Our opinion: Watching what we eat


Many of us who have an insatiable appetite for understanding diet -- and by this we don't mean how to lose weight, but the kinds of food that a person or community habitually eats and how it affects our health -- were not surprised to hear of a new study that shows there is no correlation between the consumption of saturated fats and cardiovascular disease.

People who have flirted with the "paleo" diet or half-heartedly followed the recommendations of Dr. Atkins have been startled to learn how they have been duped by an industry that has lined its pockets by manufacturing carb-heavy food based on science that has been debunked time and time again.

For as long as most of us have been alive, we've been told to avoid saturated fats -- such as those found in butter and dairy foods -- and replace them with unsaturated fats, such as those in margarine and sunflower oil.

And even though that falsehood has slowly been chipped away, many of us still buy into the conventional wisdom that is pushed upon us by the food industry and its government lackeys.

Now a new review by an international group led by a team at the UK's University of Cambridge and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine is the latest in a long line of studies to further erode the foundation of our false knowledge about our diets.

This latest review, a meta study of 72 separate studies on heart risk and intake of fatty acids, doesn't mince words.

"This analysis of existing data suggests there isn't enough evidence to say that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease," said Prof. Jeremy Pearson, the associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which partly funded the study.

In other words, the study's authors found no evidence to support guidelines that say people should restrict saturated fat consumption to lower their risk of developing heart disease. The authors also were unable to find a link between the consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and a reduction in heart risk.

As Pearson noted "Alongside taking any necessary medication, the best way to stay heart healthy is to stop smoking, stay active, and ensure our whole diet is healthy -- and this means considering not only the fats in our diet but also our intake of salt, sugar and fruit and vegetables."

Nina Teicholz, writing for the Wall Street Journal, notes there has never been solid evidence for the idea that saturated fats cause disease.

"We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias."

As any follower of Weston Price or reader of Gary Taubes can tell you, our faulty belief that saturated fats were killing us dates back to the 1950s and Ancel Keys, who "through sheer force of will" (as Teicholz describes it), drove the consensus that saturated fats raised bad cholesterol levels and caused heart attacks.

"Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study. For one, he didn't choose countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs," wrote Teicholz.

But something else was happening while Keys was pushing his diet recommendations on the world -- heart disease had become the No. 1 killer of Americans.

At the same time, Americans were smoking more tobacco and consuming more refined carbohydrates, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. We also started consuming less butter and lard and more vegetable oils.

Teicholz notes that people with diets high in vegetable oils had an increased risk of cancer and gallstones and were more likely to die from accidents and suicides, perhaps due to psychological problems related to changes in brain chemistry caused by diet.

"We've also known since the 1940s that when heated, vegetable oils create oxidation products that, in experiments on animals, lead to cirrhosis of the liver and early death," writes Teicholz, and recent studies have linked them to inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease and Alzheimer's.

And need we remind you about trans fats?

"In short, the track record of vegetable oils is highly worrisome -- and not remotely what Americans bargained for when they gave up butter and lard," writes Teicholz.

But this doesn't mean people should just ignore the solid science that has linked overconsumption of red meats and processed meats with deleterious health effects.

A recent Harvard study found that replacing a serving of red meat with nuts, legumes or chicken helped lengthen life expectancy. But it also concluded that added sugar in drinks and in snack foods as well as the simple carbohydrates found in potatoes, white flour and processed foods are the primary causes of obesity and diabetes.

If we can turn down the noise of the pseudo-science that has permeated the conversation about our diet, the solution is very simple and wholly intuitive.

What we do know, and what should be common sense by now, is a well-rounded diet, low in all types of processed foods, is essential for good health. It's also important to eat three meals a day, especially a good breakfast, a refreshing lunch and a decent dinner, with snacks of fruits, nuts and seeds, and vegetables in between. And exercise, even if it's just a brisk walk every day, not only helps keep weight off, but has been proven to contribute to heart health and brain vitality, not to mention its positive effect on mood.

Engaging in those three practices could cure many of the ills that ail us, and all three are relatively easy to accomplish, if we only allow our minds to over-rule our stomachs and the food-industry propaganda.


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