Below are some tweets from Nina Teicholz, the journalist who authored The Big Fat Surprise. Her book has pushed further the debate that Gary Taubes earlier helped bring out into public view.
Both of their writings are an eye-opening critique of how we got to this place of mass health catastrophe that, if it continues, will bankrupt and cripple our society. Healthcare costs are going up not only because of big biz exploitation but also because the American population has become more sickly. Most healthcare money now goes to chronic conditions that were rare in the past, and those costs are skyrocketing. This is trending toward disaster.
The graphed data she shares does one thing well. It clearly shows that, as she and others have written about, most Americans have been following the dietary guidelines given by mainstream authority figures, scientific institutions, and government agencies. Americans are eating more whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. This is true in terms of both percentage of calories and number of calories. We’ve been doing what we were told to do. How has that worked out? Not so well.
Furthermore, saturated fat consumption also decreased over this period (not included in graphs). In fact, it had been decreasing since the early 20th century, prior to the beginning of the epidemic of obesity and heart disease. This is corroborated by the fact no study has ever found a causal link between saturated fat and heart disease, despite probably trillions of dollars spent on researching diet and nutrition this past century. It’s not for a lack of trying to find such a causal link.
It turns out that the main proven causal link, that of sugar, was apparent in the earliest data. But interestingly, even sugar can’t be solely blamed for the sharp rise of chronic diseases over the past few generations. Teicholz points out that, “Sugar consumption has actually declined since 1999…so have refined grains.”
Then again, that was a small decline following a massive increase over the prior century. Keep in mind that Teicholz is only talking about added sugar. That leaves out the increase of foods that are naturally full of sugar such as fruit, especially considering that fruit has been developed to be higher in sugar than what was available in the past. Plus, that leaves out the entirety of how simple carbs in our modern diet have shot through the roof, and as far as the body is concerned they’re treated the same as sugar since they convert so easily.
Taken altogether, we are nowhere near the lower level of sugar and carb intake as seen in the early 1900s. And the consumption in the 1800s was so low that the pro-carb experts today warning about the dangers of low-carb diets should be surprised that the American population somehow survived and thrived, with a citizenry that by the end of the century was on average the tallest among countries where such data was kept. That in the 21st century our added sugar addiction has finally hit a plateau should offer no comfort.
About the graphs, this is one of the cases where the data does speak for itself. Not that it proves anything specifically. It simply shows what has changed in relation to what else has changed. Quite telling, though, in its potential implications. Obviously, the standard dietary ideology can’t explain this data. The ruling experts don’t even bother to try to explain it. Heck, they do their best to avoid even acknowledging it. This is inconvenient data, to say the least. But in their corporate corruption and hypocrisy, it doesn’t stop the powers that be to continue pushing the same diet with claims that eventually it will have the opposite effect. What they won’t allow in public debate is what are the real causes behind all of this. That is dangerous territory because then we’d have to tread upon the high-profit territory of processed foods.
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On a related note, this might be the reason Anthony Warner is an “Angry Chef” in attacking “fad diets” and “bullshit”. That is to say anything other than the dominant paradigm.
I had noticed an earlier book by him, but his most recent book caused me to research him further. I was willing to take him seriously, up to the point when I saw in his book where he referred to Professor Tim Noakes as a “diet author”. Noakes is a top-rated researcher on diet and nutrition, the leading expert on the ketogenic diet in South Africa where he successfully defended himself in a government trial funded by millions of dollars of taxpayer money for the sin of having suggested a traditional foods diet to a pregnant woman. What are Warner’s credentials as an authority on diet and nutrition, well other than being a blogger and corporate shill? None.
A former anonymous blogger, Warner has admitted to being a corporate consultant and development cook for food manufacturers. With corporate money overflowing from his pockets, he unsurprisingly “goes to great lengths to absolve the food industry and its relentless marketing of processed food from playing any role in modern diet problems,” as it was put by Bee Wilson. Warner goes so far as to defend the besmirched name of sugar. From a Guardian article by Tim Lewis, he is quoted as saying,
The rhetoric that sugar is poison, it’s killing us, has become completely accepted… We’re told it’s just empty calories. Well, we kind of need calories to live. But a lot of people will read that and say, ‘He would say that. He works for a big cake manufacturer.’… Sugar has an enormous amount of energy and is one of the most important building blocks for life. But they say, “It has no nutritional value.” That makes absolutely no sense.
That is amusing. I never thought I’d see a defense of sugar. Even the most mainstream scientific institutions and governmental agencies no longer try to defend sugar, although they did so in the past and have been slow to change. It’s scientific consensus at this point, both within and outside the establishment, that sugar is bad for health and is empty of nutrition. Consistency, of course, is irrelevant in his line of work — as explained by Chris C. at The Low Carb Diabetic forum:
I’m just thinking how unintentionally ironic his fevered defence of sugar is. Since he and his dietician pals all believe in calories in calories out, surely a food “full of energy” is the last thing to recommend that fat people eat even in their world?
Warner must be getting paid very well. His corporate advocacy is one of the greatest examples of sophistry I’ve ever seen. There appears to be no big money food interest or food product he won’t defend — besides sugar: white bread, potato chips, processed meat, fast food, etc; pretty much anything and everything that comes out of a factory. As to be expected, he and his books get promoted on corporate media.
The Angry Chef can do as much damage control as he wants on behalf of corporations. Any informed person doesn’t care what a corporate shill has to say. And at this point, neither should anyone pay attention to dietary guidelines from governments that are no more reliable than corporate hackery. Besides, it’s become overwhelmingly clear that governments and corporations regularly collude, specifically when the profits of the food system are involved (See Marion Nestle, among others). We are left to inform ourselves as best we can.
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As you’ve probably heard, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) recently gave the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee the spanking it deserves. Here are some quotes from an editorial in The Hill written by Rep. Andy Harris, who also happens to be a doctor:
The nation’s senior scientific body recently released a new report raising serious questions about the “scientific rigor” of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report confirms what many in government have suspected for years and is the reason why Congress mandated this report in the first place: our nation’s top nutrition policy is not based on sound science.
In order to “develop a trustworthy DGA [guidelines],” states the report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), “the process needs to be redesigned.”
Among other things, the report finds that the guidelines process for reviewing the scientific evidence falls short of meeting the “best practices for conducting systematic reviews,” and advises that “methodological approaches and scientific rigor for evaluating the scientific evidence” need to “be strengthened.”
In other words, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are far from the “gold standard” of science and dietary advice they need to be. In fact, they may be doing little to improve our health at all.
Heh-heh-heh … remember what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote a piece in the British Medical Journal criticizing the dietary guidelines as unscientific? Dr. David Katz (who reviewed his own novel under a false name and compared himself to Milton and Chaucer) dismissed her critique as “the opinion of one journalist.” The USDA’s report, he insisted, “is excellent, and represents both the weight of evidence, and global consensus among experts.”
Then for good measure, he and several other members of The Anointed tried to harass BMJ into retracting the article by Teicholz.
And now along comes the NASEM report, saying Teicholz was right. The “opinion of one journalist” (which of course was shared by countless doctors and researchers) is now the official opinion of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. You gotta love it. Perhaps Dr. Katz can write a rebuttal to the NASEM report, then review his rebuttal under a false name and compare himself to Albert Einstein.
Anyway, back to the editorial by Rep. Harris:
It seems clear that the lack of sound science has led to a number of dietary tenets that are not just mistaken, but even harmful – as a number of recent studies suggest.
For instance, the guidelines’ recommendation to eat “healthy whole grains” turns out not to be supported by any strong science, according to a recent study by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group specializing in scientific literature reviews. Looking at all the data from clinical trials, which is the most rigorous data available, the study concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” to show that whole grains reduced blood pressure or had any cardiovascular benefit.
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by Marion Nestle
[US senator William] Proxmire was right about the [National Academy of Science’s Food and Nutrition] board’s ties to industry. Those were revealed in 1980 during a dispute over the first edition of the US dietary guidelines, which advised reductions in intake of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol (meaning, in effect, meat, dairy, and eggs) to reduce the risk of heart disease. The board opposed the guideline so vehemently that it issued a counter-report, Toward Healthful Diets, arguing that fat restrictions were unnecessary for healthy people. This infuriated health advocates, who charged that at least six board members had financial ties to industries most affected by the guidelines. Sheldon Margen, a professor of public health at the University of California, for example, objected that “the board’s range of expertise is too narrow, its ties with industry too close to avoid the suspicions of bias, its mandate is too ill-defined, and its mode of operation too secret.” Others criticized the board’s support by an industry liaison committee whose members represented eighty food companies. The furor over the report so embarrassed the academy that it eliminated the industry panel, removed board members with strong ties to food companies, and appointed new members with fewer industry ties.
That was not the only instance of early concerns about conflicted committees. I asked Ken Fisher, who in the 1970s had directed the nongovernmental Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO), about his experience appointing committees to review the safety of food additives. In 1958, Congress had defined two categories of food additives: new chemicals that needed to be proven safe before they could go into the food supply and substances with a history of common use—sugar, salt, flavorings, and the like—that could be considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS). In the early 1970s, questions about the safety of GRAS additives led President Richard Nixon to direct the FDA to evaluate them, and the FDA commissioned the LSRO to conduct the reviews. The LSRO appointed committees to do this work and was immediately confronted with the problem of what to do about candidates with ties to companies making or using the additive under consideration.
The review committees eventually issued 151 evaluations of more than four hundred GRAS additives. In a report on this work, Fisher said that the LSRO required candidates to report grants, contracts, and consultancies, as well as investments and holdings. It did not permit members with such ties to participate in discussions or vote on final decisions. Fisher told me that all members “were made aware of these conditions and all agreed—after some back and forth.” He recalled “one conflicted member, who of his own volition, absented himself from the vote on the decision.” He also recalled that committees “rejected several of the monographs on substances because they were incomplete and clearly biased in coverage of published positive or negative studies on certain substances.”
Fisher’s comments suggested that conflicts of interest only rarely caused problems with GRAS reviews. But in The Case Against Sugar (2016) the journalist Gary Taubes presented the GRAS review of sugar (sucrose) as highly conflicted. His book notes that the chair of the overall GRAS review process was George W. Irving Jr., a former head of the scientific advisory board of the International Sugar Research Foundation, and that the GRAS committee relied heavily on materials provided by the Sugar Association. The 1976 GRAS review concluded that “other than the contribution made to dental caries, there is no clear evidence in the available information on sucrose that demonstrates a hazard to the public when used at the levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced.” According to Taubes, the Sugar Association took that to mean that “there is no substantiated scientific evidence indicating that sugar causes diabetes, heart disease, or any other malady.” He has harsh words for critics of the idea that sugars are harmful. “If you get a chance,” He advises, “ask about the GRAS Review Report. Odds are you won’t get an answer. Nothing stings in a nutritional liar like scientific facts.”
The FDA’s GRAS reviews still elicit concerns about conflicted interests. A 2013 analysis of the GRAS review process concludes that the industry ties of committee members not only threaten the integrity of GRAS reviews but also the integrity of the FDA’s entire scientific enterprise. In a commentary on that analysis, I pointed out that without independent review of GRAS additives, it is difficult to be confident that the ones in use are sage.
My question to Fisher about GRAS review committees had induced him to search through notes packed away for decades. Among them, he found memos indicating that Mike Jacobson had asked to have consumer representatives appointed to GRAS review committees, but, he said, “We opted not to do so as it would imply the other members of the [committees] were not consumers.” Fisher was referring to Michale Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whose concerns about conflicted advisory committee members also date back to the 1970s. Jacobson was arguing that if federal agencies insisted on permitting members with industry ties to serve on advisory committees, they should balance viewpoints with an equivalent number of consumer representatives.
Jacobson holds a doctorate in microbiology. He began his career working for Ralph Nader, cofounded CSPI in 1971, and retired as its director in 2017. CSPI’s purpose is to improve the American diet, and it continues to be the largest nonprofit organization engaged in advocacy for a broad range of nutrition issues, among them conflicts of interest caused by food industry sponsorship. I served on the CSPI board for about five years in the early 1990s, remain a member, and subscribe to its monthly Nutrition Action Health letter.
In 1976, Jacobson asked a member of Congress with a strong record of consumer advocacy, New York Democrat Benjamin Rosenthal, to help him survey the heads of university nutrition departments about their faculty’s ties to food corporations. Jacobson told me why he had done this: “It was so obvious to me that professors were touting their academic affiliations while shilling for food manufacturers and trade associations. I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to collect information about the matter.” Rosenthal introduced their report of the survey results, titled “Feeding at the Company Trough,” into the Congressional Record, with this blunt statement:
Nutritional and food science professors at Harvard, at the Universities of Wisconsin, Iowa and Massachusetts, and at many other prominent universities work closely and often secretly with food and chemical companies. Professors sit on the boards of directors, act as consultants, testify on behalf of industry at congressional hearings, and receive industry research grants. Many professors with corporate links also serve as “university” representatives on Federal advisory committees. . . . One can only come to the conclusion that industry grants, consulting fees and directorships are muzzling, if not prostituting nutrition and food science professors.
The report named names: it characterized Fred Stare, the head of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, as a “food-industry apologist,” but it also listed the industry ties to sixteen other eminent scientists, nearly all members of prestigious national committees issuing advice about nutrition and health. It proposed three strategies for countering conflicted interests: balance, disclosure, and new funding mechanisms. All merit comment from today’s perspective.
To achieve balance, they wanted consumer representatives to be appointed to nutrition advisory committees. This seems entirely rational, but in my experience federal agencies view experts who avoid industry ties on principle as too biased to appoint, especially if they state those principles publicly. I was a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory of Committee in 1995, but only because I had previously worked with the assistant secretary of health, Philip R. Lee, who insisted on my appointment. I served a s a consumer representative on two FDA advisory committees in the 1990s, Food Advisory and Science Advisory, but have not been asked to join another federal committee since the publication of Food Politics in 2002. The FDA’s current practice is to appoint one consumer representative to its committees, hardly enough to have much influence on decisions.
With respect to disclosure, the report comments on the failure of the named professors to state the full extent of their industry ties: “As long as collaboration with industry continues to be viewed by the academic community as ethical and respectable, it is important that the public know about potential sources of bias. . . . In such matters, respect for individual privacy must yield to society’s right to know.”
To help accomplish the third strategy, funding, the report raised the idea of a nonprofit, public interest group to “launder” industry contributions before they reach universities. But I doubt that such a group could maintain its objectivity if it depended on ongoing donations. I also doubt that companies would be willing provide ongoing support for research that might risk producing unfavorable results.
[Founder of Harvard Department of Nutrition Fred] Stare ran into precisely the same difficulty faced by the Nutrition Foundation: the need to please donors to get ongoing support. For this reason, or perhaps because his personal beliefs coincided with those of his donors, eh was widely recognized as a nutrition scientist working on behalf of the food industry. His public statements consistently defended the American diet against suggestions that it might increase the risk of heart or other chronic disease. He, like officials of the Nutrition Foundation, could be counted on to state the industry position on matters of diet and health and to assure reporters and Congress that no scientific justification existed for advice to avoid food additives or eat less sugar.
We now know much more about the depth of Stare’s food-industry ties from documents that came to light in 2016 when Cristin Kearns and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco published an analysis of internal documents of the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), the forerunner of today’s Sugar Association. The documents included letters between the SRF and Mark Hegsted, a faculty member in Stare’s Harvard department, about the SRF’s sponsorship of a research review on the effects of dietary carbohydrartes and fats on cardiovascular disease. The review, written by Stare, Hegsted, and antoher colleague, appeared in two parts in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. The letters show that the SRF not only commissioned and paid for the review but also pressured the Harvard authors to exonerate sugar as a factor in heart disease, then and now the leading cause of death among Americans. Other documents from the mid-1960s demonstrate that the SRF withheld funding from studies suggesting that sugar might be harmful.
I wrote the editorial that accompanied