Politicized Diets

Recently I ran across an interesting article dealing with governmental diet instructions.  It noted that much of the nutrition advice that Americans have received from their government over recent decades has turned out to be dead wrong — and in fact may have contributed to the obesity epidemic that you see whenever you go out in public.

The article focuses on the national dietary guidelines released in 1980 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the forerunner to the current Department of Health and Human Services.  The guidelines targeted fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol as villainous substances to be avoided and drummed into American heads that low-cholesterol, low-fat foods were better for your heart and your health generally.  As a result, the article posits, food manufacturers started churning out “low-fat” and low-calorie offerings that Americans bought, thinking they were eating healthy.

dfe6c7a7569e69d9568a402ff1a01e74But the government’s conclusions about our eating habits and their effect on health turned out to be erroneous. Research has determined that fat and cholesterol are not, in fact, harmful, and the “low-fat,” high in carbohydrates foods that Americans have been munching on may instead have helped to produce vast problems with obesity and diabetes — problems that did not exist in 1980, when the government report that triggered it all was released.  One British cardiologist contends:  “The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history.”  And other results have indicated that diets that go in the opposite direction from the government’s instruction, with dieters looking to eat meats and eggs and limit carbs instead, are effective in reducing weight.

How did the government turn out to be so wrong?  Some researchers believe that it was because, back in the ’60s, sugar industry lobbyists funded dubious research that linked fat and cholesterol to heart disease and downplayed the adverse health effects of sugar and carbohydrates.  With the nudging from the lobbyists, the government bought the sketchy results, issued its report, and started the country on the road to flabbiness.  In short, politics helped to put us on the wrong dietary road.

If you’ve lived long enough, you begin to reach a critical mass of alarming governmental declarations that have turned out to be wrong.  It’s one of the reasons why the credibility of our governmental institutions among the American public has dropped to an all-time low.  The conclusion that modern America’s obesity epidemic is a self-inflicted problem caused in part by really bad governmental advice isn’t going to help.

What We Don’t Know

The Friendly Doc Next Door, who knows I’ve been following a low-carb regimen, sent along an email that he received from the American Medical Association this week.  It was a news summary called AMA Morning Rounds, and the lead story was about a new study that showed that low-carb diets are better than low-fat diets for reducing the risk of heart disease.

It’s 20140905-062424-23064638.jpggreat to have a thoughtful doctor in the neighborhood — especially one who keeps his yard in tip-top shape — to keep us abreast of the latest health news.  And the study mentioned in the AMA email, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, is significant.  It concludes that people who follow a low-carb diet lose more weight and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diets doctors have been recommending for decades.

Whoo-hoo!  I win!  Of course, not really.  What this new study really tells us is that there is an awful lot we don’t know — but we don’t really want to acknowledge that fact.  For decades doctors were confidently telling patients that the low-fat diet was the way to go, and the patients accepted that.  Now a new study says something different.  What’s a dutiful patient supposed to do?

I like the low-carb approach because it’s easy to remember when mealtime comes and I like meat and cheeses, anyway.  I feel like it’s working for me.  But I also can see that people who don’t really like eating meat will groan if low-carb now becomes the new low-fat and is prescribed for everyone who wants to lose weight.

My guess is that there are many ways to lose weight, provided you reduce your intake and make sure you get exercise.  What this latest study really tells us is that confident conclusions about health — like the decades of focus on low-fat diets — are often wrong.  That is useful information to remember.