Part of the problem with convincing people to cut back on carbohydrates and eat more natural fats is what I call everyone knows knowledge.  As in everyone knows whole grains are good for you.  Everyone knows saturated fat and cholesterol will clog your arteries and kill you.  Just try convincing someone who isn’t a critical thinker that what everyone knows can be flat-out wrong.

Everyone knows knowledge permeates the culture.  I enjoy watching old reruns of Seinfeld, and while they still crack me up, they include a lot of everyone knows ideas about health and nutrition.  I recently watched the episode in which Jerry is trying to get healthier by eating veggie sandwiches and salads.  Elaine’s cousin cooks dinner for him and asks how he likes his pork chops, to which Jerry replies, “I like mine with an angioplasty.”  In another episode, Jerry and his friends gain weight eating frozen yogurt that was advertised as fat-free, but turned out to contain fat.  (As if sugary fat-free foods won’t do the trick.)  And of course, in countless episodes, Jerry chows down on breakfast cereals.  Nothing wrong with those, right?  Everyone knows cereal is health food.

In the hilarious film My Cousin Vinny, a cook in a small-town diner plops lard onto a grill to begin fixing breakfast, prompting Vinny to remark something along the lines of “Are you by any chance aware of the rather large cholesterol problem in this country?”  And in the very witty film Thank You For Smoking, the scheming tobacco lobbyist defends himself against a crusading senator by pointing out the senator’s state is known primarily for producing “artery-clogging” cheese.

I’m not knocking the writers of these great films and TV shows, you understand.  They were simply relying on everyone knows knowledge.  I did the same while writing for a small health magazine 20-some years ago …Should you switch to a low-fat diet?  Of course!  Everyone knows fat is bad for you.

I’m an optimist, so I may be engaging in wishful thinking here, but it seems to me that what everyone knows about diet and health is changing — slowly, perhaps, but changing.  When I began my research for Fat Head, I discovered some well-researched articles claiming that the anti-fat hysteria sparked by the McGovern committee was misguided, but those articles appeared mostly on blogs and alternative-medicine sites.  (The Gary Taubes article What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie? was a notable exception.)

Lately, I’ve been noticing more articles in the mainstream media knocking the standard-issue advice.  Back in December, the Los Angeles Times ran an article titled A Reversal on Carbs with the sub-headline Fat was once the devil. Now more nutritionists are pointing accusingly at sugar and refined grains.  Here are a few quotes:

Most people can count calories. Many have a clue about where fat lurks in their diets. However, fewer give carbohydrates much thought, or know why they should.

But a growing number of top nutritional scientists blame excessive carbohydrates — not fat — for America’s ills. They say cutting carbohydrates is the key to reversing obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

“Fat is not the problem,” says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”

Outstanding.  I can say it, you can say it, Jimmy Moore can say it, Dr. Eades can say it, a hundred other bloggers can say it, and the average mainstream journalist either won’t know or won’t care.  But when Dr. Willett at Harvard says it, mainstream journalists pay attention.  “Fat is not the problem” ends up being printed in the Los Angeles Times.  Now it stands a chance of becoming everyone knows knowledge, at least among newspaper readers.

Over the weekend, readers sent me links to other articles that appeared in the popular press.  An article in Consumer Reports that rated diets gave the top pick to the Jenny Craig plan because of a high level of adherence – that’s the bad news.  The good news is what the article said about the Atkins diet:

The 2010 edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which we’ve used as the basis for the diets’ nutrition Ratings (available to subscribers), still frowns on eating 10 percent or more of calories from saturated fat from meat and dairy products and more than 35 percent from fats overall. So the Atkins diet, which is 64 percent fat calories overall and 18 percent saturated fat, ends up with only a Fair nutrition score.

But there’s more to the story. Evidence is accumulating that refined carbohydrates promote weight gain and type 2 diabetes through their effects on blood sugar and insulin. “If you have insulin resistance, your insulin may go up to 10 or 20 times normal in order to control your blood sugar after you eat sugar or carbs,” says Eric C. Westman, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Duke University who co-wrote the newest version of the Atkins diet. “But the insulin also tells your body to make and store fat. When you restrict carbs, your insulin goes down and you can burn your body fat, so you eat fewer calories and aren’t as hungry.”

Isn’t it dangerous to eat so much fat? That’s still a subject of vigorous scientific debate, but it’s clear that fat is not the all-round villain we’ve been taught it is. Several epidemiology studies have found that saturated fat doesn’t seem to increase people’s risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke.

Moreover, clinical studies have found that an Atkins or Atkins-like diet not only doesn’t increase heart-disease risk factors but also actually reduces them as much as or more than low-fat, higher-carb diets that produce equivalent weight loss.

So there’s an interesting admission for you:  Consumer Reports uses the USDA Guidelines as the basis for its nutrition rankings, then explains that actual research doesn’t support those guidlines.  Perhaps in the future, Consumer Reports can do one of its famous reliability tests on the USDA Dietary Guidelines.  (“A whopping 92% of our readers report these guidelines failed within the first year.”)  But this article is a good start.

Another reader informed me over the weekend that the Dallas Morning News ran an opinion piece that shredded the government’s dietary advice.  I couldn’t access that article without a subscription, but found that the same article (I think) was also published in City Journal magazine:

America’s public-health officials have long been eager to issue nutrition advice ungrounded in science, and nowhere has this practice been more troubling than in the federal government’s dietary guidelines, first issued by a congressional committee in 1977 and updated every five years since 1980 by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Controversial from the outset for sweeping aside conflicting research, the guidelines have come under increasing attack for being ineffective or even harmful, possibly contributing to a national obesity problem. Unabashed, public-health advocates have pushed ahead with contested new recommendations, leading some of our foremost medical experts to ask whether government should get out of the business of telling Americans what to eat—or, at the very least, adhere to higher standards of evidence.

… The McGovern committee, in coming up with its diet plan, had to choose among very different nutritional regimes that scientists and doctors were studying as potentially beneficial to those at risk for heart disease. Settling on the unproven theory that cholesterol was behind heart disease, the committee issued its guidelines in 1977, urging Americans to reduce the fat that they consumed from 40 percent to 30 percent of their daily calories, principally by eating less meat and fewer dairy products.

… The latest nutritional thinking has indeed zeroed in on carbohydrates as a likely cause of heart disease. Easily digestible carbs, in particular—starches like potatoes, white rice, and bread from processed flour, as well as refined sugar—make it hard to burn fat and also increase inflammations that can cause heart attacks, several studies have concluded. A 2007 Dutch study of 15,000 women found that those who ate foods with the highest “glycemic load,” a measure of portion sizes and of how easily digestible a food is, had the greatest risk of heart disease.

Looking at such evidence, several top medical scientists have concluded that the government’s carb-heavy guidelines may actually have harmed public health …“In general,” the doctors wrote, “weak evidentiary support has been accepted as adequate justification for [the U.S. dietary] guidelines. This low standard of evidence is based on several misconceptions, most importantly the belief that such guidelines could not cause harm.” But, they concluded, “it now seems that the U.S. dietary guidelines recommending fat restriction might have worsened rather than helped the obesity epidemic and, by so doing, possibly laid the groundwork for a future increase in CVD,” cardiovascular disease.

I certainly don’t expect the nutrition geniuses at the USDA to change their guidelines, no matter how many articles like these appear in the mainstream press.  But I don’t think it’s overly optimistic to believe we’re approaching the time when everyone knows those guidelines are a load of bologna.

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68 Responses to “What “Everyone Knows” May Be Changing”
  1. Peggy Cihocki says:

    @Elly, as a former science teacher, I can tell you I would have LOVED to have you in my class! Keep it up and don’t let anything you know is not true slide. Just be polite about it. A good teacher will listen, check it out and–if it pans out–learn (yes, teachers do learn from students!) And if they’re not willing to listen, their loss. Teachers are human and they make mistakes, too. Not everything they say is gospel The good ones are able to admit their mistakes, learn from them and move on.

  2. Peggy Cihocki says:

    Oh, and Elly, provide them with the evidence. If a student took issue with something I said, I listened and then asked for his/her source so I could check it out. (“My Mom or Dad said so” was not acceptable). If it turned out to be a valid point, I told them–and the class. If it turned out not to be valid, I provided my own evidence to the contrary so they could make up their own minds and not just take my word for it.

  3. Phyllis Mueller says:

    @Sam, et al.–Have you tried Electro Mix? It’s a powder made by Alacer (the company that makes Emergen-C). It’s sold in packets. You mix the contents of a packet with a liter of water. Electro Mix contains calcium, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and manganese. It has a lemon-lime taste and is sweetened with stevia. I found it helpful for overcoming the muscle cramps that can come when one switches to a low-carb food plan. You can buy it in health food stores.

  4. Sif says:

    It has also started showing up in the news abroad, here in the country of saturated-fat-tax. Some dietists are even saying that bread is bad for diabetics. It pleases me, because my mom is certain that I’m going to drop dead any minute. Vegetable oil gives me a rash, so I always fry in butter ord lard, and I think she’s certain it will kill me, bless her!

    Being a pastry chef (french style, real butter) I have no desire whatsoever to cut out grains and sugar from my life (oh how I love good quality homemade cakes. And ditto bread), but I find that eating a sugar and grain free diet, on a daily basis is doing wonders for my health – and mood! – even if I do eat cake on the weekends.
    It helps, of course, that I’m not insulin resistant. I’m just glad I found out about LCHF before I screwed up my health.

    That must be interesting, being surrounded by pasties all week while avoiding sugars and grains. Hats off to you.

  5. HW says:

    @Jan, yes Weight Watchers is still politically correct about the saturated fat, and they still recommend drinking low fat milk. But it’s still a step in the right direction… the new program is no longer the high carb/fiber fest it once was.

    As for switching to tea, I have learned that many of the cheap store brands are actually stale, and bitter tasting. But fresh, higher quality tea leaves taste much better plain. You have to learn the proper temperature and steeping time too. It depends on the variety, but if you let green tea (for example) steep for too long, the flavor turns bitter and oxidized. So you might be fooled into thinking it needs to be sweetened, when in fact it’s really just stale or improperly brewed. Good green tea shouldn’t have a bitter aftertaste! So there’s no reason you should need to sweeten it anyway. 🙂

  6. Ricardo says:

    Hi i was just wondering. Since i don’t eat Bagels, Bread, Noodles, Pasta, Rice, Table Sugar, Soft Drinks Like Coke, Fruit Juice, Processed Foods like High Fructose Corn Syrup, Pancakes, Donuts, and stuff like that will that help my Insulin levels be low. I think i have Hyperinsulimia and im trying to get it down.

    Yes, if you want to keep your insulin levels low, you need to avoid the foods that provoke insulin responses. High-fat, low-carb, moderate protein will keep you insulin levels low.

  7. Renee says:

    I’m noticing more and more articles in mainstream news that “get it,” too. Just today I read an article on Yahoo, of all places, that made the argument that skim milk is fattening and whole milk is not. My jaw just about dropped in astonishment. The comment section was the most interesting to me, though. There were a small handful of LCHF commentators saying “amen!” and a much greater percentage of people who deemed the article, full of science, as “unscientific”. (They went on to remind everyone it’s all about calories, blah blah blah. Some used very sophisticated arguments, like “you fatties, stop stuffing your piehole” and “skim milk tastes better.”) But the most interesting thing that was repeated again and again was along the lines of, “ARRGGHHH! All these conflicting studies! I can’t stand it anymore.” They need to watch your speech, Tom.

    I just saw that article. Somebody needs to inform the USDA, which is imposing skim milk on the schools. My daughter recently brought home a USDA-approved carton of strawberry milk from school to show me. Fat-free, but a mere 25 grams of sugar.

  8. TonyNZ says:

    @HW

    I was meaning the fruit stuff more for if you were wanting to stay away from caffeine. I like high quality tea as well, though I’m not going to drink 10 cups a day of it Granted, green tea has very little caffeine but just throwing some options out there. For something that can be made, cooled and put in a bottle for working out, fruit teas work pretty well in my opinion.

  9. LISA says:

    Uh oh, sounds like Oz is jumping on the bandwagon…he’s doing a show about carbs being addictive as cocaine. I wonder what’s changed since Taubes was visited him and Oz acted like it was CRAZY to give up carbs. Hypocrite? Or has he finally come to his senses?

    http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/wednesday-dr-oz-show

    That’s a good sign. Now if he’d just get off the anti-fat nonsense, he’d be worth watching.

  10. Marilyn says:

    “Everyone knows” might be changing, but it definitely has a long way to go. In the mail today, I got a rag from my grad school. There was a full-page info-mercial about a new weight-loss book. Same ol’ same ol’. The author goes out of his way to dismiss Zone, South Beach, Atkins, etc., because the authors have doctoral degrees but haven’t published in peer reviewed scientific journals. Then he turns around and has high praise for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s move.” Did I miss something? Has Michelle published in peer reviewed scientific journals? But you have to hand it to the author of this book. He has a really new approach to weight loss: eliminate fat from the diet. . .

    Oh, lordy.

  11. Danni says:

    Oh, Tom just when I think I’ve read the most kick ass blog of yours, you write something even more kick ass.

    I heard a quote from the movie “Food Matters” a while back and this post reminded me of it and also of our angry carnivore-ball busting Vegan friends. I’d like to share: “You can be sincere– and you can be sincerely wrong.”

    Bravo.

    Great quote!

  12. John Hunter says:

    This change just can’t come soon enough for me! But the good thing is, i thought it would never get here at all.

  13. HealthyFixx says:

    Love this part:

    “The McGovern committee, in coming up with its diet plan, had to choose among very different nutritional regimes”

    They meant regimens of course but in the context they couldn’t have chosen a better word. This regime is ripe for a revolucion!

    Freudian slip, perhaps.

  14. Johnny Lawrence says:

    “After seeing a lecture by Dr. William Davis, I started testing my glucose reaction to various foods, as he recommends. One white potato sends my glucose up to around 170 and keeps it there for nearly two hours. So in fact, yes, I’d pick the Quest bar over the potato. But I’d pick a nicely cooked piece of meat or some eggs over either.”

    All that proves is your body is hypersensitive to starch from avoiding it so fervently. My body was the same last year. And of course Jimmy’s is probably worse because he’s been low carbing for so long. If I or a couple billion Asians eat a potato our body won’t have the same reaction. People need to realize it’s their body that needs fixing, not the potato or any other healthy high carb that needs avoiding.

    And you’re able to make this accurate diagnosis for me (and Jimmy) how, exactly? Got a great reading on my metabolism, do you? You know for a fact I didn’t have similar glucose spikes from potatoes back when I ate them regularly, do you?

    I don’t really give a rat’s rear-end how potatoes affect Asians, Kitavans, your second cousin, or you. When I lived on a high-starch diet — with virtually no sugar whatsoever, so you can forget about blaming sugar — I gained weight year after year and began showing signs of pre-diabetes. Now that I’ve become “hypersensitive” to starches by avoiding them, I don’t have those issues anymore, which means my body IS fixed, doctor. I don’t worry about losing my tolerance for potatoes any more than I’d worry about losing my tolerance for alcohol if I never drank again.

  15. Johnny Lawrence says:

    “And you’re able to make this accurate diagnosis for me (and Jimmy) how, exactly? Got a great reading on my metabolism, do you? You know for a fact I didn’t have similar glucose spikes from potatoes back when I ate them regularly, do you?

    I don’t really give a rat’s rear-end how potatoes affect Asians, Kitavans, your second cousin, or you. When I lived on a high-starch diet — with virtually no sugar whatsoever, so you can forget about blaming sugar — I gained weight year after year and began showing signs of pre-diabetes. Now that I’ve become “hypersensitive” to starches by avoiding them, I don’t have those issues anymore, which means my body IS fixed, doctor. I don’t worry about losing my tolerance for potatoes any more than I’d worry about losing my tolerance for alcohol if I never drank again.”

    I make the diagnosis by your own admission of a 170 blood sugar level after eating a perfectly healthy food and Jimmy’s by the fact that anytime he reports on his menu blog that he eats “high carb” (more than 2 a day or so haha) that he gains weight.

    [Well, well, your powers of diagnosis are simply amazing. Some might see your reply as an indication that you’re an arrogant little a–hole, but not me. Quick, get yourself off to med school! The world needs these near-magical abilities of yours to read other people’s biochemistries and metabolisms from afar!

    So you read a few articles by Matt Stone, and now you can say with absolute certainty that I once had a good tolerance for potatoes, didn’t have glucose spikes after eating them, but lost my tolerance by damaging my metabolism through a low-carb diet … because everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — could eat starches without suffering negative reactions if only they’d “fix” their bodies. There simply are no people in the world who just shouldn’t eat starches, correct?]

    You could have eaten them regularly and still had the same reactions. There’s lots of people that eat them regularly that have the same reactions. “Eating them regularly” doesn’t mean someone isn’t hypometabolic.

    So you ate a diet of only potatoes? No PUFA’s, processed grains, artificial sweeteners, only a 70% of calories from starch, an overabundance of calories, and mostly whole foods diet? Yeah I’m sure.

    [Wow! In addition to being able to examine my metabolism from afar, you can actually look backwards into time and examine my diet! I mean, if the diet you recommend didn’t work for me, there can only be one possible answer: I didn’t actually eat the diet you recommend. The alternative would be to admit that your advice doesn’t necessarily work for everyone — and that simply can’t be the case, since you have read several articles by Matt Stone and are able to diagnose everyone’s metabolism accurately.

    Some people might see what you wrote above as a sign that you’re an arrogant little a–hole, but not me. Quick! Get yourself off to a PhD track in history! The world needs your amazing back-in-time abilities to finally learn what happened in Munich in 1929!]

    Of course you don’t care how they affect anyone else, or most importantly how they could affect your body for the good. Same with Jimmy, that MIGHT affect your entire business model. No different than with the USDA supporting something that is counter to their ideals. It will never happen.

    [Boy, you caught me. I’m constantly bypassing foods that are good for me, all because my business model is based on telling people to avoid potatoes. It’s not as if I’ve been experimenting with my diet for the past 30 years and found what does and doesn’t work for me… nope, I chose the anti-potato business model first, then everything followed from there.

    Some might see your accusation as an indication that you’re an arrogant little a–hole, but not me. Quick! Get yourself off to Harvard Business School! The future CEOs need your deep understanding of the blogger’s business model!]

    I don’t blame sugar. I sip on sugar all morning. It’s wonderful. Fix your metabolism and you could too.

    [Yeah, I’ll be sure to do that. Nothing like sipping on sugar to fix everything that’s wrong with your body.]

    You’ve definitely become hypersensitive to them, that’s for sure. Stay on that path long enough, like Jimmy for instance, and you’ll be in the same shape as he is now, increasingly unable to eat any healthy whole food without immediate weight gain despite all the fasting, exercising and being the undisputed heavyweight champ of processed foods.

    [I appreciate you sharing your amazing diagnostic abilities with me. Since I’ve tried pretty much every diet under the sun and finally found one that led to me being leaner and healthier, some might view your condescension and strange need to convince me to eat potatoes as a sign that you’re an arrogant little a–hole, but not me. I think it’s obvious you’re an arrogant big a–hole.]

  16. Daniel L. says:

    Yeah Tom, get that prick!

  17. John Kreese says:

    From Johnny:

    [Yeah Tom, get that prick!]

    You shut your mouth, I’ll take care of you later. 

    [Well, well, your powers of diagnosis are simply amazing. Some might see your reply as an indication that you’re an arrogant little a–hole, but not me. Quick, get yourself off to med school! The world needs these near-magical abilities of yours to read other people’s biochemistries and metabolisms from afar!]

    Tom Tom, you’ve lost your way (wink wink). You criticize my carb heavy diet on your blog all the time and I take it, like Jimmy takes my awesome spikes in our church volleyball league. But unlike Jimmy, I can’t take it anymore. As soon as I say something about how your diet is ruining your metabolism you run my reputation in the ground by suggesting I should quit karate and be a doctor! 

    [Let’s see if we can spot the difference, shall we? I don’t track you down and insist that you should eat low-carb. I don’t pretend to know anything about your metabolism. I don’t tell people who eat potatoes without gaining weight or suffering any metabolic issues that they should give them up. I don’t tell Asians that since nearly all Europeans and Americans with European blood can digest milk with no problems, this proves the Asians who can’t digest milk need to fix their “damaged metabolisms” by drinking more milk. In other words, I’m not an arrogant little a–hole.]

    [So you read a few articles by Matt Stone, and now you can say with absolute certainty that I once had a good tolerance for potatoes, didn’t have glucose spikes after eating them, but lost my tolerance by damaging my metabolism through a low-carb diet … because everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — could eat starches without suffering negative reactions if only they’d “fix” their bodies. There simply are no people in the world who just shouldn’t eat starches, correct?]

    Ok, Sherlock you sniffed me out (weird though since I don’t eat low carb anymore), I do have a bromance with Matt. He loves me like no other. Once you’e been Stoned, you’re never the same. It just chills you out man. All that hostility you have against me will vanish. Your next movie will show you running naked through fields of grain with your USDA tattoo on your newly acquired 16 biceps grown from your starch based diet. I can’t wait! 

    Yes, you’re finally catching on! You must not be in ketosis anymore. Good for you Tom. Fix your body’s faulty metabolism and you’ll be in tip top shape. Or you can go Jimmy’s route and get spiked on by carb fueled, good smelling stallions like me. 

    [Stopped consistent weight gain … check. Lost a large proportion of body fat … check. Still losing body fat … check. Gained strength and muscle mass in my 50s … check. Cured the asthma, GERD, psoriasis, arthritis, pre-diabetes, fatigue and restless leg syndrome that bothered me for much of my adult life … check. Reduced my Triglycerides/HDL ratio to 1.1 … check. Yeah, John, living without starches has really hosed my health.]

    [[Wow! In addition to being able to examine my metabolism from afar, you can actually look backwards into time and examine my diet! I mean, if the diet you recommend didn’t work for me, there can only be one possible answer: I didn’t actually eat the diet you recommend. The alternative would be to admit that your advice doesn’t necessarily work for everyone — and that simply can’t be the case, since you have read several articles by Matt Stone and are able to diagnose everyone’s metabolism accurately.]

    You keep speaking the truth Tom. Practice what you preach! 

    [you’re an arrogant big a–hole] x 3 I think

    [Yes, that’s why I’m constantly trolling the blogs of people who suggest a diet I don’t follow and pretending I can diagnose their metabolisms for them — no, wait … that would be you, wouldn’t it?]

    Do you see what is happening? You’re turning in to Nikoley! Carbs = love 

    [I’m sure you believe you had point there, but I can’t figure out what it is.]

  18. Jeff Perren says:

    Until next month, when there will be yet a new ’emerging consensus’ that everything said before was wrong. ‘The real truth’, they will then say is…

  19.  
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