The Great Fat Fiasco, part two

I know I threw a lot of stuff out there out Monday ~ a rather long article and video, plus a couple of book options.  I hope at least some of you had the chance to take a look, if not I highly recommend the video series when you get some time.

So, in case you haven’t had time to check out Monday’s links, I will summarize what I see as some of the main points:

  • The “low-fat” revolution was “founded” by Ancel Keys who gathered data for 22 countries comparing fat consumption with the rate of heart attacks.  He then proceeded to conveniently drop the plot points for all but 6 of those countries so that he ended up with a graph that showed that the rate of heart attacks increased with an increase in fat consumption.  If you look at the graph for all 22 countries there are plot points all over the place showing no correlation at all.  He was later appointed to the board of the American Heart Association, which began advising people to consume less saturated fat.
  • original food pyramid

    The US government was the next one to jump on the bandwagon.  In the 1970’s the senate formed a special committee to study malnutrition, and then decided to expand the scope of their committee to set dietary guidelines for the American public.  Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence and dissension from prominent scientists, the American Medical Association and the head of the National Academy of Sciences, the committee recommended that Americans reduce their fat consumption, switch from saturated fats to vegetable fat, reduce cholesterol consumption to one egg per day and  eat more carbohydrates, especially grains.  These guidelines led to the first FDA food pyramid.  In response to the scientific communities’ objections, Senator George McGovern replied that “…senators don’t have the luxury that research scientists have of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in.”  How about a shred of evidence?  Thank you, George McGovern.

  • Cholesterol also began to be linked to the risk of heart disease in the mid 1980’s when the media got hold of a single study that showed a minor decrease in heart disease in subjects who took a cholesterol-reducing drug.  From this study they made the leap that reducing saturated fat and cholesterol from out diet would also reduce heart disease.  Thank Time Magazine for that one.  The fact that the study had nothing to do with diet, and despite data from the World Health Organization showing no correlation whatsoever between cholesterol levels and heart disease, in the public’s mind, the two were now linked (we now understand that cholesterol is more complicated than a single number ~ there is HDL & LDL cholesterol, with HDL considered “good” and certain kinds of LDL cholesterol, namely small, dense LDL considered to be “bad”). 
  • In a nutshell, Americans had been led to believe by the US government and organizations like the AHA that we needed to eat more carbohydrates and less cholesterol and fat, especially less saturated fat.  And what happened to heart disease? No change.  What did happen was that Americans started to get fat.  Which leads to the premise of Gary Taubes’ book, that carbohydrates are what has led to the obesity epidemic in the US.  Taubes goes into a lot of detail looking at different studies that have examined fat loss in animals, and he gives a detailed explanation of how insulin resistance can work to make some people fatter (this is also covered well in the video).  If you are really interested in this topic I highly recommend reading Taubes’ book…it is fascinating.

So what does all this mean to me and you?  In Taubes’ opinion, if you are having trouble with weight loss, you need to cut carbohydrates and eat primarily meat and vegetables.  While he does admit that the degree to which individuals need to cut carbs may vary, for weight loss he strongly advocates cutting carbohydrates to a very minimal level, no more than 20 grams a day…this is really low, difficult to do and absolutely should not be done without first consulting a doctor (who, recognize, may very well still believe that saturated fat is bad and the only way to lose weight is to restrict calories).  


What I do think everyone, whether they are trying to lose weight or not, should consider is the quality of the carbohydrates they are taking in and to some degree the quantity.  While I do not necessarily believe severe carbohydrate restriction is necessary for other than possibly those who have a significant weight problem (which, remember, Taubes is addressing the growing obesity epidemic), I do think that trying to eliminate as much sugar and flour from your diet, especially refined white sugars and flours, is beneficial.  Trying to eliminate or reduce the amount of processed, highly refined food products from your diet can only be a positive health choice.   So in that regard, I would agree with Taubes that meat & vegetables are good food choices.  Taubes believes certain vegetables like carrots, beets, potatoes (white and sweet), and peas should be eliminated from the diet.  I think for most people, eating more vegetables can only be a good thing, and the more variety the better.   Again, unless someone is obese, I would rather encourage any and all vegetables, with an emphasis on variety.   Taubes is especially critical of fruit (which contains fructose, a carbohydrate).  While I agree that juice consumption should be minimal (lots of sugar without the fiber), I feel that for most people, eating whole fruit is a good thing.  The glycemic index for whole fruits is reduced by the fiber in the fruit, thereby lowering the impact on blood sugar (and insulin levels).  I would just be careful of relying on fruit too much, using it as a constant “sugar fix” ~ more vegetables than fruit is the ultimate goal.  Finally, Taubes advises caution with dairy (due to the lactose).  Milk, sour cream, yogurt, are all to be avoided in Taubes’ opinion.  Other dairy products such as cheese, light cream and sour cream he allows in limited quantities.  Personally, I cannot give up dairy.  I generally don’t drink milk, but I like my Greek yogurt.  I think how you deal with dairy depends on your personal situation.   Because Taubes’ theory about carbohydrates says that people who cannot tolerate carbohydrates can never eat these foods as part of their normal diet, you have to decide what works for you, and what makes the most sense for you long-term.

On a personal note, I have been slowly changing my diet over the course of probably the last year.  Everyone is different, but I find that making small changes, establishing those, then making more changes works best for me, as opposed to revamping my entire diet in one fell swoop.  I used to eat cereal every morning for breakfast.  Now I almost never have cereal (recognize that all cereal, “whole-grain” or otherwise, is a highly processed carbohydrate, meaning a lot of the natural nutrients have been processed out, then artificially added back).  Now I eat mostly eggs (gasp!).  I used to think of lunch as a sandwich.  Now I rarely ever have a sandwich ~ like cereal, any kind of bread is highly processed ~ when I do eat bread I typically will use an Ezekiel bread, which I will talk about in a future post.  And I have started to think about dinner more often as a meat and two vegetables, hold the starch.   I do occasionally use brown rice (Whole Foods sells an organic brown rice that is frozen…measure out what you need, 2 minutes in the microwave ~ easy peasy), less and less frequently pasta (again, even “whole wheat” pasta is highly processed), and on occasion a baked potato or sweet potato.  This is still a change I am getting used to, but given some time I expect to use the rice & pasta in particular on an infrequent basis…and no bread.  You don’t need it.

About Lisa Van Dore

I have lived in Sherborn, Dover and most recently North Walpole, for a total of 15 years (and counting). Having recently been through the process of selling a home and buying (and renovating) a new one, I understand the conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety inherent in the process, whether you are a seller or buyer, whether this is your first home purchase or your tenth. I have a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Indiana University. My early career found me working as a CPA, and later as the controller of Crate & Barrel. More recently I spent seven years running my own personal training business. I understand the hard work and dedication necessary to build a business and a reputation...most of my personal training clients came to me by referral and my first client was still with me when I decided to leave personal training. This speaks to the level of effort I put forth for my clients, week after week. On a more personal note, I raced triathlon for seven years and more recently completed my first half marathon. In my free time I enjoy cooking, reading, Maine, hiking and, in the fall, following college teams are the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and Texas Christian University (Go Frogs!).
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