Archive for June, 2017

I hadn’t planned to write another post about the American Heart Association’s “presidential advisory” report, but I came across a couple of items that speak volumes about why the report is nonsense.

Zoe Harcombe tweeted a link to a press release by the crop science division of Bayer. It was titled Bayer and LibertyLink Soybeans Help Protect Hearts in America’s Heartland. Here are some quotes:

In an effort to support heart health and improve the wellness of rural Americans nationwide, Bayer is proud to announce its support of the American Heart Association (AHA). The effort, which runs through 2017, supports the AHA’s Healthy for Good™ movement to inspire all Americans to live healthier lives and create lasting change by taking small, simple steps today to create a difference for generations to come.

For each bag of LibertyLink soybean seed sold for the 2017 season, Bayer will contribute 5 cents to the AHA’s Healthy for Good movement for a total maximum donation of $500,000.

A donation of up to half a million dollars. Pretty good payday for the American Heart Association – which of course recommends soybean oil as a “heart-healthy” replacement for butter and lard.

In the same tweet, Harcombe points out that the AHA’s report gives soybean oil a positive mention 12 times. Not bad. That’s $41,667 per mention. If only I could cut the same deal with the producers of bacon.

So at the risk of repeating myself, it’s important for people who believe the AHA is a neutral reporter of cardiovascular science to understand this: if the Diet-Heart Hypothesis ever goes away, so does the American Heart Association. The “presidential advisory” report was little more than financial self-defense against the growing (and correct) belief that arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria was based on bogus science.

Dr. Frank Sucks … er, Sacks, the author of the report, was quoted in several media articles as wondering why the heck anyone would think coconut oil is a healthy fat. It raises cholesterol just like any other saturated fat, ya see, so it’s got to be bad. And there are no long-term clinical studies proving any benefits.

Several bloggers pointed out that both the Kitavans and the natives of Tokelau people have a high intake of coconut fat – 50% of total calories in the case of the Tokelau people. And yet they have very low rates of heart disease. If saturated coconut fat causes heart disease, why aren’t the people who eat the most of it clutching their chests and dropping dead?

Of course, we’re just making observations here, and observational studies don’t prove anything, right? Well, it depends.  If we find a correlation between A and B, it doesn’t prove A is causing B to happen. But a lack of a correlation between A and B is pretty strong evidence that A doesn’t cause B to happen.

In the Fat Head Kids book, I wanted to give youngsters a very brief science lesson on observational studies. After all, if they’re interested in health, they’re going to be seeing a lot of Some Food Linked To Some Disease headlines as they grow up. So in a chapter on how bad science led to the current dietary advice, we explained observational studies like this:


Let’s suppose Dr. Fishbones visits a tiny world called The Planet of Tragic Fashions and gathers a bunch of data on all the residents. When he runs that data through a computer, he notices a surprising connection.

Captain! I’ve discovered that residents who get just-above-the-butt tattoos are more likely to develop cancer! We’ve got to put a stop to those tattoos, Captain!

Is Dr. Fishbones correct? Do his findings prove that the tattoos are causing cancer?

That would be incorrect, Captain. Dr. Fishbones conducted what’s called an observational study. In an observational study, we look for traits and behaviors that seem to occur in the same people. We may notice for example, that people who play basketball are often very tall. So we could say playing basketball is linked to being tall. We might also say basketball is correlated or associated with being tall.

But it would be illogical to conclude that playing basketball makes people taller. As Dr. Fishbones should know, just because a behavior and a result are linked, it doesn’t mean the behavior causes the result. Just-above-the-butt tattoos may be “linked” to cancer, but it could simply be that people who get tattoos are more likely to smoke. Or drink large sodas. Or play with toxic chemicals. These other factors are what we scientists call confounding variables.


Here’s what we didn’t explain in the book: if people who get tramp stamps have higher rates of cancer, it doesn’t mean the tramp stamps cause cancer … but if tramp stamps DO cause cancer, people who get them will have higher rates of cancer.

So if we observe that people with tramp stamps DON’T have higher rates of cancer, we can be pretty certain the tattoos don’t cause cancer. (A researcher who didn’t want to let go of the tattoos cause cancer hypothesis would, of course, speculate that perhaps there’s a “protective factor” in some brands of tattoo ink.)

Anyway, the point is that Dr. Sucks has no actual evidence that coconut oil causes heart disease. All he could do is say it raises LDL, and therefore it must cause heart disease. But the evidence from populations who eat a lot of coconut fat (which wasn’t considered in the “totality of the evidence”) suggests rather strongly that coconut oil doesn’t cause heart disease.

But since the coconut-oil makers aren’t finding ways to funnel a half-million dollars into the AHA’s coffers, we’re told the stuff will kill us and we should switch to soybean oil instead. That’s why advice from the American Heart Association is irrelevant, if not dangerous.

Speaking of which, here’s a photo someone tweeted. It’s from back before the AHA added a low-sugar requirement for its heart-check logo. This pretty much says it all.

Bacon and eggs will kill you, but low-fat Pop Tarts full of sugar, processed flour and other bits of industrial garbage are good for your heart. That’s the kind of advice we’ve received from the AHA over the years.

Like I said, the AHA has a low-sugar requirement now. But while producing Fat Head, I bought a box of Cocoa Puffs with the AHA’s seal of approval on the box. That was in 2008. So I was curious when Dr. Frank Sacks became chairman of the AHA’s nutrition committee. Was it during the time “healthy” low-fat food like Cocoa Puffs and Pop-Tarts sported the heart-check logo?

I couldn’t find online exactly when he was chairman. But a 2008 article from the Washington Post described him as the vice-chairman at the time. I also found papers listing him as a member of the committee as far back as 2001. So yes, he was on the AHA’s nutrition committee back when they were telling us Pop-Tarts and Cocoa Puffs were heart-healthy foods.

The irony here is that in the latest report, Sacks claims the reason cutting back on saturated fat failed to reduce heart disease in many studies is that people made the mistake of replacing saturated fats with sugars and processed carbs.  Gee, I wonder what inspired them to do that?

‘Nuff said.


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The American Heart Association made a big splash recently by declaring that, by gosh, they’ve been right all along: saturated fats DO cause heart disease, so consuming coconut oil and other sources of saturated fat is a bad idea. We should all be consuming vegetable oils instead to lower our cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Frank Sacks, the lead author of the AHA’s report:

“We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels.”

In a post last week, I pointed out that the American Heart Association’s very existence depends on people believing saturated fat and cholesterol are deadly. The AHA receives hundreds of millions of dollars in donations and licensing fees from Big Pharma and the makers of low-fat foods. If the Diet-Heart Hypothesis ever dies, so does the American Heart Association.

I also pointed out that Dr. Sacks once headed the AHA’s Nutrition Committee – which means he was given the task of determining if the advice he’s been peddling is correct. If the AHA wanted an objective report, they wouldn’t assign it to someone who would be committing professional suicide if he came to any other conclusion.

Gary Taubes wrote a detailed critique of the AHA’s report. The brief version is that Sacks and the other researchers engaged in rather creative cherry-picking. Somehow, in their objective search for scientific truth, they managed to exclude all but four clinical studies … and wouldn’t you know it, those four studies just happened to support the AHA’s position on saturated fats.

Taubes pointed out the flaws in those four studies. I don’t want to cover the same ground here. Instead, we’ll look at some contrary evidence Dr. Sacks chose to ignore. But first, here’s the abstract from the AHA report:

Prospective observational studies in many populations showed that lower intake of saturated fat coupled with higher intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat is associated with lower rates of CVD and of other major causes of death and all-cause mortality. In contrast, replacement of saturated fat with mostly refined carbohydrates and sugars is not associated with lower rates of CVD and did not reduce CVD in clinical trials. Replacement of saturated with unsaturated fats lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, a cause of atherosclerosis, linking biological evidence with incidence of CVD in populations and in clinical trials. Taking into consideration the totality of the scientific evidence, satisfying rigorous criteria for causality, we conclude strongly that lowering intake of saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, will lower the incidence of CVD.

“Taking into consideration the totality of the scientific evidence … “

Heck, I thought I was the comedian. That statement is just plain funny. Sacks and the other researchers didn’t consider anything close to the totality of the evidence.

Here are some quotes from a study titled Serum Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis in Man. (Sorry, all I have is a PDF in my files, not a link I can share.)

No correlation between the two could be found between the two, indicating that, when the age factor was removed, the positive correlation between aortic atherosclerosis and serum total cholesterol was statistically insignificant.

The points were scattered at random, showing there is no correlation between the serum total cholesterol and the amount and severity of aortic atherosclerosis.

Now for the punchline … that study was published in 1961 by the American Heart Association. Yup, their own study concluded that higher cholesterol doesn’t mean more heart disease.

And here’s a quote from one of the many analyses of data gathered from the long-running Framingham study:

After age 50 years there is no increased overall mortality with either high or low serum cholesterol levels. There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years and mortality over the following 18 years (11% overall and 14% CVD death rate increase per 1 mg/dL per year drop in cholesterol levels).

Got that? For each one-point drop in cholesterol, there was a 14% increase in cardiovascular death. Boy, doesn’t that make you want to run out and drink a Crestor cocktail?

Ah, but wait! Faced with such contrary evidence, the lipophobes later decided that it’s really the LDL cholesterol that matters, ya see. That’s the bad stuff. Keep that LDL level down to avoid heart disease.

Once again, we can cite the AHA’s own data to dispute that one. A nationwide study conducted by UCLA showed that 72.1% of people hospitalized for a heart attack had LDL levels below 130 – the supposed safe range for LDL. Here’s what the average lipid values were among the heart-attack patients:

Low total cholesterol and low LDL on average. (But please note they had high triglycerides and low HDL. A low-carb, high-fat diet lowers triglycerides and raises HDL.)

Looking at the data another way, we can say that only 27.9% of heart-attack victims had the “high” LDL levels that the American Heart Association tells us to avoid. But to know if that’s a meaningful figure, we also have to know what percentage of the population has high LDL. After all, if only 15% of Americans have high LDL but account for nearly 28% of heart attacks, we’d have to conclude the AHA has a point.

While writing a post in 2010 on that topic, I looked up some data on the AHA website. According to their own figures, 32.6% of Americans over age 20 have LDL levels above 130. So putting two and two together, here’s what we get:

People with “high” LDL make up 32.6% of the population, but account for just 27.9% of the heart attacks.

For those of you who prefer pictures, here’s a chart of some data taken from a 2002 National Institutes of Health report. The green bars represent the distribution of LDL levels among people in the 55-74 age group. The red bars represent the distribution of LDL levels among people in that group who have heart disease.

Text in the chart is small and difficult to read, but it tells us the average LDL level in that age group is 137.5. The average LDL level among people with heart disease in that age group is 104.9.

In other words, data from both the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health tell us that people with “high” LDL are under-represented among victims of heart disease.

If LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that causes heart disease, how can that possibly be true? Shouldn’t the fact that people with low LDL make up a disproportionate share of heart-attack victims be considered in the “totality of the scientific evidence”?

The AHA’s own data also show that among black, white and Hispanic men in America, Hispanics are the most likely to have “high” LDL – 42.7%, compared to 31.5% among white men. And yet the rate of heart disease among Hispanic men is 5.3%, compared to 9.4% among white men.

Among black, white and Hispanic women in America, blacks are the least likely to have “high” LDL. They also have the highest rate of heart disease. Once again, if LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that causes heart disease, how can that possibly be true? Shouldn’t these figures (found on the AHA’s own site) be considered in the “totality of the scientific evidence”?

Yes, I’m sure that in his effort to prove he’s been right all along, Dr. Sacks managed to pluck some studies in which high LDL was correlated with heart disease. I’m also sure I don’t care. Good scientists don’t cherry-pick. They don’t ignore or dismiss contrary evidence. And if we’re looking at the correlations (or lack of) between cholesterol levels and heart disease, there’s plenty of contrary evidence.

Here’s yet another example, from a study titled Lipids and All-Cause Mortality among Older Adults:

The results indicate higher mortality among older people with lower levels of total cholesterol.

Higher mortality among older folks with lower cholesterol? Whoops.

Furthermore, they show no association between all-cause mortality and hypercholesterolemia, high LDL, low HDL, hypertriglyceridemia, and high non-HDL in this group of older adults.

Nothing. No significant correlations at all for any measure of cholesterol. This was a study of 800 people that lasted 12 years. Shouldn’t it be considered in the “totality of the scientific evidence”?

But so far, we’ve been talking about observational studies. Dr. Sacks assures us the clinical studies provide “overwhelming” evidence that the American Heart Association is absolutely, positively correct in telling people to avoid saturated fats and switch to vegetable fats instead.

As a reminder, here’s what the AHA recommends:

Use these oils instead of solid fats (including butter, shortening, lard and hard stick margarine) and tropical oils (including palm and coconut oil), which can have a lot of saturated fat.

Here’s an alphabetical list of common cooking oils that contain more of the “better-for-you” fats and less saturated fat.


So skip that butter and switch to vegetable oils, folks. The American Heart Association says so.

Elsewhere on the site, the AHA tells us to choose skim or 1% fat dairy products. Saturated fat from dairy products will kill you, ya see. But is that what the science shows? Hardly.

A study titled Biomarkers of dairy intake and the risk of heart disease wasn’t exactly a clinical study, but it doesn’t suffer from the usual weaknesses of observational studies, either. The reason? The researchers didn’t rely solely on food questionnaires to determine what people eat. They directly measured biological markers of dairy fat in body-fat tissue, so they knew how much dairy fat people had consumed.  Then they looked at rates of heart disease. Here are the results:

Dairy product intake as assessed by adipose tissue and by FFQ is not associated with a linear increase in the risk of MI in the study population.

People eating more dairy fat didn’t have more heart disease. In fact, as dairy-fat consumption went up, the researchers noticed a possible “protective” effect. So to avoid risking their future funding, they added this to their conclusions:

It is possible that the adverse effect of saturated fat in dairy products on cardiovascular health is offset by presence of beneficial nutrients.

Riiiiight. I guess when you skim away the deadly saturated fat from dairy products, you accidentally drop in beneficial nutrients.

Anyway, this is just one of several studies in which saturated dairy fats were NOT linked to heart disease. Same goes for saturated fats in general.

Dr. Sacks has an answer for those studies, however. It goes something like this:

Well, sure, in some studies people who ate less saturated fat didn’t have lower rates of heart disease. But that’s because they replaced the saturated fats with sugars and other processed carbohydrates that are really, really bad. [Note to American Heart Association: that’s what happens when you tell people to stop eating bacon and eggs, then put your seal of approval on boxes of Cocoa Puffs.] To really get the benefit of cutting back on saturated fat, you have to replace it with the good fats recommended by the AHA.

In several online articles, Dr. Sacks was quoted as saying he just can’t imagine why anyone would think coconut oil is healthy. After all, there are no clinical studies showing the benefits of coconut oil.

Since the American Heart Association recommends replacing butter and lard with soybean oil, corn oil or safflower oil, we must assume (if Dr. Sacks is being consistent) those oils have been tested in clinical studies.

And by gosh, they have.

In a clinical trial conducted in 1968, researchers had about 200 men switch from saturated fats to soybean oil, while a control group stuck to their normal diet. Men in both groups had survived a heart attack. By the end of the study some years later, average cholesterol levels in the soybean group dropped from 273 to 213.

A sixty-point drop! Wow, Dr. Sacks is right! Switching to a polyunsaturated oil will lower your cholesterol!

And here are the results from that study:

The total number of men who had a major relapse at any time in the trial was 45 in the test group and 51 in the controls; of these major relapses 25 in each group were fatal. None of the differences found is significant. Relapses were not related to initial cholesterol level, to change in cholesterol level during the trial, nor, in any consistent way, to observance of the dietary regimen. The results are compared with those from a similar trial in Oslo. There is no evidence from the London trial that the relapse-rate in myocardial infarction is materially affected by the unsaturated fat content of the diet used.

A huge drop in cholesterol, but no significant difference in heart attacks. Somehow, this trial didn’t make the cut when Sacks was looking at the totality of the evidence.

In another study conducted in 1965, researchers set out to test the benefits of replacing saturated animal fats with olive oil or corn oil. Here’s what happened:

Eighty patients with ischaemic heart disease were allocated randomly to three treatment groups. The first was a control group. The second received a supplement of olive oil with restriction of animal fat. The third received corn oil with restriction of animal fat. The serum-cholesterol levels fell in the corn-oil group, but by the end of two years the proportions of patients remaining alive and free of reinfarction (fatal or non-fatal) were 75%, 57%, and 52% in the three groups respectively.

Let me clarify in case your brain is getting tired by this point: in the group that continued eating animal fats, 75% were alive at the end of the study. In the group that switched to olive oil, only 57% were still alive. In the group that switched to corn oil, only 52% were still alive.

A study conducted (and apparently buried) by Ancel Keys in the 1960s was recently rediscovered. Here’s what The Washington Post had to say about it:

It was one of the largest, most rigorous experiments ever conducted on an important diet question: How do fatty foods affect our health? Yet it took more than 40 years — that is, until today — for a clear picture of the results to reach the public.

One of the largest and most rigorous experiments ever. For some reason, it didn’t make the cut when Dr. Sacks went looking for the totality of the evidence. Here’s why:

The story begins in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when researchers in Minnesota engaged thousands of institutionalized mental patients to compare the effects of two diets. One group of patients was fed a diet intended to lower blood cholesterol and reduce heart disease. It contained less saturated fat, less cholesterol and more vegetable oil. The other group was fed a more typical American diet.

Today, the principles of that special diet — less saturated fat, more vegetable oils — are recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the government’s official diet advice book. Yet the fuller accounting of the Minnesota data indicates that the advice is, at best, unsupported by the massive trial. In fact, it appears to show just the opposite: Patients who lowered their cholesterol, presumably because of the special diet, actually suffered more heart-related deaths than those who did not.

And finally, another study conducted in the 1960s and 1970s was also recently rediscovered. In the Sydney Diet Heart Study, researchers had more than 200 men replace animal fats with safflower oil. The control group of more than 200 men continued eating their normal diet. Here are the results:

In this cohort, substituting dietary linoleic acid in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. An updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit. These findings could have important implications for worldwide dietary advice to substitute omega 6 linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats in general, for saturated fats.

Well, yes, these findings should affect the worldwide dietary advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats. Unfortunately, much of that worldwide advice originated with the American Heart Association, which can’t possibly admit to being wrong.

Most of the major media outlets dutifully reported the AHA’s recent (ahem) “findings” as if the AHA is a neutral observer and reporter of the science. Perhaps they were at one time, but certainly not now. When an organization’s very existence depends on a single hypothesis being true, they cannot possibly be trusted to objectively evaluate that hypothesis or any competing hypothesis. All they can do is declare themselves correct, no matter what the evidence.

So that’s what happened.  They declared themselves correct.  The “presidential advisory” report is cherry-picked garbage, Sacks still sucks, and the American Heart Association is still crazy after all these years.


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I haven’t posted a farm report in quite some time because I was working like a madman on the film.  But Chareva’s been doing plenty of gardening, and we’re starting to enjoy the results.

Last year, Chareva had visions of walking inside the chicken moats and plucking green beans from overhead.  She made that vision a reality.  This year she didn’t even bother to plant green beans.  And yet we seem to have more of them than last year.  In fact, they’re kind of like last year’s okra and the previous year’s zucchini, meaning the girls are already tired of seeing green beans at every meal.

In the picture below, those are sweet potatoes and cantaloupe on the left.  The center row is where she’s growing tomatoes, basil, peppers, swiss chard and carrots.  On the right, she’s growing squash.  The big leaves over the moat are the green beans.

The tomatoes aren’t ripe yet, but they’re coming along nicely.  I’m looking forward to those.  Nothing like fresh tomatoes in the summer.

Over by the yard that enclosed the older chickens, she’s growing okra, spaghetti squash, asparagus and potatoes.

Speaking of the older chickens … well, there are no more older chickens.  We’ve been wondering what to do with them, since they weren’t exactly egg-laying machines anymore.  They don’t make good roasters at that age, so Chareva was thinking perhaps we’d start turning them into soup stock.

Some wily predator saved us from making a decision.  The older chickens started disappearing one by one a couple of months ago.  Now they’re gone.

I set a trap several times, but only managed to catch two small skunks who probably weren’t the guilty parties.  Chareva looked all around the yard and tried to figure out where a predator was coming in.  We still can’t identify the weak spot.

Fortunately, we haven’t lost any of the younger flock yet.  They’re doing fine and providing plenty of eggs.

Meanwhile, the very young flock that’s part of Alana’s current 4-H project is coming along nicely.  There are a couple of bantam roosters in there who crack me up.  They have that rooster strut, but they’re so small, it’s like being threatened by toddler.

One of the pleasures of living in the sticks is having my own shooting range out back.  There’s a huge hill behind my hanging targets, so I don’t worry about bullets flying a mile into someone else’s property.

The Older Brother’s Middle Son and his family paid us a visit last weekend, along with my mom.  The Middle Son is a Ranger School graduate who served two tours in Iraq and also served as a shooting instructor.  So whenever he suggests we go out and shoot, I’m happy to oblige.  It means free lessons from a pro.

While shooting a 9mm pistol, I made a beginner’s mistake: I let my left hand drift up too high on the grip.  Whoops.  On my next shot, the slide ripped through my left thumb behind the knuckle.  It actually didn’t hurt all that much, and I thought at first it was a scrape.  Then The Middle Son saw the blood and said, “Uncle Tom, I think you might need stitches.”

Luckily for me, The Middle Son’s wife is a nurse practitioner who’s stitched up countless people in emergency rooms.  She looked at the wound and said yes, I would need four stitches.  She offered me a choice: she could stitch me up herself, or I could go to an emergency room.  The catch is that she didn’t have any medical supplies with her, which meant no anesthetic.

Given what a visit to the emergency room would probably cost, I elected to go with the kitchen-table treatment.  She told Chareva to find her thinnest sewing needle and some unwaxed dental floss.  That’s a photo from the procedure below.  I didn’t mind the pain, but as you see, I elected not to watch.  I also asked The Middle Son to hold my arm in case I flinched.

The Middle Son’s Wife also offered to call in a prescription for antibiotics.  I don’t like taking antibiotics, but I remembered what happened when I got a little sting on the arm back in 2012.  As you may recall, my arm ended up looking like this:

Yes, I said, I’ll take the prescription.  So I’m on antibiotics now.  When I’m done with the pills, it will be time to start a course of probiotics to rebuild my gut bacteria.  So it goes.

Fortunately, I’ll also have plenty of fresh vegetables to provide some probiotic fibers.


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I’ve been predicting for years that the instigators of arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria would back away from their lousy advice one baby step at a time.  That seems to be true of the USDA.  In their most recent guidelines, they removed the limits on total fat intake and declared that cholesterol is “no longer a nutrient of concern.”  The guidelines are still a steaming pile of nonsense, but slightly less steaming.

The American Heart Association, on the other hand, isn’t stepping backwards.  In fact, they just doubled down on arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria.  You’ve probably seen headlines like this one from the New York Post:

Coconut oil is actually worse for your heart than butter: study

Some quotes:

Coconut oil is worse for your heart than butter and beef, a new study claims.

The thought-to-be healthy oil is 82 percent saturated fat — while butter contains just 63 percent, according to The Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease Advisory.

The artery-clogger is also more likely to send cholesterol levels through the roof than beef, which is 50 percent saturated fat, and pork lard, which contains 39 percent of the “bad” fat, according to the report, which was published Thursday.

Artery-clogger!  Cholesterol levels through the roof!  Yup, that’s some fine, objective reporting.  Like many media outlets, the Post swallowed the AHA’s nonsense hook, line and sinker.

Frank Sacks, lead author of the new study, advised people to boost heart health by cooking with less saturated fats.

I wasn’t surprised to see that Frank Sacks was the lead author.  But we’ll come back to him.  The immediate question is, why is the American Heart Association doubling down on arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria when so much recent (and recently discovered) research has pointed the other way?

Well, as some mysterious character in a movie once said, follow the money.  Yes, the AHA is a charity, but that doesn’t mean we’re talking about pass-the-hat sums.  Far from it.  According to Forbes Magazine, the AHA’s revenues in fiscal year 2014 were $774 million.  And according to Charity Watch, the organization’s CEO was compensated to the tune of $1.3 million in fiscal year 2016.

This is major-league money at stake, folks.  And where does it come from?  Let’s just say I’m pretty sure the AHA walk-a-thon sponsored by the company where I work didn’t account for much of it.

As I explained in Fat Head, the AHA takes in millions for licensing its Heart Check logo.  To qualify for the logo, foods must be low in total fat and very low in saturated fat.  (The AHA finally wised up and added a low-sugar requirement as well, which means they’re no longer in the embarrassing position of having the Heart Check logo on boxes of Cocoa Puffs and other sugary junk.)

Corporate sponsors of the AHA are a Who’s Who in Big Pharma and Big Food.  Big Pharma, of course, just loves the AHA’s warnings that high cholesterol causes heart disease – because that encourages people to take statins.  Big Food loves AHA’s hearty approval of grain-based, low-fat foods – because those are industrial foods.

When I listen to the radio, I occasionally hear a public service announcement in which a mom decides that instead of cooking with butter, she’ll use a “heart-healthy” oil like canola.  An announcer chimes in, “You’re a genius!”  At the end of the PSA, we’re told the Canola Council is a proud sponsor of the American Heart Association.

Well, of course they are.  The AHA tells people to buy their industrial oil to protect their hearts.

So here’s the bottom line: The American Heart Association has painted itself into a corner.  No matter what the emerging (and rediscovered) science says, the AHA can never, ever change its position.  It can never, ever be an objective observer and reporter of the science.

Take away the donations by the makers of cholesterol-lowering drugs, industrial “vegetable” oils and low-fat grain foods, and there’s no American Heart Association.  Its very existence depends on people believing that natural saturated fats will kill them, while industrial oils, processed grains and statin drugs will save them.  The bigwigs at the AHA can’t possibly admit they’ve been wrong about saturated fats and cholesterol.  That would be financial suicide.

But of course, suicide isn’t the only way to die.  A major shift in the public’s beliefs could be just as lethal.  That shift is already happening.  More and more people are returning to full-fat dairy products.  More and more people are buying coconut oil.  More and more people are ditching the grain foods.  In other words, more and more people are ignoring the American Heart Association’s outdated, lousy advice.

And so – surprise, surprise! – the AHA produces a new analysis that declares they’ve been right along.  Yeah, I’m sure the study was the result of an objective search for scientific truth.

Gary Taubes wrote a long critique of the AHA study that I’d encourage you to read. I don’t want to repeat all his points, so here’s the very brief summary: Sacks and the other researchers looked at all the studies on saturated fat and heart disease, and by some eerie coincidence, the only four that met their strict criteria for inclusion just happened to support the notion that saturated fat causes heart disease.

Keep that in mind the next time some idiot nutritionist claims (as I once saw on TV) that “thousands of studies” have proven that saturated fat causes heart disease.  Even the people who most want that to be true can only come up with four.  And those four are flawed studies, as Taubes points out in his critique.

The name Frank Sacks jumped out at me right away when I saw him listed as the lead author.  I’ve written about his studies before.  In fact, I wrote my very first post about a study in which Sacks declared that a low-carb diet was no more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet.

Just one little problem.  His definition of “low carb” was 35% of calories.  If you’re consuming 2000 calories per day, that’s 175 carbs per day.  Just like Dr. Atkins recommended, eh?  Anyone remotely familiar with low-carb diets knows that the idea is to start at less than 50 grams per day to drastically reduce insulin levels.  In other words, Sacks decided to test a “low carb” diet that wasn’t actually a low-carb diet so he could say low-carb diets don’t offer any particular benefits for weight loss.

Later, Sacks pulled the same stunt again … only this time the “low carb” diet was 40% of calories.  Once again, just like Dr. Atkins recommended, eh?

Sacks was also the lead author on a salt-restriction study I poked fun at in my Science For Smart People speech.  He had one group of people eat a “typical” diet full of processed junk, and another group eat a Mediterranean “healthy” diet.  Then over a period of weeks, he reduced their sodium intake by 75%.

The results were not impressive.  In the “healthy” group, the drastic reduction in sodium shifted the average blood pressure from 127/81 to … wait for it … 124/79.  That’s right, a measly three-point drop –after cutting sodium by 75%.  Not exactly the slam-dunk the anti-salt warriors (including Sacks) were hoping to produce.

But heck, no problem.  Sacks simply compared people on the high-salt junk diet to people on the low-salt Mediterranean diet and found a 12-point difference in blood pressure.  That’s like comparing the livers of people on a high-whiskey, high-salt diet to the livers of people on a low-whiskey, low-salt diet and declaring that reducing salt clearly prevents liver damage.

Here’s what Sacks wrote in the study:

The reduction of sodium intake to levels below the current recommendation of 100 mmol per day and the DASH diet both lower blood pressure substantially … Long term-health benefits will depend on the ability of people to make long-lasting dietary changes and the increased availability of low-sodium foods.

Would that be your conclusion if reducing sodium intake by 75% produced a measly three-point drop in blood pressure? I sincerely hope not.

So let’s just say I haven’t been impressed with the scientific integrity of Dr. Frank Sacks.  Some researchers use the tools of science to seek the truth, while others use those tools to design studies that will tell them what they want to hear.  And if the studies don’t tell them what they want to hear, they hear it anyway.

When the “we were right about saturated fat all along!” study hit the news, I went looking to see if Sacks had any previous affiliation with the American Heart Association.  Yup, he sure did.  Here are some quotes from a biography:

Dr. Sacks was Chair of the Design Committee of the DASH study, and Chair of the Steering Committee for the DASH-Sodium trial. These multicenter National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute trials found major beneficial additive effects of low salt and a dietary pattern rich in fruits and vegetables on blood pressure.

For crying out loud!  Once again, how does a three-point drop in blood pressure count as a “major beneficial effect” of a low-salt diet?!  It was clear from the study data that the benefit was in dumping processed junk foods, not restricting salt. Liar, liar, pants on fire.  Anyway …

He is Past Chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, which advises the AHA on nutrition policy.

Got that?  Dr. Sacks was head of the AHA’s nutrition committee.  That means he was one of the people pushing the arterycloggingsaturatedfat! theory all along.

So here’s the situation: with more researchers and more common folks rejecting the belief that saturated fats cause heart disease, the American Heart Association basically said, “Hey, Frank!  Go conduct a fine, objective, strict-criteria study to determine if the theories you’ve been promoting for years are actually correct.  And hey, if it turns out you were partly responsible for us giving out bad dietary advice to millions of people, no problem.  It’s not like admitting we got it all wrong would sink us financially or anything.”

That’s the backdrop.  In my next post, we’ll look at the (ahem) “science” behind the AHA’s announcement that they were right all along.


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A reader thought I might get a kick out of this photo:

Fake tuna fish.  Boy, that sounds awesome … especially if you look up the ingredients:

Pea protein, pea starch, water, olive oil, potato starch, sea salt, seaweed powder, organic agave nectar, organic apple cider vinegar, konjac powder, ginger.

How the heck does this stuff end up tasting like tuna?! I asked myself.  According to the Amazon reviews (which average two out of five stars), it doesn’t.  Here are some quotes:

One of the worst vegan products I’ve ever tried. It looks smells and tastes like cat food. It’s utterly disgusting and even the thought makes me want to vomit.

Dog food. This was seriously the worst product I’ve tried since becoming a vegan. Looks like dog food, smells like dog food, tastes like…I don’t know.

This stuff is awful, so oily and salty, and the smell… Couldn’t even finish my lunch.

Okay, it’s oily, it stinks, and it tastes like something you’d feed a dog or a cat.  But it’s plant-based, so it will save your life!  I know that, because the apostles of the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet are always telling us as much.

In fact, while organizing all my blog ideas, study links, study papers, etc., into Microsoft OneNote recently, I came across a Nutrition Update for Physicians that promotes the Holy Plant-Based Diet.  I think it’s a fine example of how the Holy Plant-Based Diet produces miraculous improvements in health, so let’s take a look:

Despite the strong body of evidence favoring plant-based diets, including studies showing a willingness of the general public to embrace them, many physicians are not stressing the importance of plant-based diets as a first-line treatment for chronic illnesses. This could be because of a lack of awareness of these diets or a lack of patient education resources.

Or it could be because the physicians have gotten a whiff of Vegan Toona.

National dietary guidelines for active living and healthful eating are available at

Well, if they’re pushing MyPlate as a guide, we already know what great experts we’re dealing with.

The goal of this article is to review the evidence supporting plant-based diets and to provide a guideline for presenting them to patients.

Here’s how I’d suggest you present plant-based diets to patients: give them a free can of Vegan Toona.

We start with a case study …

A 63-year-old man with a history of hypertension presented to his primary care physician with complaints of fatigue, nausea, and muscle cramps. The result of a random blood glucose test was 524 mg/dL, and HbA1C was 11.1%. Type 2 diabetes was diagnosed. His total cholesterol was 283 mg/dL, blood pressure was 132/66 mmHg, and body mass index (BMI) was 25 kg/m2. He was taking lisinopril, 40 mg daily; hydrochlorothiazide, 50 mg daily; amlodipine, 5 mg daily; and atorvastatin, 20 mg daily.

A glucose reading of 524?!!  Okay, this poor guy was a mess.  He was a type II diabetic with screamingly high blood sugar.  (And for the internet cowboys who insist insulin resistance is caused by getting fat, please note that his BMI was only 25.)

But of course, eating meat doesn’t cause high blood sugar.  So how did switching to the Holy Plant-Based Diet help this guy with his diabetes?  Here’s how:

He was prescribed metformin, 1000 mg twice daily; glipizide, 5 mg daily; and 10 units of neutral protamine Hagedom insulin at bedtime.

The first order of business was insulin and other drugs that lower blood sugar.  Makes sense, given the screamingly high glucose reading. But what about that plant-based diet that was responsible for all the magic?

His physician also prescribed a low-sodium, plant-based diet that excluded all animal products and refined sugars and limited bread, rice, potatoes, and tortillas to a single daily serving. He was advised to consume unlimited non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and beans, in addition to up to 2 ounces of nuts and seeds daily.

Let’s read that one more time with a slight edit and some emphasis added:

His physician also prescribed a low-sodium, plant-based diet that EXCLUDED REFINED SUGARS AND LIMITED BREAD, RICE, POTATOES, AND TORTILLAS TO A SINGLE DAILY SERVING.

Now wait just a @#$%ing second!  You’re presenting a miracle performed by the Holy Plant-Based Diet, and part of the protocol was to limit bread, rice, potatoes and tortillas to one serving per day?  THOSE ARE PLANT FOODS!  If it’s the meat and eggs that were turning this poor old dude into a diabetic, why the flippity flip was he told to cut out sugar and bread?

Back to the article:

Over a 16-week period, significant improvement in biometric outcome measures was observed. He was completely weaned off of amlodipine, hydrochlorothiazide, glipizide, and neutral protamine Hagedorn insulin. Follow-up blood pressure remained below 125/60 mmHg, HbA1C improved to 6.3%, and total cholesterol improved to 138 mg/dL.

The presented case is a dramatic example of the effect a plant-based diet can have on biometric outcomes like blood pressure, diabetes, and lipid profile.

Yes, indeedy.  In this paper, ladies and gentlemen, we present the case of a guy whose blood sugar was totally whacked.  He was told to cut out meat and eggs, even though they don’t raise blood sugar more than a smidge.  He was also told to limit bread, rice, potatoes, tortillas and other plant foods that jack up blood sugar to a single serving per day.  And looky there, his glucose level plummeted – which proves how wondrous the Holy Plant-Based Diet can be.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

This is, of course, the bait-and-switch the plant-based apostles pull all the time.  I call it the Ornish Two-Step.  Take people eating total crap diets full of processed sugar and starch, get them to eat whole foods while cutting out all the processed sugars and starches – oh, and meat and eggs, too – and when their health improves, claim you’ve just made a solid case for eliminating meat and eggs.

The improvement in blood pressure observed over a 4-month period with few medications is also rarely encountered in clinical practice and is likely related to a low-sodium diet and the avoidance of red meat.

Uh, no.  In clinical studies, reducing sodium intake has failed rather spectacularly as a treatment for high blood pressure.  And as for red meat causing high blood pressure, here’s the conclusion from a recent meta-analysis at Purdue University:

Consuming red meat in amounts above what is typically recommended does not affect short-term cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

However, several studies have demonstrated that a high sugar intake will raise blood pressure.  So remind me: wasn’t the guy in this case study told to eliminate sugar from his diet?  And isn’t sugar a plant food?

If people want to adopt plant-based diets for ethical reasons, fine, I don’t care.  But I do care when apostles of the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet blame meat and eggs for the sins committed by sugar and other processed carbohydrates.  Part of the reason it annoys me so much is that it’s clear the apostles KNOW it’s the processed carbs doing the damage. They toss meat and eggs in the same basket as sugar and white bread simply because they don’t want people to eat meat.

If the apostles really and truly believed animal foods are the primary drivers of disease, they’d conduct studies where the only change in a crappy diet is to substitute tofu for meat.  And they’d encourage physicians to offer counseling to patients that goes something like this:

“Well, I’m afraid your labs are awful.  Your blood sugar is through the roof and you’re obviously a type II diabetic.  We need to switch you to a plant-based diet.”

“Wait, Doc, you mean no more meat and eggs?”

“That’s right.”

“Bummer.  But I can still eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast, right?”

“Of course.  Pop-Tarts are made from wheat, sugar, soybean oil, dried berries and corn syrup.  Those are all plant foods, so they won’t hurt you.”

“Hostess Ho-Ho’s okay for lunch?”

“Sugar, wheat flour, corn syrup, and hydrogenated palm oil.  No animal ingredients, so they’re fine.”

“Awesome.  But what about dinner?  My wife likes to make casseroles.”

“No problem.  The makers of Vegan Toona say it makes a terrific ‘toona’ casserole.”



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Hey Fatheads!

I know I usually do the right thing and disappear for a few months after commandeering The Big Chair, but this was too good not to share.

I was perusing the local paper of record Monday and there was a story headlined “BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS: Free services offered to children with skill deficits.” It was about a”new intensive feeding clinic” developed by the Southern Illinois University’s Child Behavior Research and Training Lab. Its mission is to help parents use “Applied Behavior Analysis” (ABA) to overcome the dread “picky eater” crisis that’s sweeping the nation.

I’m assuming it must be a crisis, anyway, since one of our main public universities — in a state that is hundreds of billions behind on pension funding, hasn’t passed a budget in over two years, and has put half of the NFP social service agencies out of business — is devoting resources to it and running the program at no charge.

They’re applying some of their expertise from other areas of child behavior. One example, for instance, was how to avoid your kid having a tantrum in the store because you won’t buy them Skittles. So the solution offered by the expert is to give them one Skittle per minute while shopping.

Seriously. These are experts.

I’m accustomed to such credentialed idiocy (as are most Fat Heads, I believe), but another line regarding a predecessor program being used as a template for the picky eater solution had me howling out loud:

“Earlier this spring, Hirst rolled out an intensive, one-day potty training program that incorporates a mix of evidence-based procedures. “

Yep, there it is kids. Pre-adolescent turd disposal has joined the elite ranks of all things evidence-based. So if any of you still thought “evidence-based” had any real meaning, that swishing sound you hear is the last shred of any of the term’s rhetorical value swirling around the bowl.

Don’t worry, Mom — it’s evidence-based!

We now return to our regular programming…


The Older Brother


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