Thursday, October 11, 2007

What if it's all been a big fat lie?

This is a long article, and I'm going to comment on parts of it, but most of it makes a lot of sense to me.
If the members of the American medical establishment were to have a collective find-yourself-standing-naked-in-Times-Square-type nightmare, this might be it.
They spend 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ''Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution'' and ''Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution,'' accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along. Or maybe it's this: they find that their very own dietary recommendations -- eat less fat and more carbohydrates -- are the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America. Or, just possibly this: they find out both of the above are true.

The perversity of this alternative hypothesis is that it identifies the cause of obesity as precisely those refined carbohydrates at the base of the famous Food Guide Pyramid -- the pasta, rice and bread -- that we are told should be the staple of our healthy low-fat diet, and then on the sugar or corn syrup in the soft drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks that we have taken to consuming in quantity if for no other reason than that they are fat free and so appear intrinsically healthy. While the low-fat-is-good-health dogma represents reality as we have come to know it, and the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research trying to prove its worth, the low-carbohydrate message has been relegated to the realm of unscientific fantasy.

And who is behind the food guide pyramid? Who pays for the research on that pyramid? What foods are cheaper to manufacture and store? What foods make more money for businesses? And who profits from that and the obesity epidemic they have created?
Now, there is a certain junk food company who is touting their junk food as being healthier than other junk food. It's made with whole grain, it's made using less/no trans fat, it has less salt/sugar, it's baked not fried, blah blah blah. Everyone is jumping on the obesity epidemic needs to be stopped bandwagon and they are ignoring the research that tells them they created it and continue to fuel it with their emphasis on whole grains and low-fat this, that, and the other. I'm not saying whole grains are bad for you, they're not. But I am asking "Do we really need to eat five or more servings a day?" Whole grain or not, carbs are carbs (and yeah, for blood sugar purposes, whole grains digest more slowly and don't affect BGs as much) and carbs are stored differently by our bodies than the nutrients we get from meat, fat, fruits, and veggies.
My modified food pyramid would have whole grains at the top, then meat, then dairy and fats, then fruits and veggies at the bottom (and the fruits and veggies would be divided by high and low carb count). From everything I've been reading, and what I've learned in my life, that makes the most sensible way of eating (and it's how my mother cooked, and her mother, and her mother). I got A's in home ec when I planned meals like that. Now, I would probably flunk because the meals I planned sure wouldn't follow the current food pyramid (and I've been healthy all my life, fat and thin).
The alternative hypothesis also comes with an implication that is worth considering for a moment, because it's a whopper, and it may indeed be an obstacle to its acceptance. If the alternative hypothesis is right -- still a big ''if'' -- then it strongly suggests that the ongoing epidemic of obesity in America and elsewhere is not, as we are constantly told, due simply to a collective lack of will power and a failure to exercise. Rather it occurred, as Atkins has been saying (along with Barry Sears, author of ''The Zone''), because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did. We ate more fat-free carbohydrates, which, in turn, made us hungrier and then heavier. Put simply, if the alternative hypothesis is right, then a low-fat diet is not by definition a healthy diet. In practice, such a diet cannot help being high in carbohydrates, and that can lead to obesity, and perhaps even heart disease. ''For a large percentage of the population, perhaps 30 to 40 percent, low-fat diets are counterproductive,'' says Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, director of obesity research at Harvard's prestigious Joslin Diabetes Center. ''They have the paradoxical effect of making people gain weight.''

And what have fat people who exercise and eat a healthy diet been saying? Granted, it's not scientific, it's anecdotal, but I would think if you get enough anecdotal evidence, it would be worth looking at scientifically and not manipulating the results to say what the food industry, diet industry, and big pharma want it to say (yeah, I know, I'm living in a dream world here, they pay for the studies, so of course the studies are going to say what they want them to).
What's more, the number of misconceptions propagated about the most basic research can be staggering. Researchers will be suitably scientific describing the limitations of their own experiments, and then will cite something as gospel truth because they read it in a magazine. The classic example is the statement heard repeatedly that 95 percent of all dieters never lose weight, and 95 percent of those who do will not keep it off. This will be correctly attributed to the University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Albert Stunkard, but it will go unmentioned that this statement is based on 100 patients who passed through Stunkard's obesity clinic during the Eisenhower administration.

Ok, now we know where the 95% number came from, and that is a very small original number on which to base dieting statistics. But, if it is false, and people can diet to lose weight and keep it off, why don't Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, and others tell us what their stats are for people who have lost weight and kept it off more than 5 years? Could it be that those 100 people are more representative of the population as a whole than the 5% who lost weight and kept it off?
Some of the best scientists disagreed with this low-fat logic, suggesting that good science was incompatible with such leaps of faith, but they were effectively ignored. Pete Ahrens, whose Rockefeller University laboratory had done the seminal research on cholesterol metabolism, testified to McGovern's committee that everyone responds differently to low-fat diets. It was not a scientific matter who might benefit and who might be harmed, he said, but ''a betting matter.'' Phil Handler, then president of the National Academy of Sciences, testified in Congress to the same effect in 1980. ''What right,'' Handler asked, ''has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment, with themselves as subjects, on the strength of so very little evidence that it will do them any good?''

UMMM? Because the government thinks it knows best?
Nonetheless, once the N.I.H. signed off on the low-fat doctrine, societal forces took over. The food industry quickly began producing thousands of reduced-fat food products to meet the new recommendations. Fat was removed from foods like cookies, chips and yogurt. The problem was, it had to be replaced with something as tasty and pleasurable to the palate, which meant some form of sugar, often high-fructose corn syrup. Meanwhile, an entire industry emerged to create fat substitutes, of which Procter & Gamble's olestra was first. And because these reduced-fat meats, cheeses, snacks and cookies had to compete with a few hundred thousand other food products marketed in America, the industry dedicated considerable advertising effort to reinforcing the less-fat-is-good-health message. Helping the cause was what Walter Willett calls the ''huge forces'' of dietitians, health organizations, consumer groups, health reporters and even cookbook writers, all well-intended missionaries of healthful eating.

No shit! Create an obesity epidemic and of course businesses are going to jump on the money-making machine of trying to end it (and end up making it worse, of course, contributing to the obesity epidemic while touting all they are doing to supposedly end it).
Few experts now deny that the low-fat message is radically oversimplified. If nothing else, it effectively ignores the fact that unsaturated fats, like olive oil, are relatively good for you: they tend to elevate your good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (H.D.L.), and lower your bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (L.D.L.), at least in comparison to the effect of carbohydrates. While higher L.D.L. raises your heart-disease risk, higher H.D.L. reduces it.What this means is that even saturated fats -- a k a, the bad fats -- are not nearly as deleterious as you would think. True, they will elevate your bad cholesterol, but they will also elevate your good cholesterol. In other words, it's a virtual wash. As Willett explained to me, you will gain little to no health benefit by giving up milk, butter and cheese and eating bagels instead.

Gee willikers! Who woulda thunk it?

The crucial example of how the low-fat recommendations were oversimplified is shown by the impact -- potentially lethal, in fact -- of low-fat diets on triglycerides, which are the component molecules of fat. By the late 60's, researchers had shown that high triglyceride levels were at least as common in heart-disease patients as high L.D.L. cholesterol, and that eating a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet would, for many people, raise their triglyceride levels, lower their H.D.L. levels and accentuate what Gerry Reaven, an endocrinologist at Stanford University, called Syndrome X. This is a cluster of conditions that can lead to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
It took Reaven a decade to convince his peers that Syndrome X was a legitimate health concern, in part because to accept its reality is to accept that low-fat diets will increase the risk of heart disease in a third of the population. ''Sometimes we wish it would go away because nobody knows how to deal with it,'' said Robert Silverman, an N.I.H. researcher, at a 1987 N.I.H. conference. ''High protein levels can be bad for the kidneys. High fat is bad for your heart. Now Reaven is saying not to eat high carbohydrates. We have to eat something.''

Yeah, we do have to eat something. How about a balanced diet of meats, fats, grains, fruits, veggies, and dairy? One that doesn't rely on a food pyramid that doesn't have a clue (or care) how it really affects people's health.
There is a lot more information in the article, but you can read it yourself (title of this post is the link to the article).

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