American Heart Association’s “Fat and Cholesterol Counter” (1991)

  • 1963 – “Every woman knows that carbohydrates are fattening, this is a piece of common knowledge, which few nutritionists would dispute.”
  • 1994 – “… obesity may be regarded as a carbohydrate-deficiency syndrome and that an increase in dietary carbohydrate content at the expense of fat is the appropriate dietary part of a therapeutical strategy.”*

My mother was about to throw out an old booklet from the American Heart Association (AHA), “Fat and Cholesterol Counter”, one of several publications they put out around that time. It was published in 1991, the year I started high school. Unsurprisingly, it blames everything on sodium, calories, cholesterol, and, of course, saturated fat.

Even hydrogenated fat gets blamed on saturated fat, since the hydrogenation process turns some small portion of it saturated, which ignores the heavy damage and inflammatory response caused by the oxidization process (both in the industrial processing and in cooking). Not to mention those hydrogenated fats as industrial seed oils are filled with omega-6 fatty acids, the main reason they are so inflammatory. Saturated fat, on the other hand, is not inflammatory at all. This obsession with saturated fat is so strange. It never made any sense from a scientific perspective. When the obesity epidemic began and all that went with it, the consumption of saturated fat by Americans had been steadily dropping for decades, ever since the invention of industrial seed oils in the late 1800s and the fear about meat caused by Upton Sinclair’s muckraking journalism, The Jungle, about the meatpacking industry.

The amount of saturated fat and red meat has declined over the past century, to be replaced with those industrial seed oils and lean white meat, along with fruits and vegetables — all of which have been increasing.** Chicken, in particular, replaced beef and what stands out about chicken is that, like those industrial seed oils, it is high in the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. How could saturated fat be causing the greater rates of heart disease and such when people were eating less of it. This scapegoating wasn’t only unscientific but blatantly irrational. All of this info was known way back when Ancel Keys went on his anti-fat crusade (The Creed of Ancel Keys). It wasn’t a secret. And it required cherrypicked data and convoluted rationalizations to explain away.

Worse than removing saturated fat when it’s not a health risk is the fact that it is actually an essential nutrient for health: “How much total saturated do we need? During the 1970s, researchers from Canada found that animals fed rapeseed oil and canola oil developed heart lesions. This problem was corrected when they added saturated fat to the animals diets. On the basis of this and other research, they ultimately determined that the diet should contain at least 25 percent of fat as saturated fat. Among the food fats that they tested, the one found to have the best proportion of saturated fat was lard, the very fat we are told to avoid under all circumstances!” (Millie Barnes, The Importance of Saturated Fats for Biological Functions).

It is specifically lard that has been most removed from the diet, and this is significant as lard was a central to the American diet until this past century: “Pre-1936 shortening is comprised mainly of lard while afterward, partially hydrogenated oils came to be the major ingredient” (Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise, p. 95); “Americans in the nineteenth century ate four to five times more butter than we do today, and at least six times more lard” (p. 126). And what about the Mediterranean people who supposedly are so healthy because of their love of olive oil? “Indeed, in historical accounts going back to antiquity, the fat more commonly used in cooking in the Mediterranean, among peasants and the elite alike, was lard.” (p. 217).

Jason Prall notes that long-lived populations ate “lots of meat” and specifically, “They all ate pig. I think pork was the was the only common animal that we saw in the places that we went” (Longevity Diet & Lifestyle Caught On Camera w/ Jason Prall). The infamous long-lived Okinawans also partake in everything from pigs, such that their entire culture and religion was centered around pigs (Blue Zones Dietary Myth). Lard, in case you didn’t know, comes from pigs. Pork and lard is found in so many diets for the simple reason pigs can live in diverse environments, from mountainous forests to tangled swamps to open fields, and they are a food source available year round.

Another thing that has gone hand in hand with loss of healthy, nutrient-dense saturated fat in the American diet is a loss of nutrition in general. It’s not only that plant foods have less minerals and vitamins because of depleted soil and because they are picked when not ripe in order to ship them long distances. The same is true of animal foods, since the animals are being fed the same crappy plant foods as us humans. But at the very least, even factory-farmed animals have far more bioavailable nutrient-density than plant foods from industrial agriculture. If we ate more fatty meat, saturated fat or otherwise, we’d be getting far more fat-soluble vitamins. But when looking at all animal foods, in particular from pasture-raised and wild-caught sources, there is no mineral or vitamin that can’t be obtained at required levels. The same can’t be said for plant foods on a vegan diet.

Back in 1991, the AHA was recommending the inclusion of lots of bread, rolls, crackers, and pasta (“made with low-fat milk and fats or oils low in saturated fatty acids” and “without eggs”); rice, beans, and peas; sugary fruits and starchy vegetables (including juices) — and deserts were fine as well. At most, eat 3 or 4 eggs a week and, as expected, optimally avoid the egg yolks where all the nutrition is located (not only fat-soluble vitamins, but also choline and cholesterol and much else; by the way, your brain health is dependent on high levels of dietary cholesterol, such that statins in blocking cholesterol cause neurocognitive decline). As long as there were little if any saturated fat and fat in general was limited, buckets of starchy carbs and sugar was considered by the AHA to be part of a healthy and balanced diet. That is sad.

This interested me because of the year. This was as I was entering young adulthood and so I was becoming more aware of the larger world. I remember the heavy-handed propaganda preaching that fiber is good and fat is evil, as if the war on obesity was a holy crusade that demanded black-and-white thinking, all subtleties and complexities must be denied in adherence to the moralistic dogma against the sins of gluttony and sloth — it was literally a evangelistic medical gospel (see Belinda Fettke’s research on the Seventh Day Adventists: Thou Shalt not discuss Nutrition ‘Science’ without understanding its driving force). In our declining public health, we were a fallen people who required a dietary clergy for our salvation. Millennia of traditional dietary wisdom and knowledge was thrown out the window as if it was worthless or maybe even dangerous.

I do remember my mother buying high-fiber cereals and “whole wheat” commercial breads (not actually whole wheat as it is simply denatured refined flour with fiber added back in). And along with this, skim or 1% fat dairy foods, especially milk, was included with every major meal and often snacks. I had sugary and starchy cereal with skim milk (and/or milk with sugary Instant Breakfast) every morning and a glass of skim milk for every dinner, maybe sometimes milk for lunch. Cheese was a regular part of the diet as well, such as with pizza eaten multiple times week or any meal with pasta, and heck cheese was a great snack all by itself, but also good combined with crackers and one could pretend to be healthy if one used Triscuits. Those were the days when I might devour a whole block of cheese, probably low-fat, in a single sitting — I was probably craving fat-soluble vitamins. Still, most of my diet was most starches and sugar, as that was my addiction. The fiber was an afterthought to market junk food as health food.

It now makes sense. When I was a kid in the 1980s, my mother says the doctor understood that whole fat milk was important for growing bodies. So that is what he recommended. But I guess the anti-fat agenda had fully taken over by the 1990s. The AHA booklet from 1991 was by then recommending “skim or 1% milk and low-fat cheeses” for all ages, including babies and children, pregnant and lactating women. Talk about a recipe for health disaster. No wonder metabolic syndrome exploded and neurocognitive health fell like a train going over a collapsed bridge. It was so predictable, as the failure of this diet was understood by many going back to earlier in the century (e.g., Weston A. Price; see my post Health From Generation To Generation).

The health recommendations did get worse over time, but to be fair it started much earlier. They had been discouraging breastfeeding for a while. Traditionally, babies were breastfed for the first couple of years or so. By the time modern America came around, experts were suggesting a short period of breast milk or even entirely using scientifically-designed formulas. My mother only breastfed me for 5-6 months and then put me on cows milk — of course, pasteurized and homogenized milk from grain-fed and factory-farmed cows. When the dairy caused diarrhea, the doctor suggested soy milk. After a while, my mother put me on dairy again, but diarrhea persisted and so for preschool she put me back on soy milk again. I was drinking soy milk off and on for many years during the most important stage of development. Holy fuck! That had to have done serious damage to my developing body, in particular my brain. Then I went from that to skim milk during another important time of development, as I hit puberty and went through growth spurts.

Early on in elementary school, I had delayed reading and a diagnosis of learning disability, seemingly along with something along the lines of either Asperger’s or specific language impairment, although undiagnosed. I definitely had social and behavioral issues, in that I didn’t understand people well when I was younger. Then entering adulthood, I was diagnosed with depression and something like a “thought disorder” or something (I forget the exact diagnosis I got while in a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt). No doubt the latter was already present in my early neurocogntive problems, as I obviously was severely depressed at least as early as 7th grade. A malnourished diet of lots of carbs and little fat was the most probable cause for all of these problems.

Thanks, American Heart Association! Thanks for doing so much harm my health and making my life miserable for decades, not to mention nearly killing me through depression so severe I attempted suicide, and then decades of depressive struggle that followed. That isn’t even to mention the sugar and carb addiction that plagued me for so long. Now multiply my experience by that of at least hundreds of millions of other Americans, and even greater number of people from elsewhere as their governments followed the example of the United States, across the past few generations. Great job, AHA. And much appreciation for the helping hand of the USDA and various medical institutions in enforcing this anti-scientific dogma.

Let me be clear about one thing. I don’t blame my mother, as she was doing the best she could with the advice given to her by doctors and corporate media, along with the propaganda literature from respected sources such as the AHA. Nor do I blame any other average Americans as individuals, although I won’t hold back on placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of demagogues like Ancel Keys. As Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz have made so clear, this was an agenda of power, not science. With the help of government and media, the actual scientific debate was silenced and disappeared from public view (Eliminating Dietary Dissent). The consensus in favor of a high-carb, low-fat diet didn’t emerge through rational discourse and evidence-based medicine —  it was artificially constructed and enforced.

Have we learned our lesson? Apparently not. We still see this tactic of technocratic authoritarianism, such as with corporate-funded push behind EAT-Lancet (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet). Why do we tolerate this agenda-driven exploitation of public trust and harm to public health?

* * *

 * First quote: Passmore, R., and Y. E. Swindelis. 1963. “Observations on the Respiratory Quotients and Weight Gain of Man After Eating Large Quantities of Carbohydrates.” British Journal of Nutrition. 17. 331-39.
Second quote: Astrup, A., B. Baemann, N. . Christenson, and S. Toubre. 1994. “Failure to Increase Lipid Oxidtion in Response to Increasing Dietary Fat Content in Formerly Obese Women.” American Journal of Physiology. April, 266 (4, pt. 1) E592-99.
Both quotes are from a talk given by Peter Ballerstedt, “AHS17 What if It’s ALL Been a Big Fat Lie?,” available on the Ancestry Foundation Youtube page.

(It appears that evidence-based factual reality literally changes over time. I assume this relativity of ideological realism has something to do with quantum physics. It’s the only possible explanation. I’m feeling a bit snarky, in case you didn’t notice.)

** Americans, in the prior centuries, ate few plant foods at all because they were so difficult and time-consuming to grow. There was no way to control for pests and wild animals that often would devour and destroy a garden or a crop. It was too much investment for too little reward, not to mention extremely unreliable as a food source and so risky to survival for those with a subsistence lifestyle. Until modern farming methods, especially with 20th century industrialization of agriculture, most Americans primarily ate animal foods with tons of fat, mostly butter, cream and lard, along with a wide variety of wild-caught animal foods.

This is discussed by Nina Teicholz in The Big Fat Surprise: “Early-American settlers were “indifferent” farmers, according to many accounts. They were fairly lazy in their efforts at both animal husbandry and agriculture, with “the grain fields, the meadows, the forests, the cattle, etc, treated with equal carelessness,” as one eighteenth-century Swedish visitor described. And there was little point in farming since meat was so readily available.” (see more in my post Malnourished Americans). That puts the conventional dietary debate in an entirely different context. Teicholz adroitly dismantles the claim that fatty animal foods have increased in the American diet.

Teicholz goes on to state that, “So it seems fair to say that at the height of the meat-and-butter-gorging eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, heart disease did not rage as it did by the 1930s. Ironically—or perhaps tellingly—the heart disease “epidemic” began after a period of exceptionally reduced meat eating.” It was the discovery of seed oils that originally were an industrial byproduct, combined with Upton Sinclair’s muckraking journalism about the meatpacking industry (The Jungle), that caused meat and animal fats to quickly fall out as the foundation of the American diet. Saturated fat, in particular, had been in decline for decades prior to the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Ancel Keys knew this data, which is why he had to throw out some of his data to make it fit his preconceived conclusions in promoting his preferred dietary ideology.

If we were honestly wanting to find the real culprit to blame, we would look to the dramatic rise of vegetable oils, white flour, and sugar in the 20th century diet. It began much earlier with the grain surpluses and cheap wheat, especially in England during the 1800s, but in the United States it became most noticeable in the first half century following that period. The agenda of Keys and the AHA simply made a bad situation worse, albeit much much worse.