The Low-Fat Craze: Let’s Go Back in TIME

You are looking at the cover from a March 1984 issue of TIME magazine that helped to ignite the low-fat diet craze in America.  The article inside began with the headline: Sorry, It’s True.  Cholesterol Really Is A Killer.

I remember reading that article.  At the time, I found it convincing.  (Cut me some slack; I was only 25 and hadn’t yet nurtured my inner skeptic.  I still believed researchers were objective and journalists who wrote for major media outlets were critical thinkers.)  

So, like millions of other Americans, I began trying to live on a low-fat diet.  I stopped buying meat and butter at the grocery store and started eating pasta, Egg Beaters and margarine.  You know how much good that did me.

I’m 51 now, and my inner skeptic is fully developed.  Re-reading the article 26 years later, I’m surprised it convinced anyone, especially doctors, who should’ve seen through the nonsense.  You can read the full version online, but we’ll deal with bits of it here, starting with the sub-headline:

Cholesterol is proved deadly, and our diet may never be the same

The writer got it half right.  Our diets were never the same.  Within a couple of years, grocery stores looked as if they’d been the scene of a tagging contest between two gangs named LOW-FAT and CHOLESTEROL FREE.  As for cholesterol being proved deadly, we’ll get to that.

This year began with the announcement by the Federal Government of the results of the broadest and most expensive research project in medical history. Its subject was cholesterol, the vital yet dangerous yellowish substance whose level in the bloodstream is directly affected by the richness of the diet.

Yup, that’s how stupid Mother Nature is … she designed the body to require all kinds of substances that happen to be deadly.

Anybody who takes the results seriously may never be able to look at an egg or a steak the same way again.

Well, that’s the problem:  we took the results seriously.  I remember reading a funny column by Bill Granger, a Chicago Tribune writer whose work I enjoyed.  He described living on his new low-fat diet, and how his wife kept taking away his bacon and eggs and making him eat cereal so his heart wouldn’t get fat.  Granger suffered a debilitating stroke in 2000 at the age of 59.  Maybe it would’ve happened anyway … but the guy could’ve been enjoying bacon and eggs the whole time.

For what the study found, after ten years of research costing $150 million, promises to have a profound impact on how Americans eat and watch their health. Among the conclusions:

  • Heart disease is directly linked to the level of cholesterol in the blood.
  • Lowering cholesterol levels markedly reduces the incidence of fatal heart attacks.

Basil Rifkind, project director of the study, believes that research “strongly indicates that the more you lower cholesterol and fat in your diet, the more you reduce your risk of heart disease.”

Lock that quote about the diet in your brain.  You’ll see why in a moment.  But first, notice the “Ornish logic” in this paragraph:

Everybody knows George Ford. Or somebody like George Ford. There he was, 52, the energetic president of a small Ohio electronics firm who “wouldn’t eat an egg unless it was fried in bacon grease” His lunches were executive size. He matched his business cronies drink for drink. He smoked “pretty heavily” and exercised with a knife and fork. In the winter of 1981 doctors informed Ford that his cholesterol levels were dangerously high; by April he required a quadruple coronary bypass operation. He emerged from the hospital determined to revise his ways radically. Today he does not smoke, he exercises four or five days a week, and he sticks scrupulously to a diet high in fiber and low in cholesterol and fat. “I haven’t had a slice of bacon in three years,” he says. He is proud and relieved that his cholesterol level is normal.

Okay, so we’ve got a guy who smoked, drank heavily, never exercised and, by the way, ate bacon and eggs.  Now he doesn’t smoke, exercises, probably drinks a lot less, and lives on a low-fat diet.  So if his health is better now, it therefore proves — drum roll, please — low-fat diets are good for you! 

Brilliant.  Tell ya what:  Give me a heavy-smoking, hard-drinking, fat-gobbling couch potato and let me convince him to stop smoking, stop drinking, start exercising, and take up chewing tobacco.  When his health improves — and it would — I will therefore conclude that chewing tobacco prevents heart disease.

For decades, researchers have been trying to prove conclusively that cholesterol is a major villain in this epidemic. It has not been easy.

No kidding it wasn’t easy.  That’s because all the previous attempts to lower heart disease through low-fat diets failed.  So did the major clinical trial conducted in the 1970s to test the first big cholesterol-lowering drug, clofibrate.  The subjects who took clofibrate ended up with lower cholesterol, all right … but they had a 47% higher death rate than the placebo group. Whoops.

In 1913, Russian Pathologist Nikolai Anitschkow showed that he could produce similar deposits, or plaques, in the arteries of rabbits just by feeding them a diet rich in cholesterol.

Well, there’s a reason for that:  rabbits don’t eat eggs.  They also they don’t form packs of vicious hunter-rabbits to run down pigs and devour them.  If you force a lion to live on carrots, by the way, it will get sick and die, thus proving that carrots are deadly.

Subsequent research further supported the connection between diet and cardio-vascular disease. Epidemiologist Ancel Keys conducted a landmark study in seven nations beginning in 1947. He discovered direct correlations between a country’s incidence of heart disease, the level of cholesterol in the blood and the amount of animal fat in the national diet.

If you’ve seen Fat Head, you know how honest Ancel Keys was.  He cherry-picked seven countries out of 22.  As Uffe Ravnskov demonstrated in his books, you could cherry-pick seven other countries from the same 22 and show an inverse correlation between fat and heart disease; the more fat, the less heart disease.

The experts were still not quite able to pin the blame on cholesterol, however. Explains Fred Mattson, a leading researcher at the University of California at San Diego, “We were missing a key piece of evidence: no one had ever shown that reducing the level of cholesterol in the blood did any good.”

You speak the truth, Dr. Mattson — but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.  Cholesterol was successfully lowered in research studies several times.  It just didn’t do any good.

Now, remember when I said to lock that quote from Dr. Rifkind about fatty diets into your brain?  This is the study that prompted the TIME article:

The elaborate, ten-year program recruited 3,806 men between the ages of 35 and 59, all of whom had cholesterol levels above 265 mg per deciliter of blood (the average for U.S. adults is 215 to 220). Half the men were put on daily doses of cholestyramine, an unpleasant, cholesterol-lowering drug that was mixed with orange juice and taken six times a day. One participant likened taking it to swallowing “orange-flavored sand.” Among its side effects: constipation, bloating, nausea and gas. The other half received a similarly gritty placebo. Researchers had decided to use a drug rather than diet to lower cholesterol, because it would have been virtually impossible to control or measure the diet of so many men over so long a period. By the end of the study, the cholestyramine group had achieved an average cholesterol level 8.5% lower than that of the control group and had suffered 19% fewer heart attacks. Their cardiac death rate was a remarkable 24% lower than that of the placebo group.

So, let’s think this one through:  a group of study subjects who took a cholesterol-lowering drug ended up with a slightly lower rate of heart attacks, and therefore … THIS FINALLY PROVES THAT A FATTY DIET WILL GIVE YOU HEART DISEASE!

Here’s the proper response to that leap in logic:  ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

I can’t believe I didn’t recognize this load of bologna for what it was even at the tender age of 25.  First off, that “remarkable” reduction in the cardiac death rate wasn’t so remarkable if you look at the actual numbers — which, in my defense, didn’t appear in TIME.  Remember, we’re talking about 3,806 men with abnormally high cholesterol. With that in mind, here are the study results:

Heart Attacks: 158   Heart-Attack Deaths: 38    Total Deaths: 71

Heart Attacks: 130  Heart-Attack Deaths: 30   Total Deaths: 68

With a little Excel magic, I determined that 30 deaths versus 38 is a 24% lower death rate if you put 1940 men in the drug group and 1866 in the placebo group, which in turn gave me the actual heart-attack death rates as a percentage in each group:

Placebo:  2.04%
Cholestyramine:  1.55%

Compare those figures using the magic of division, and you’ll get a 24% reduction in the rate:  (2.04-1.55) /2.04 = .24.  This is exactly what the statin-makers do with their data today.  They use division to get impressive-sounding reductions.

But to calculate the actual difference, you use simple subtraction:  2.04% – 1.55%  — which means the difference in the rate of heart-attack deaths between the two groups was (wait for it) … 0.49%.  That’s right, less than one half of one percent.  Put two hundred men on this drug, and you would in theory prevent (almost) one heart-attack death. 

So from this miniscule difference, Rafkind came up with an astounding conclusion:  Since fatty foods raise cholesterol levels in some people, and since a cholesterol lowering-drug produced a very slight drop in the heart-disease rate, fat and cholesterol in the diet must cause heart disease.  Or as he put it, “The more you lower cholesterol and fat in your diet, the more you reduce your risk of heart disease.”

Dr. Malcolm Kendrick has a lovely explanation of this type of logic in his book The Great Cholesterol Con.  Researchers even gave it a fancy-sounding name to make it sound legitimate:  teleoanalysis.  Basically, the idea is this:  We can’t prove (despite years of trying) that A causes C.  But if we can prove A is linked to B, and B is linked to C, then we can conclude that A causes C, despite the lack of any actual evidence.

If that sounds like decent logic to you, try applying it elsewhere.  Here, I’ll get you started:  Drinking a lot of water causes frequent urination.  Frequent urination is linked to diabetes.  Therefore, drinking too much water can lead to diabetes.

Or for a more relevant example:  Adopting a low-fat diet reduces cholesterol in some people.  In the clofibrate trial, the group that took a cholesterol-lowering drug had a 47% higher death rate.  Therefore, low-fat diets cause premature death.

That makes just as much sense as Rifkind’s logic.  All we can actually conclude about bacon and eggs from his study is that you can put them on a plate and make a reasonable facsimile of an unhappy face.  But that’s not how TIME, or most doctors, or most of the scientific world saw it.  At least there were few skeptics:

Other doctors are not so sure, and urge a stricter interpretation of the study. Says Dr. Edward Ahrens, a veteran cholesterol researcher at Rockefeller University: “Since this was basically a drug study, we can conclude nothing about diet; such extrapolation is unwarranted, unscientific and wishful thinking.”

Spot-on, Dr. Ahrens.  Unfortunately, wishful thinking became confused with settled science. 

The American Heart Association has been urging people for years to take this preventive approach. Specifically, A.H.A. experts recommend that American men limit themselves to 300 mg of cholesterol a day, and women to 225 mg, roughly the amount in a single egg. They insist that fat should make up no more than 30% (rather than its current 40%) of the diet, and no more than one-third of this should be saturated.

Yup, I really should trade my eggs for a nice, big bowl of Cocoa Puffs.  The AHA says so, and they’re staffed by experts.

Because atherosclerosis develops slowly throughout life, Gotto believes that children should be started on a low-fat and low-cholesterol regimen at about the age of two.

Definitely.  That way they can be taking drugs for ADD by the age of eight.

Many Americans have already heeded the A.H.A. gospel. Over the past 20 years, the nation’s consumption of butter has dropped 30%, egg consumption has declined 14%, and the average intake of animal fat has plummeted 60%.

I guess that explains the remarkable improvements in the nation’s health we’ve seen since 1984.

Over the same two decades, deaths from heart disease have declined 30%.

For Pete’s sake, lady!  Smoking dropped by nearly 50% over the same period!  Think maybe those two are related in some way?

Even so, not everyone agrees with the A.H.A. on dietary reform. The drop in mortality, some scientists point out, is partly due to better treatment for heart disease and to a decline in smoking among middle-aged men.

Sorry.  My bad.

“I have an aversion to this cholesterolphobia,” scoffs Purdue Cardiologist Story. “Why treat everybody? We don’t give everybody insulin out of fear of diabetes.” According to Rockefeller University’s Ahrens, who has spent nearly 40 years studying cholesterol metabolism, individuals differ greatly in their response to dietary fat and cholesterol. “To deny everyone red meat could mean taking away the joy of life unnecessarily,” he says. “And as an inexpensive source of good nutrition, there is nothing more glorious than the egg.”

Thank you, Dr. Story.  I wish more people had listened to your scoffing.

The food manufacturers who oppose the Heart Association’s dietary recommendations have come in for widespread criticism. “Instead of making excuses, they ought to be adopting the long-range goal of making better products,” says Dr. John LaRosa, an internist at George Washington University Medical School.

Don’t worry, Dr. LaRosa, they heard you.  They stopped making excuses and started making Snackwells, which became a $490 million business by the early 1990s.  Eat all the sugary treats you want — they’re fat-free!

Saturated fat, usually in the form of coconut oil, lurks in most commercially baked breads and cakes, in nondairy creamers, on the oiled surface of frozen French fries, and even in wholesome granola.

Coconut oil: lurking in our food.  Granola:  wholesome.  American Heart Association:  experts, giving us the gospel.  People who don’t agree with the AHA:  scoffers, coming in for widespread criticism.  Man, it’s inspiring to watch an unbiased journalist at work.  At least the good folks at CSPI managed to get all that lurking coconut oil replaced with hydrogenated soybean oil.

The trends of the past two decades give cause for optimism. Medical researchers generally believe that Americans will become increasingly willing to change to a healthier diet and a more sensible lifestyle. By the year 2000, they say, heart disease could cease to be the leading cause of death in America.

Yeah, I’d say that’s about how it all worked out.


42 thoughts on “The Low-Fat Craze: Let’s Go Back in TIME

  1. Wanda

    Great post Tom. I missed this article in my daily reading in ’84, though probably since I was 3 at the time. My reading material was strictly limited to Peanuts and Dr. Seuss (by my parents choice, not mine). 😛

    Keep up the awesome posts, I have read every single one right from the start. Wish I could get my siblings and parents to do the same, Dad’s on lots of anti depressants, and VERY addicted to sugar; Mom-in-law has been taking lipitor for 15 years now, even though she has never had a heart attack (the side effects are showing, but you know, that’s just age). Gotta love the margarine and shoe leather a.k.a. lean beef for dinner at the in laws place… my dog eats better than them! (when kibble was making her gain weight, i started her on l high fat, all meat and veg diet. She dropped the excess weight quickly and wouldn’t touch kibble again!)

    Look forward to Monday’s post 🙂

    Yikes. Perhaps you could send your mother-in-law a copy of Kendrick’s book anonymously. I’d glad to say that between that book and Dr. Ravnskov’s, I convinced my mom and mother-in-law to give up statins.

  2. Digger

    Brilliant,and entertaining!
    Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing thing over and over, but expecting different results? So since 1984, North Americans have been eating way more low fat foods, but they keep getting fatter and developing way more type 2 diabetes. We’ve been lowering their cholesterol through diet and drugs, but they keep having heart attacks.
    I guess we better eat even less fat and lower our cholesterol even more until we reverse this trend.

    Well, that’s pretty much the attitude today. When a study showed that people with “normal” LDL have just as many heart attacks as people with high LDL, they concluded that the standard for “normal” needs to lowered even more.

  3. Dulcimerpete

    ANOTHER great post, Tom!

    “For decades, researchers have been trying to prove …”

    That should be a bad-science-coming warning: Science is about disproving hypotheses, right? If I’m a researcher with half a brain, I can construct a study to prove a point, or I can manipulate the data through the miracle of statistics. And THAT’S the best they could do?!? It was a drug study! Quite a leap from drug to diet …



    They clearly had zero interest in disproving their hypothesis, which is sadly still the case today.

  4. LeonRover

    Hello Tom – great post.

    I recall this story, not in Time, but the summary of the death rate numbers and percentages. I still have a clear image of a 4 inch by 4 inch piece centred on page 5 or 7 of The Sunday Times. I remember taking out my calculator, doing some analysis and concluding that the authors went very far beyond the statistical significance of the data. I found that the data should be better interpreted that taking cholestyramine and reducing cholesterol could lead to an INCREASE in overall deaths – including suicide.

    The advice given was NOT “science based”, but rather, as one says now, viewed thro’ the lens of “confirmatory bias” for their hypothesis on heart disease or death.

    I never paid further attention to “The Cholesterol Story” until I read Rise and Fall of Medical Science by James le Fanu in 1999. This confirmed my 1980’s conclusion and in addition told how Ancel (K-ration) Keys used selected “country data” in an opportunistic fashion.

    Since then, I have looked closely at the statistical portions of studies and shaken my head at the lack of professionalism on the part of many authors who ignore negative implications of a study for their hypotheses. However, many journos themselves do not inquire into study details, preferring to have their names associated with a sensational headlines.

    Thank you for this piece of journalistic history.

    I wish I’d had your powers of analysis back then. I could’ve saved myself a lot of low-fat grief. When I think of all those bowls of Grape Nuts and the Egg Beaters omelets …

  5. Matt Stone

    Great post Tom. You know these intellectual cripples were digging when they used the cholesterol-rabbit study, especially when the darling of the fat clogs arteries hypothesis, ol’ Ancel Keys, stated:

    “There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood. And we’ve known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn’t matter at all unless you happen to be a chicken or a rabbit.”

    Yup, that makes it doubly disgusting. To say cholesterol in the diet is bad, they had to cherry-pick a cherry-picker.

  6. Byron

    Yeah, those good old days; I´ve been ultra low fat. Nearly zero. 1 TL oil?! No, thanks. Salads dry. Whole grain bread dry – but by kilo. Fruits? Sure, so healthy. 10 apples/d, no problem. Bananas the same. Grapes also by kilo. And all the good wine, isn´t it healthy? Why don´t swallow the whole bottle? With pasta, you know, it´s mediterrnean…
    And today? All that fat! Spoonwise. And red meat, oh my good. Offals?! Coconut cream, nuts and so much fat. You will pass away early. Check your labs. HDL 199, triglyceride 35. Naked facts.
    Nice weekend and thanks for recalling those glorious days.

    Let’s not forget the anti-depressants along with all that low-fat food.

  7. Debbie

    Well back in 1984, of course, none of us had google and access to the internet. When articles like this say that Ancel Keys’s study conclusively proved a link between heart disease, cholesterol and animal fat we had no easy way to refute that. We had no idea about the other 15 countries he tossed from his study.

    But it’s articles like this that make me hate reading health articles in *any* mainstream publication, even today. Luckily these days I have other reading options.

    That’s why I love the internet age. While media pundits are busy crying over the number of big newspapers that have gone under, I’m celebrating the democratization of information. We are now seeing something more like the Wisdom of Crowds (good book by title, by the way) instead of the wisdom of the few.

  8. Ryan

    “Well, there’s a reason for that: rabbits don’t eat eggs. They also they don’t form packs of vicious hunter-rabbits to run down pigs and devour them.”

    Let’s not forget about the vicious Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail! They didn’t run down pigs, but they sure tore that one guy’s throat right up!

    So dear knights, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, then come no further … for death awaits you all with big, nasty, pointy teeth.

    I believe that’s close.

  9. Beatle

    “Over the same two decades, deaths from heart disease have declined 30%.”

    Maybe some of that has to do with all the healthier immigrants that are moving to North America as well.

    So many things can skew that statistic.

    Exactly right. Smoking decline, immigration, lowering of the median age (this was baby-boomer youth time), advances in ER equipment, etc.

  10. ksan

    Nice blog. I remember reading the article. I was about 14 and my parents read it too. They took it to heart. Margarine, beef only once per week, skinless chicken, eggs Christmas morning only, and pasta/rice just about everyday. Cereals, juices, bread, granola bars were staples. We made the difficult switch from whole milk to 2% to skim with some pretty decent kicking and screaming from me and my brothers. It made sense and was decreed from the top, so my parents felt they were doing the right thing for us.

    People are more willing to follow the “gospel” then the apostles think. The charge of non-compliance as an explanation of their failed recommendations is insulting.

    BTW: I confuse coach and couch a lot too. In my notes: “patient slept on coach” as an instigating factor of neck-pain always cracks me up, but can sound a little scandalous if not corrected before being sent to other providers, or courts…

    Great posts. Love your site and the movie. Keep up the good and important work you’re doing.

    LOL. None of my girlfriends were particularly athletic, so I never slept on a coach, either. Thanks for the typo alert.

  11. Andrea Isom

    I was a teenager when this came out, I struggled with my weight and was a fanatic low-fat dieter for years. I went from 134 pounds to a high of 190 on a calorie-restricted, low-fat diet. I exercised vigilantly and never lost weight.

    I was a die-hard fan of Susan Powter. I even became a vegetarian for a while. I was chronically depressed and exhausted. I went on Weight Watchers (Three times) and would lose 15 pounds and then plateau because of exhaustion and then re-gain, WHILE FOLLOWING THE PROGRAM!

    Turned out I had PCOS (runs in my family) and that my “healthy diet” only made the situation worse, exacerbated the insulin resistance, and during pregnancy caused 6 hospitalizations because of uncontrollable blood sugar. After being diagnosed with type II diabetes last June, I began Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Diet (with some aspects of Protein Power thrown in). I’ve lost 30 pounds and continue to lose, my cholesterol numbers are stellar and my HA1C is normal. I have energy, I don’t crave carbs. I don’t overeat. When diagnosed, my blood sugar was so high, I was watched by the doctor for an hour while she considered admitting me to the hospital.

    Second, low-carb, pregnancy was a breeze!

    I even became a journalist, left it because journalists drink whatever Kool-aid they’re proffered and spew other people’s garbage, which is why I left the industry (I wrote for a competitor of “Time”). They simply quote spin doctors on both sides of the story and let the chips fall. Doesn’t help anyone get closer to the truth.

    Your site provides a genuine service. BRAVO!

    Susan Powter … I remember those informercials. Fat makes you fat! Sorry to say I believed her at the time.

  12. Steve Parker, M.D.

    I started my medical career in the 1980s, and well remember recommending low-fat, low-cholesterol diets to lower high cholesterol levels.

    It hardly ever worked well. Patients felt like failures; doctors were frustrated.

    BTW, I had four eggs for breakfast today.


    I had a doctor tell me to go on a low-fat diet about a year-and-a-half ago. The reason? My total cholesterol was 203. That’s with HDL of 64 and TG of 70. Luckily, by this time I knew to just laugh at his advice.

  13. Dave, RN

    “Over the same two decades, deaths from heart disease have declined 30%.”

    They might have died from that heart disease before, but now they are just living a miserable existence on a drug induced life support. Staying alive isn’t the same as living. just takes them longer to die. Yea for progress.

    Bingo. We’re still getting heart disease, but surviving more often.

  14. monasmee

    Fantastic post!

    I became a temporary macrobiotic purist in partial response to the cholesterol scare of which Time Magazine’s cover spoke volumes (of iconic junk science).

    Said diet consisted of 50%-60% whole grains, 30%-45% vegetables, 10% soy miso soup, 5% condiments/beverages, 5% sea vegetables, and 5% proteins (beans & seeds) with rare occasions of white fish and seasonal fruit.

    Bottom line: my only intake of fat came from olive oil, sesame oil, & almonds for ten friggin’ years! As a result, I felt hungry, unsustained, & tired most of the time.

    Can’t tell you enough how supportive your website is for me.

    I wasn’t the purist you were, but I eliminated most animal fats from my diet. And when I broke down and had a cheeseburger, I felt guilty.

  15. Matt Brody

    @Dr. Parker, 4 eggs!! I am impressed with how much you have changed in the couple of years since I first started reading your Advanced Mediterranean Diet blog. Truly impressive.

  16. Ms. X

    A hallmark of great journalism is its lasting effect (not its accuracy), 20 plus years later, my workplace cafeteria (which fries everything in soybean oil) still tries to sell us cholesterol free eggs for a yummy tofu omelet.

    Good point. It’s shame this one had such a lasting effect.

  17. Rahul

    Hey Tom,
    Awesome Blog, if Fat Head hadn’t opened my eyes this blog would have certainly done so. I think every individual that trusts the words spewed out of the american govenment and especially AHA (which is the majority of western nations) on health food should read this article. Hopefully it might develop their inner skeptic as well. I have already copied the link and emailed it to my entire family and hopefully the article will knock some sense into them and give them a better understanding of the effects of cholestrol and saturated fat on our body. (Since I haven’t been able to do it with by myself lol). Keep on Blogging Tom, your blogs have become the only reading material that I read by choice 😛

    I believe there’s a comfort level in trusting the experts that many people seek. When I tell friends and family members that their doctor’s advice is wrong, some don’t want to believe me; it’s uncomfortable. Then when I quote the doctors who have a clue (Dr. Eades, Dr. Kendrick, Dr. Ravnskov, Dr. Davis, Dr. Vernon, etc.) they suffer stage 3 cognitive dissonance … now we have DOCTORS disagreeing.

  18. Bruce

    Everybody knows George Ford. Or somebody like George Ford.

    I wonder what ever happened to George?

    I remember the lovely no fat cooking. I used spray instead of butter for cooking chicken breasts. Skim milk (yuk) on my oatmeal. Snackwells…My favorites were the Devils food cake ones. Funny thing was, the regular Nabisco Devils food cookies were no fat. When they made them Snackwells, they reduced the weight and raised the price!!
    I then attempted to make brownies substituting fat free yogurt for the oil and egg. I found the recipe in BHG….I could barely choke them down. That will get you off of low fat real quick

    Here’s a thought to make you gag (and I cooked this once): tofu cheesecake.

  19. Troy

    So if a insulin spike causes a inflammation reaction in the body, what the hell does blood glucose monitoring have to do with anything, if you can eat fried food in vegetable oil with a low glucose reading!!! The veggie oil causes much more inflammation without the dreaded insulin spike… Makes no sense…. I would take the bread over the omega six ladened head grown out of its ass chicken deep fried in soybean oil…


    High blood sugar causes inflammation and other damage. So can foods fried in vegetable oils, which is why I don’t eat them except on rare occasions. If I’m going to eat fast food, a low-carb fast food is still the better choice, since it doesn’t produce the blood-sugar spike.

  20. Amy

    Great post! I suspect that if “Time” reprinted this article today, with the comment about the year 2000 removed, many readers wouldn’t even question it. It’s amazing that 26 years have gone by and popular opinion on health hasn’t budged much at all.

    I’m afraid you’re probably right about that.

  21. Sam

    I’m lucky to have survived the low-fat craze. I was 21 when that article came out and I took it very seriously. I spent 18 years eating low fat all while gaining weight and suffering from periodic bouts of depression. I finally wised up about 8 years ago and started thinking for myself.

    I started doing my own research, looking for information on how different types of foods are metabolized. Thanks to Dr Atkins and others, within 6 months, I’d lost that 60 excess lbs and felt better than I had since I was a teenager. The government’s little diet experiment made me fat, depressed and insulin resistant. I will have to eat low carb for the rest of my life.

    Millions of others joined in that experiment as well, and of course it’s still being conducted.

  22. Melissa

    I was only 7 when that article came out and I have a feeling it would have sounded stupid to me. Although I probably wouldn’t have refused a snackwell cookie either!

    I never did low fat until the 90’s and by that time it was solid fact that fat was bad right! Oh goodness I remember making my mother buy those snackwells actually because of the low fat! If only I’d just ate more bacon and eggs and not become a vegetarian who ate low fat cookies.

    I remember trying some fat-free oatmeal cookies — Snackwells or some similar brand — and polishing off about half a box in one sitting. But no worries, they’re fat free. Can’t imagine what my blood sugar looked like an hour later.

  23. Rahul

    Its articles like these that created a storm of wrong information spread all over. There is so much wrong information out there that even doctors and esp many GP get it wrong and unfortunately since most of us worship the words of doctors its impossible to dig thru all this misinformation. Unless u have an extremely well developed skeptic mind 😛
    I’ll give u an example of a situation where an aunt of mine in an indian village went to a GP and he checked her cholestrol level which was on a high end, so he asked her for a daily diet.
    She had tea(with sugar) and a south indian sweet item (its called sheera) cooked in coconut oil and made out of carbs, had lunch which consists of rice and/or chapatis(like a tortilla made of wheat) and some vege(sometimes=potato) cooked in coconut oil and some tea in evening with some biscuits and crackers and at the end of the night again rice and/or chapati with vege cooked in coconut oil and sometime they also finish the night of with some sweet made out of carbs cooked in coconut oil.
    Now look at the amount of carbs intake in this daily diet and the doctor concluded that she was having too much COCONUT oil in the diet and so she should reduce COCONUT oil in her diet!! LOL

    Good grief. The doctor reminds of the joke about the Irishman who has several pints of Guinness, a bottle of whisky, and a potato for dinner. When he wakes up the next day feeling lousy, he says, “Just my luck. I got a rotten potato.”

  24. Amy Dungan

    “If that sounds like decent logic to you, try applying it elsewhere.”

    I swear I read that as deceit logic. LOL And in reality it is… simple deceit.

    I remember having all the low-fat nonsense drilled into my head while learning about how to stay healthy and lose weight. This is one instance I wish I’d been a horrible student. Thankfully when presented with the truth, I learned quickly and dumped the low-fat malarky for science that is actually valid. I hope to someday see that same photo on the cover of TIME again, but with the bacon smiling and the headlines telling us the facts instead of someone’s radical agenda driven junk science.

    Your brain pulled a Freudian slip on you, which happened to be correct.

  25. Anna

    Great post, Tom. So scary that we still think the same way in 2010. I’m with Troy, too. I honestly think eating lower in fat (not cutting it out altogether) wouldn’t have had such negatives effects if we hadn’t cut out the saturated fat. The biggest problem was, the little fat people were having was now vegetable oil PUFA garbage. Using butter or coconut oil instead probably would have saved a lot of health issues. Now, 25 years later, whole and 2% milk are being banned in schools and saturated fats lowered even more…I can only imagine the future health issues for these poor kids.

    It was a bit of a perfect storm. We scared people away from saturated fats, steered them towards PUFAs, while also telling them to eat more grains.

  26. ron fonteine

    Tom, I educate dutch readers on really healthy foods and the big cholesterol scam. If you want more exposure of your articles please contact me, perhaps we can offer dutch version on

    Good luck and check out the books of Dr Enig…… she one the person who warned us for these industrial fats long time ago. Also heart disease is often related to territorial stress, like people loosing their house, jobs, company etc. Check the vision of Dr Ryke Hamer for that.


    I read Dr. Enig’s books and interviewed her for the film. I’d certainly be interested in having my articles appear in Europe.

  27. Laurie

    I have a hypothesis. I work at Mount Holyoke College in the biochemistry department and on Monday April 12 I went to a spectacular guest immunology lecture by Dr Laurie Glimcher in the early afternoon and then decided to stop into a geology lecture later that evening. I’m glad I did. The geologist is Galen Halverson of McGill University.
    Dr Halverson mentioned a ‘Nature’ article, vol 457/5 February 2009/ by Love et al. that started this. I got a copy of the entire article on Tuesday. The article suggests that proto-cholesterol compounds are found in the fossil record of proto-animals as long ago as 3/4 of a billion years.
    Cellular evolution started about 3 billion years ago on earth. At some point more recently multicellular organisms began developing and more recently still (3/4 of a billion years possibly) proto-plants diverged from proto-animals. And the difference in the evolution of plants vs. animals is…….. cholesterol.
    Plants have no nervous system and much less total cholesterol than animals (50mg/kg vs 5g/kg) and plants have NO cholesterol in any of their cell membranes. Animals have nervous systems and have cholesterol in every single cell membrane. Humans have 100 trillion cells. Human brains are 50% cholesterol by weight. Human neurons, of which there are 100 billion, each have an axon (the business end of a neuron) that’s membrane (cholesterol) bound. All 100 billion axons in a human, if laid end to end, would wrap around the earth at the equator four times. Neurons get all the press, but the 1000 billion or 1 trillion glial cells in the human brain are equally important….. and made of cholesterol.
    The difference between humans and plants is the amount and placement of cholesterol- how much and where it is. The war against cholesterol is insane.

    I agree totally. This supposed villain helped make us what we are.

  28. MikeC

    When I moved to NH back in 1992, I was wearing 32″ jeans. By winter of ’93, my weight had increased a bit and I had to buy 34″. I chalked it up to the lack of exercise. I had been staying inside a lot because I hadn’t adjusted to the colder climate. It couldn’t have been my diet, though. It was almost zero fat! A typical breakfast for me was McDonald’s Hotcakes (hold the sausage, please) with their non-fat syrup, and a large orange juice.

    Once the weather started to improve, I tried jogging again. It seemed that no matter how far or how long I ran, nothing helped. I continued to gain weight.

    By the time I discovered Protein Power, I was almost 250, and pushing a 46″ waist. That was more than 10 years ago, and I still haven’t gotten back to my 32″ waist, and I’m not sure I ever will. I’m feel that I’m fighting biology now. I’m wearing 38″ jeans and I’m down to 199, so I haven’t given up yet.

    I was a traveling comedian in 1990s, and that was my typical road breakfast. I felt very virtuous telling them “no butter” with my hotcakes. But then the hotcakes were dry so I’d usually use extra syrup.

  29. JCohn

    Come on, everybody knows that the Human Race died out, to a man, back when it was living on meat, fat and the occasional veggie.

    They didn’t eat grains, so that’s where they failed. They didn’t do agriculture, they foraged and ate what they found or killed.

    Why’d they die out? Because on the fat/meat/occasional veggie diet, they all got too fat, lazy and had heart attacks. Ever see a fat hunter try and chase a deer?

    So, all these arguments are pointless, because we don’t exist.

    To state otherwise, we’d have to have empirical proof that human beings exist now. And eat foods, write emails, watch Fathead, post idiotic blog comments. And we all know that we don’t have THAT kind of proof, do we?

    I believe the prevailing theory is that they lived just long enough to reproduce, then dropped dead at age 25 from grain deprivation.

  30. Laurie

    An additional thing I’ve figured out about the difference between animal cholesterol depots and where plant cholesterol is and what its function is this:
    The little cholesterol that occurs in plants is mostly on the leaves for waterproofing. The large quant. of cholesterol in humans is in the brain for thinking.

    I’m going to have some eggs and consider that.

  31. Dan

    “Lois and the two older children also take 30 gm a day of cholestid, a cholesterol-lowering drug”

    My God, they actually prescribed statins to children?! Is emperor Palpatine in charge of the A.H.A. or something?

    When my mailman delivers my next issue of Time magazine on Friday, I’m going to confront him and make him apologize.

    There are doctors who are calling for putting statins in the water supply to make sure everyone takes them. Kid you not.

  32. Sarah

    Story time!

    It was my best friend’s 18th birthday recently and we went clothing shopping at the local skater-punk clothing store. The place has TVs with typical teen-channels on. And who was on Fuze/Fuel TV? Morgan mothereffin Spurlock. On a teen punk channel, to which he was followed by a live rap artist.

    I grumbled inside and the little angry imp inside me went “Supersize Me fraud-face? On a teen-skater channel? In a skater-punk store?! WHY?!” To be honest I guess I wishfully though he himself was in the past, not heard of anymore, but nope, he’s guest starring on shows that teenagers watch. *Sigh* So they can watch his movie and boycott McDonalds in that kind of overly-zealous activist-phase type fashion, most likely. So they can represent my 16-year-old self as being ignorant and, well, over-zealous.

    I need a low-sugar, high-fat hot cocoa.

    I think it’s a perfect match: Morgan talking to people who are at his intellectual level. (You, of course, are an exception in your group.)

  33. Cory Baron

    “TIME magazine would run a major article titled Sorry, It’s True … Celery Is A Killer. (Subtitle: party trays will never be the same.)”

    I laughed SO hard… Nice one!

    You’ve got to laugh at all this nonsense. The alternative is to lose your sanity.

  34. Dan

    I’m the same age as you and remember this cover to Time very well. I was in grad school and had a subscription. Too bad I wasn’t able to see through the BS until recently. it would have saved me years of suffering on a low fat diet, morbid obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

    That issue probably put a lot of people on the same path. It’s a real shame.

  35. Tom Naughton Post author

    I’m not able to post a new article for some reason. I’ve been trying since last night. I can check comments, I can approve comments, but I can’t post.

    My web provider is trying to fix the issue, but no luck so far. We may have to roll the WordPress database back a day or so, which means all the comments after that point will disappear. If it comes to that, I apologize to everyone whose comments will go POOF.

  36. Isabel

    I recently lost 30 lbs on a low carb diet. I find it much easier to stay low carb during the day if I have a very low or zero carb breakfast, so I have been eating 2 eggs for breakfast every day for the last 3 months. Not to mention eggs and 1/2 & 1/2 in other dishes like last night’s quiche (less than 20 carbs per serving). Yum!
    I saw my endocrinologist last week and just got my lab results. My cholesterol is the lowest it has ever been….163! My triglycerides are 149!
    I feel great! I haven’t been this weight in about 10 years. I still crave carbs, but I am honestly not hungry most of the day.
    I know this diet works because this is the 2nd time I have lost more than 10% of my weight and kept it off.
    14 eggs a week, who would have thought?

    Add some bacon to those eggs and make a smiley face.

  37. M. Cawdery

    You say
    “We can’t prove (despite years of trying) that A causes C. But if we can prove A is linked to B, and B is linked to C, then we can conclude that A causes C, despite the lack of any actual evidence.”

    This is pure syllogy. In short; a subtle, specious, or crafty argument

    Main Entry: syl·lo·gism
    Pronunciation: \ˈsi-lə-ˌji-zəm\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English silogisme, from Anglo-French sillogisme, from Latin syllogismus, from Greek syllogismos, from syllogizesthai to syllogize, from syn- + logizesthai to calculate, from logos reckoning, word — more at legend
    Date: 14th century
    1 : a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion (as in “every virtue is laudable; kindness is a virtue; therefore kindness is laudable”)
    2 : a subtle, specious, or crafty argument
    3 : deductive reasoning
    — syl·lo·gis·tic \ˌsi-lə-ˈjis-tik\ adjective
    — syl·lo·gis·ti·cal·ly \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb
    From Wikipedia
    A syllogism (Greek: συλλογισμός – “conclusion,” “inference”) or logical appeal is a kind of logical argument in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises) of a certain form.

  38. Julie Jones

    What coconut oil do you suggest I use?

    We use different brands. If you look on the internet, you can find it much more cheaply than in stores.


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