This fat vs sugar piece in The Guardian is a great read as it lays out the history behind how cholesterol and saturated fat became demonized over sugar. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here's a brief summary:
Fat vs Sugar
- In 1980, the US Government issued its first Dietary Guidelines.
- 15% of Americans were obese in 1980, 35% by 2000.
- For at least the last three decades, the dietary arch-villain has been saturated fat.
- John Yudkin, a British Professor of nutrition, sounded the alarm on sugar back in 1972, in a book called Pure, White, and Deadly.
- Yudkin first floated his hypothesis that sugar was a hazard in 1957.
- Yudkin's hypothesis was taken seriously, as was its proponent, saturated fat, but was buried not by science or new evidence but by the influence of a few powerful personalities.
- Ancel Keys, a University of Minnesota researcher, popularized the “diet-heart hypothesis”. This hypothesis suggested excess saturated fat in the diet, from red meat, cheese, butter, and eggs, raises cholesterol, which congeals on the inside of coronary arteries, causing them to harden and narrow until the flow of blood is staunched and the heart seizes up.
- Keys, a charismatic and combative figure, ridiculed Yudkin and called his theory “a mountain of nonsense” and “propaganda” for the meat and dairy industries. Yudkin a mild-mannered man, unskilled in the art of political combat never responded.
- Throughout the 1960s, Keys accumulated institutional power, securing seats on the boards of the most influential bodies in American healthcare, including the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health.
- Keys published the Seven Countries Study showing a correlation between intake of saturated fats and deaths from heart disease.
- It was later discovered there was no objective basis for the countries chosen by Keys, appearing that he picked only the countries that would support his hypothesis. He chose seven nations in Europe leaving out France and what was then West Germany, two countries that had relatively low rates of heart disease despite living on a diet rich in saturated fats.
- In 2015, a paper titled, “Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?” confirmed science is prone to the eternal rules of human social life: deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting error. All tendencies in which the scientific method was invented to correct for, which it does in the long run but not until old scientists and their ideas eventually die allowing for newcomers to move the field along.
- The health authorities have spent the last few years slowly backing away from the mistake about saturated fats, presumably in the hope that if no sudden movements are made, nobody will notice.
- In 2008, researchers at Oxford University undertook a Europe-wide study of the causes of heart disease. The data showed an inverse correlation between saturated fat and heart disease.
- It is a biological error to confuse what a person puts in their mouth with what it becomes after it is swallowed. Cholesterol, present in all of our cells, is created by the liver. Biochemists had long known that the more cholesterol you eat, the less your liver produces. It is also more likely that obesity is a hormonal disorder, triggered by the kinds of foods we started eating a lot more of when we cut back on fat: easily digestible starches and sugars.
- This is not a new theory – John Yudkin would have recognized it – but an old one that has been galvanized by new evidence.
The Best Book on the Topic of Fat and Overall Nutrition
Hands down, in our opinion, Deep Nutrition by Dr Cate Shanahan. She recently released an updated version (originally published in 2008) and the original has been our most gifted book on nutrition for the last few years. Dr Cate's qualifications on the topic are extensive. After having a family practice for years in California she now runs a health clinic in Denver, she is the director of nutrition for the LA Lakers and she also studied biochemistry, genetics, ethnobotany and the culinary habits of her healthiest patients. It's hard to find someone as qualified and passionate about the topic of health and nutrition!
Dr Cate was also on the Fat Burning Man Podcast where she talked about the six vegetable oils you should avoid at all costs (see below), as well as the research that vegetable oils are even more toxic than trans fats!
Vegetable Oils to Avoid!
- Rice Bran
- Some Peanut and Grape Seed Oils if They're Processed
Finally, this is a great episode of the Ben Greenfield Podcast about how fat was unfairly demonized based on bad science. The interview is with investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, author of the book, The Big Fat Surprise. If you thought science always progressed rationally based on evidence, think again.
Teicholz discusses a researcher and biochemist from our very own Vanderbilt University, who she says had his research grant taken away by the National Institute of Health for being a dissenter to the saturated fat consensus. Dr. Mann visited Kenya in the late 70s and studied the Maasai warriors. He found they drank 3-5 liters of milk every day and ate meat and blood when they could get it, no vegetables. Even with this kind of diet the Massai men were in great health with no evidence of chronic disease, including the elder men who were fairly sedentary and sat around the village. It was also found that the men didn't have some kind of genetic protection because when some of them moved to Nairobi and ate more of a Western diet, they ended up having biomarkers that resembled the people living in the city with modern chronic diseases. This means it was likely the types of food the Maasai Warriors were eating in their villages that contributed to their good health status. This was written up in clinical journals at the time but ignored by nutritionists and part of a history of opposing research being marginalized, that has later resulted in younger scientists self-censoring and afraid to do research that could jeopardize their careers. Definitely worth listening to this podcast.
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