“The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history.”
~ Dr. Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist and expert on heart disease
“Fundamental problems were 2-fold. First, acceptance of weak associational epidemiological data as proof of causation. Second promotion of diet-heart hypothesis/lo fat diet to the public ahead of definitive proof of outcomes. Diet-heart hypothesis then became incontestable dogma.”
~ Tim Noakes, emeritus professor, scientist, and expert on low-carb diets
We’re All Guinea Pigs in a Failed Decades-Long Diet Experiment
by Markham Heid, Vice
The US Department of Agriculture, along with the agency that is now called Health and Human Services, first released a set of national dietary guidelines back in 1980. That 20-page booklet trained its focus primarily on three health villains: fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
Recently, research has come out strongly in support of dietary fat and cholesterol as benign, rather than harmful, additions to person’s diet. Saturated fat seems poised for a similar pardon.
“The science that these guidelines were based on was wrong,” Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told VICE. In particular, the idea that cutting fat from a person’s diet would offer some health benefit was never backed by hard evidence, Lustig said.
Just this week, some of Lustig’s colleagues at UCSF released an incendiary report revealing that in the 1960s, sugar industry lobbyists funded research that linked heart disease to fat and cholesterol while downplaying evidence that sugar was the real killer.
Nina Teicholz, a science journalist and author of the The Big Fat Surprise, said a lot of the early anti-fat push came from the American Heart Association (AHA), which based its anti-fat stance on the fact that fat is roughly twice as calorie-dense as protein and carbohydrates.
“[The AHA] had no clinical data to show that a low-fat diet alone would help with obesity or heart disease,” Teicholz told VICE. But because fat was high in calories, they adopted this anti-fat position, and the government followed their lead. Surely the 1960s research rigged by the Sugar Association, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, added to our collective fat fears.
By the 1990s, when Teicholz says the epidemiological data started piling up to show that a low-fat, high-carb diet did not help with weight loss or heart disease—calories be damned—much of the damage was already done. The US public was deep in what nutrition experts sometimes call the “Snackwell phenomenon”—a devotion to low-fat and low-calorie processed snack foods, which people pounded by the bagful because they believed them to be healthy.
“This advice [to avoid fat] allowed the food industry to go hog-wild promoting low-fat, carb-heavy packaged foods as ‘light’ or ‘healthy,’ and that’s been a disaster for public health,” Lustig said.
The stats back him up. Since the US government first published a set of national nutrition guidelines in 1980, rates of obesity and related diseases like diabetes have more than doubled. “Childhood diabetes was basically unheard of, and now it’s an epidemic,” Lustig said.
Overseas, national health authorities followed America’s lead on fat. The results have been similarly grim. Earlier this year, a UK nonprofit called the National Obesity Forum (NOF) published a blistering condemnation of its government’s diet and nutrition policies. […]
Teicholz said it’s hard to overstate the effect of national health authorities’ pro-carb, anti-fat stance. A whole generation of health professionals accepted—and passed on to their patients—the government’s guidance to avoid fat and cholesterol. Many still do.
“Both professional and institutional credibility are at stake,” she said when asked why more doctors and policymakers aren’t making noise about the harms caused by the government’s dietary guidance. She also mentioned food industry interests, the potential for “massive class-action lawsuits,” and the shame of copping to nearly a half-century of bad diet advice as deterrents for USDA and other health authorities when it comes to admitting they were wrong. […]
But one thing is clear: Dietary fat was never the boogeyman health authorities made it out to be.
“I think most of us would be 90 percent of the way to a really healthy diet if we just cut out processed foods,” UCSF’s Lustig said. “We wouldn’t need diet guidelines if we ate real food.”