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Ear to the Ground

Everyone’s Getting Fatter, So Why Do We Still Believe Anything We’ve Been Told About Diets?

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Posted on Jan 11, 2014
USDAgov (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Not much has changed in the U.S. dietary guidelines since it began issuing them in the 1970s.

Obesity has “more than doubled” and diabetes quadrupled in the U.S. since the government issued advice as to what a “healthy diet” contains. So why on earth are we still taking in the faulty science? And where did these deadly misconceptions come from? According to the Pacific Standard’s Aaron Gordon via AlterNet:

The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs based their recommendations largely on the Seven Countries Study, which was first published in 1970 and led by University of Minnesota researcher Ancel Keys, whose findings were affirmed by several subsequent, large-scale studies such as the Nurses’ Health Study, which found that high saturated-fat diets were related to high cholesterol, and higher cholesterol in turn led to higher risks of obesity, heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and mortality. The Seven Countries Study painted a direct link between dietary fat, misery, and death—and that’s been the story ever since.

But there were issues from the start.

“Keys chose seven countries he knew in advance would support his hypothesis,” Gary Taubes wrote in Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fat, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. “Had Keys chosen at random, or, say, chosen France and Switzerland rather than Japan and Finland, he would likely have seen no effect from saturated fat, and there might be no such thing today as the French paradox—a nation that consumes copious saturated fat but has comparatively little heart disease.”

Zoe Harcombe, author of the Obesity Epidemic: What Caused It? How Can We Stop It?, also found, using World Health Organization data, that not only is there no statistical correlation between mean cholesterol levels and mortality, but there’s no positive relationship whatsoever.

“Cholesterol (and protein and phospholipids and triglyceride—the four substances found in all lipoproteins) is found at the scene of damage to arteries,” Harcombe told me, “but the four vital components of lipoproteins are there to repair that damage. They did not cause the damage any more than police caused the crime when they are found at the scene of that crime.”

According to Harcombe and Taubes, Keys used cherry-picked data to reach a logically-flawed conclusion, but it was the biggest study available, so George McGovern jumped on it because, in his words, “Senators don’t have the luxury that a research scientist does of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in.”

What’s worse, according to Gordon, is that all this focus on what we’ve been told to eat has left us without any answers as to what we should actually consume. In other words, all the information anyone can offer about nutrition is supposition. What is clear, however, is that the theory America’s been subscribing to for the last few decades is wrong. Accepting this is at the very least a step in the direction of a healthier future.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

 

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