“The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating”

There isn’t one fermented food on a list of “the 11 best foods you aren’t eating” compiled by Tara Parker-Pope, author of the world’s most visible health blog. Nor do any of the listed foods contain animal fat. One of them (sardines) is high in omega-3, so the list gets a D instead of an F. Fermented foods and animal fat (in sufficient quantity) have easily-noticed benefits, in contrast to every food on the list. Parker-Pope and the nutritionist she consulted (Jenny Bowden) have large gaps in their understanding of nutrition.

26 Replies to ““The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating””

  1. Are there any plant-derived fats whose health benefits are comparable to those produced by animal fats? Perhaps tropical oils, cottonseed oil, or hydrogenated fats like Crisco-type vegetable shortening?

  2. Alex,
    The benefit Seth speaks of is that he’s observed that eating animal fat seems to make him sleep more soundly/longer. It seems quite a leap to go from that to 1) Eating fat has the same effect on people other than Seth, 2) The effect really is a substantial benefit, and 3) The benefit outweighs any other negative effects.

    So Tara Paker-Pope can be forgiven for not including it on her list. Fermented foods are more widely accepted as beneficial. I suppose she might argue that people already know about that and eat yogurt.


  3. David, there is plenty of evidence to support what you call “quite a leap”. I have linked to someone else who had the same experience with animal fat as me: when he ate a lot more animal fat he slept much better. I know of no cases where a deficiency disease (e.g., scurvy) cured in two people by Substance X was not cured in everyone by Substance X. The nutrients we need to cure obvious deficiency diseases — vitamin C, all the other vitamins — have no negative effects at those doses. This is one reason I’m not worried about negative effects of enough animal fat to improve sleep.

  4. It really depends on what they mean by healthy. Maybe Seth has really found something Re: sleep quality, but poor sleep isn’t the number one killer of women (heart disease), and recommending things (pork fat) with a more dubious role in that cause probably isn’t a great idea here.

    The original Men’s Health list describes these things as “superfoods” which is an idea still rooted in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Maybe the appropriate criticism here is that this is not the problem with most Americans’ diets.

  5. The dogma of the dangers of fat have penetrated our society so deeply that it will take a lot for it to be changed. I bet it’ll take years of small studies to pave the way for a large scale study. Even then, most people will probably refuse to believe any evidence that animal fat can be good.

  6. John, yeah, I should try fermented cod liver oil. Aaron Blaisdell drinks it.

    Erika, I wonder how people explain to themselves that fat tastes good. Why would evolution cause us to want to eat something that’s bad for us? Obviously some forms of fat are bad but cavemen would have been eating animal fat, not olive oil or soybean oil.

  7. why do you think that what this addresses is a deficiency disease?

    also, why do you think that what you term as ‘good sleep’ is a natural condition and not merely something that is convenient to you?

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  9. Really, a “D” grade for not promoting your hobby-horse?

    Each item in the list looks like a reasonable addition to anyone’s diet, however much kim chee they also eat, or don’t. Would you advise people eating any particular item on this list to give it up?

  10. why such a low grade? because, given the world’s bulliest pulpit, she uses it to tell people what they already know. Her readers have heard a hundred times that fatty fish is good for you. And she tells them to eat sardines.

  11. Seth: You write, “I wonder how people explain to themselves that fat tastes good. Why would evolution cause us to want to eat something that’s bad for us?”

    Do you really wonder that? I’ve always hear the commonplace explanation that some fat is good, but that it’s not so great if you eat too much, triple bacon cheeseburgers and all the rest. For you, “animal fat” might be relatively small servings compared to what many Americans scarf down.

    Also, I think it’s a bit of simplification to say “fat tastes good.” I like some fatty food, but I don’t actually enjoy the taste of a slab of fat by itself. I remember as a kid that our mom was always trying to get us to eat the fat that we would trim off our meat. If it had tasted good to us, we would’ve eaten it, that’s for sure!

  12. Seth,

    On that fat bit…

    Have you taken any time to read Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories? He’s writing as an outsider like you but comes to some different conclusions based on some simple self experimentation and what appears to be a _very_ thorough analysis of the bulk of obesity research. He, like you, disagrees vehemently with the conventional wisdom, especially regarding animal fat but for different reasons. Where you see researchers ignoring cheaper routes to insight, he shows researchers systematically downplaying huge swaths of data to show their research conforms to a party line.

    He covers animal fat _extensively_. The only problem was I nearly died of boredom trying to read it all. I had to skip to the end where he covered obesity research that was actually good and have been using his index for the rest. For instance, I looked up salt in his index. He had a nice five page summary of salt vs. hypertension research where, again, researchers have deliberately downplayed data contradicting conventional wisdom. Salt was fine.

    I think you enjoy some time with it if you haven’t yet. You’d have a lot of WTF moments and possibly a more testable hypothesis for why and how SLD works.

    In my opinion, appetite suppression has no real bearing on the weight loss brought on by SLD. Taubes makes powerful arguments based on existing conventional research which show that calorie cutting/eating less is an ineffective way to lose weight, practically a non factor in isolation. Controlling insulin is the only way the body will reduce it’s fat store. Based on that model, SLD is working by either stabilizing blood glucose through more fat consumption, the oil way, or unscrewing a carbohydrate addicted reward mechanism in the brain, the sugar way. Appetite suppression is just another fancy way of saying satiety. Sane cycles of insulin == satiety. Not eating when you are satiated (something probably hard for some of your experimenters at first, due to refined carbohydrate addiction and insulin out of homeostasis) probably further results in people eating _more_ fat, since they think that they can get away with it now that they are eating less, furthering the benefits of the saturated fat.

    I did not see coverage of fermentation and I did not see coverage of omega 3 in his book.

    Perhaps I oversell. Perhaps you read it already and rejected it? If you haven’t yet read it, you _really_ want to. It will save you some research time and fuel some really fun righteous indignation.

  13. Andrew, yes, I really wonder about that. I haven’t heard the “little bit of animal fat is good” part. I agree, just knowing fat tastes good doesn’t tell you how much is optimal. (Which is why I was surprised when a lot of animal fat made me sleep better–I thought the optimal was much less.) And your story about not wanting to eat fat as a kid is telling. I have a similar story, which is that I bought a lot of pork from a farmer and put off eating the fattiest part till last. Ugh, fat, I thought. I think the resolution of the paradox is that some parts of our diet have too little animal fat. Unnaturally low levels. For example, bread without butter. So to get the optimal amount we need to eat more than we would choose in other parts of our diet.

    Darrin, yes, I like Taubes’s book and I interviewed him at length on this blog. I don’t agree with him, however, about how body fat is regulated. He ignores (or doesn’t know about) a lot of research, such as the research of Michel Cabanac.

    q, why a deficiency disease? All disease interferes with functioning. So does poor sleep. So does poor immune function. Deficiency diseases are caused by too little of a food that our ancestors ate more of. There is plenty of reason to think our ancestors ate more animal fat than most of us do now. And plenty of reason to think that their food had more bacteria & fungi growing on it.

  14. Silly me! Google knew even.

    I’ll read that. I don’t see a layman’s summary of Michel Cabanac’s research available. If you have a link to that I’d most appreciate it. Or I’ll just hunt around more.

  15. I meant _besides_ that. 🙂

    @Tom in TX, I added a comment in part 12 or 13 of the Taubes interview that answers your question about measuing blood glucose resonse to sucrose vs. other sugars.

  16. NE1 – Sleep deprivation is linked to inflammation, metabolic disorder, and increased risk of heart disease, especially in women.

    I’ll take my chances with bacon fat.

  17. Sugar tastes great but most people (even/especially Taubes) don’t think it’s good for you. Sugar and fat tastes the best but I’ve never found anyone who will tell me that chocolate cheesecake is health food. I’m still looking though.

  18. Hal, there was no sugar available back when our preference for sweetness evolved. Israel Ramirez has speculated that our liking of sweetness evolved so that we would eat more plants, which use sugars to transport energy. That makes sense. If you think plants are bad for you . . . then there would be a puzzle.

  19. I take fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures I think it is (you only need a tiny bit so I wouldn’t say drink). I notice a difference and recommend it to all.

  20. Hal, there was no sugar available back when our preference for sweetness evolved. Israel Ramirez has speculated that our liking of sweetness evolved so that we would eat more plants, which use sugars to transport energy. That makes sense. If you think plants are bad for you . . . then there would be a puzzle.

    I eat a lot of meat, and don’t eat much sugar. However, lots of hunter gatherers eat honey and I see no reason why paleolithic people wouldn’t eat honey when it was available.

  21. Late comment (new to you site),

    what is it that makes you think that sleeping longer is a sign of better health? This is new to me and goes against my personal experience of people sleeping longer only when they are ill.

    Was quite enjoying your site until I read this post, which goes a bit too far against the mountains of data. 🙁

    1. This post doesn’t say that sleeping longer is healthier so I am puzzled by this comment. I believe that sleeping more deeply is healthier because after I found several ways of doing so, my health improved: I stopped getting colds. Sleep is closely connected with fighting off infection.

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