’s like how do you hold onto that dominance when there’s just a growing number of options? … It’s just hard for McDonald’s — even if people still like McDonald’s — for them to be as dominant as they once were.”

On the rise of the keto diet

Courtney Ferreira: “Keto diet is so popular right now. As a dietitian, I have worked in the hospital, in the clinical world, and I do like to educate people about what the keto diet was created for. It was created as a medical therapy. So, especially in children with seizures, they see better quality of life on this diet.

“True ketosis is when your body does start using fats for energy, and you see the ketone levels in your blood rise. Some people may say, ‘Oh, I’m doing the keto diet,’ when really they’re just making an intentional decrease in their processed carbohydrates and increasing fats and protein in their diet. They may not be in a true ketosis.”

On eating too quickly

CF: “That is such a key factor in how much we eat, our weight. We eat too quickly, we don’t taste our food, we don’t savor our food, we don’t enjoy it and we overeat as a result. I actually recommend that people not refill their utensil until they’ve swallowed what’s in their mouth. And even just giving that a try for one meal, especially if you’re eating with other people, you’re going to realize, ‘Wow, I was eating really fast.’ ”

On fat’s bad rap

Lisa Sasson: “We overeat, and portions are too big, and we’re not active enough. Basically, that’s why we gain weight, most of us. And so if you eat too much of anything — you could eat too much vegetables, and if it’s excessive, you gain weight. So fat did a get a bad rap. And, again, it’s like the pendulum swung, and when fat got the bad rap, people started to eat lots of carbohydrates, lots of fat-free products, the whole ‘snack well’ phenomenon. And you know where that led us to: That led us to more obesity, increases in diabetes, heart disease, etc. So fat no longer is maligned. We shouldn’t be looking at nutrients. People don’t eat fat — we eat foods, we eat diets, we have dietary patterns, and I think that’s what we need to focus on.”

On the effects of augmenting your diet

Our caller, Jay: “I’m calling mostly because I was listening to your show and I’m hearing kind of my life story. I grew up the street from a McDonald’s. Once I was able to buy food for myself, my parents couldn’t control what I would do, and I became overweight. I was overweight from age 10 … to basically 31, and I just was gaining weight and gaining weight. And I tried the keto diet and it completely changed my relationship with food. It made me think really hard and look really hard at what I’m eating, what is in what I’m eating, more specifically. You find it’s very hard to find foods that are made for mass consumption that don’t have added sugars, that don’t have unnecessary calories. And I lost 110 pounds. I went from 280 to 170.

“I kind of realized, that I think a lot of people don’t realize, is that most people have an unhealthy relationship with food. I know I do. I know that I have an eating disorder, basically. I have problems with self-control. … Just trying to transition into a healthy way of paying attention to what I eat, paying attention to my portion sizes.”

On the importance of deciding to monitor eating

Dr. Clyde Yancy: “Many times we get confused with all of the different choices: Is it what you eat? Is when you eat? Is it how you eat? But ultimately it really is about portion control and discipline. And I think that once you commit to a strategy … it really is about that commitment. When that commitment is made, we see good outcomes.”

From The Reading List

AP: “50 years on, McDonald’s isn’t messing with its Big Mac” — “McDonald’s is fighting to hold onto customers as the Big Mac turns 50, but it’s not messing with the makings of its most famous burger. The company is celebrating the 1968 national launch of the double-decker sandwich whose ingredients of ‘two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun’ were seared into American memories by a TV jingle. But the milestone comes as the company reduces its number of U.S. stores. McDonald’s said Thursday that customers are visiting less often. Other more trendy burger options are reaching into the heartland.”

Huffington Post: “The Pros And Cons Of The Keto Diet, According To Doctors And Nutritionists” — “No doubt you’ve already heard about the ketogenic diet, also known as keto. Whole Pinterest boards and Instagram accounts are dedicated to the trend, and it has some pretty famous followers, including Halle Berry and Kourtney Kardashian. Before you give it a go, you’ll want to know what it involves, how it works and, most importantly, what nutritionists and doctors think about the keto diet.”

New York Times: “When We Eat, or Don’t Eat, May Be Critical for Health” — ” Nutrition scientists have long debated the best diet for optimal health. But now some experts believe that it’s not just what we eat that’s critical for good health, but when we eat it. A growing body of research suggests that our bodies function optimally when we align our eating patterns with our circadian rhythms, the innate 24-hour cycles that tell our bodies when to wake up, when to eat and when to fall asleep. Studies show that chronically disrupting this rhythm — by eating late meals or nibbling on midnight snacks, for example — could be a recipe for weight gain and metabolic trouble.”

South China Morning Post: “It’s not carbs or sugar. Eating more fats makes you fat, study on mice shows” — “Among dieters, it’s an eternal debate: what is the best way to keep weight off? A high-carb diet? Low-sugar? All-protein? Now, new joint research by Chinese and British scientists suggests something simpler – and maybe something we already knew in our gut: to avoid putting on the pounds, avoid fat in your diet. The Chinese government-backed study, published last week in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism, showed that weight gain in mice was linked only to dietary fat levels, not to protein or sucrose.”

It is America’s most iconic sandwich: two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun. It’s the Big Mac, of course, and it’s turning 50 this year. But McDonald’s is fighting to hold on to customers. And a lot has happened to the American diet since 1968, including all those diets: Atkins, South Beach, high-carb, no-carb, keto — and we’re still figuring out what’s for dinner.

This hour, On Point: the Big Mac at 50 and how America’s diet has moved on.

— Anthony Brooks

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In this Oct. 1, 2015, photo, a variety of products with omega-3 fatty acids is shown at GreatO Premium Foods' facility in Manhattan, Kan. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
In this Oct. 1, 2015, photo, a variety of products with omega-3 fatty acids is shown at GreatO Premium Foods' facility in Manhattan, Kan. (Charlie Riedel/AP)