As you know if you’re a long-time reader or have heard me as a guest on podcasts over the years, I’m often asked what we can do change government dietary advice. My answer is always some variation of My goal isn’t to change government dietary advice. My goal is to convince people to ignore the advice.
Here’s my reply to a comment from 2011:
That’s what I love about the internet age. We can educate ourselves and ignore the self-interested “experts.”
Here are three replies to comments from 2012:
I think we’re more likely to convince people to ignore the USDA.
We can’t out-bribe Monsanto, but we can ignore the USDA.
I think we’re getting there. The USDA will always be the USDA — essentially a government arm of the grain industry — but we can convince people to ignore them.
I’m not quite ready to declare victory and retire, but here’s more evidence that what I’ve been predicting for several years is actually happening, at least in Australia. A recent article in the U.K. Daily Mail is titled How fad diets could be doing more harm than good. We’ll start with the bullet points beneath the headline:
Australian’s are falling for fad diets in high numbers, new research reveals [It’s sad when people who work for newspapers can’t distinguish between a plural and a possessive – Tom]
A whopping 67 per cent of the population has opted to go gluten-free
Sixty five per cent ditched an entire food group, without advice from a doctor
Over fifty per cent of people indicated they don’t know what foods are healthy
Goodness. Aussies are falling for fad diets, ditching entire food groups (you can guess which groups) and going gluten-free – without advice from a doctor!
At the risk of repeating myself, it’s odd that anyone in Australia believes we should turn to doctors for dietary advice. After all, this is the country whose own Health Practitioner Regulation Agency actually prohibited Dr. Gary Fettke from giving dietary advice to diabetics. To quote the agency itself:
The committee does not accept that your medicine studies of themselves provide sufficient education or training to justify you providing specific advice or recommendations to patients or the public about nutrition and diet.
Dr. Fettke was, of course, advising diabetics to adopt a LCHF diet. As a surgeon, he appalled at the number of amputations he was performing on diabetic patients. Research combined with experience convinced him that a change in diet would help patients avoid that awful fate. But I’m sure Dr. Fettke would be first to tell you he learned most of what he knows about nutrition long after medical school.
Here are some quotes from a recent Washington Post article on how little medical students learn about nutrition:
When Americans hear about a health craze, they may turn to their physician for advice: Will that superfood really boost brain function? Is that supplement okay for me to take?
Or they may be interested in food choices because of obesity, malnutrition or the role of diet in chronic disease.
But a doctor may not be a reliable source. Experts say that while most physicians may recognize that diet is influential in health, they don’t learn enough about nutrition in medical school or the training programs that follow.
Nutrition is crucial to good health, as the article notes:
An estimated 50 to 80 percent of chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer, are partly related to or affected by nutrition, according to Martin Kohlmeier, a research professor in nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
And yet nutrition is mere blip in most medical schools:
In a 2015 survey of 121 four-year medical schools, Kohlmeier and colleagues found that 71 percent did not require at least 25 hours of nutrition education and that fewer than 20 percent required a nutrition course — fewer even than 15 years before.
Just wrap your head around that one for a minute. Perhaps nothing has a more profound effect on our health than diet. And yet most medical schools don’t require a nutrition course, and 71 percent don’t require at least 25 hours of nutrition education.
I read Good Calories, Bad Calories cover-to-cover twice and re-read some sections multiple times. I didn’t add up the time I spent reading it, but it was certainly more than 25 hours. More like 100 hours, easily.
But that’s just one book. When we moved to the farm, one of the movers looked at our bookshelves before packing up the books and asked, “Which one of you is a doctor?” Oh, the irony. Like many if not most people, he assumed doctors read a lot about nutrition.
Out of curiosity, I just counted the number of books about diet and health sitting on the bookshelf in my office – the ones I’ve actually read, anyway. There are 56 of them. I’m sure there are more elsewhere in the house. And that doesn’t include the lectures I’ve attended, the YouTube videos I’ve watched and the podcasts I’ve listened to, which would number in the hundreds. I’m sure many of you could cite similar numbers.
So I’ll say it again: asking the average doctor about nutrition is as useful as asking the average plumber. The only difference is that the doctor is more likely to have been indoctrinated about the evils of saturated fat and the wonders of whole grains during that one course in nutrition offered in medical school.
Anyway, back to the Daily Mail article about those pesky Australians who are changing their diets without consulting a doctor:
Whether it’s to drop a few kilograms or an effort to put health first, Australians are falling for fad diets in high numbers.
New survey results released indicate a whopping 67 per cent of the population has opted to go gluten-free despite not being instructed to by a doctor.
Somebody from Down Under tell me: can that 67 percent figure actually be true? Two-thirds of Aussies are gluten-free now? If so, why wasn’t that a plot line on Rake? Cleaver Greene goes gluten-free to suck up to a hot new paleo attorney or something like that.
Going gluten-free without being instructed to by a doctor is roughly as dangerous as going tobacco-free without being instructed to by a doctor. What’s the harm, exactly?
The alarming research also states 65 per cent have ditched an entire food group, without the caution or guidance from a health professional.
If the entire food group was red meat, most of the media would be cheering. But since people are giving up grains, the research is “alarming.” To whom? Kellogg’s?
TV presenter and Sydney GP Dr Sam Hay believes the influx of people attempting fad diets was putting them at risk, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Issues could include problems with the kidney and liver as well as growth and development.
Hmmm … how exactly is giving up grains going to damage my kidneys or liver?
‘The number of people restricting gluten is nuts, by doing that you’re missing out on grain fibre and putting the nation’s gut health at risk,’ Dr Hay said.
I see. So before humans started eating grains somewhere around 12,000 years ago (and much later than that in most of the world), they had damaged livers and kidneys and bad gut health. It’s amazing that the millions of people who’ve adopted a paleo diet didn’t make the connection between the diet and their plummeting health. You’d think that would come up in social media now and then.
‘The eastern suburbs are all about avocado and kombucha and paleo. Australians are getting very caught up in influential media personalities who really push particular eating plans or fads and most don’t have any science behind them,’ Dr Hay said.
As opposed to the rock-solid science behind most government dietary guidelines.
This isn’t about people being caught up in fads, of course. It isn’t about influential media personalities (meaning Pete Evans) steering the poor saps in the wrong direction. It’s about people who are tired of lousy results doing their own research and looking for something that works. It’s about people sharing their own positive results in social media. It’s about the Wisdom of Crowds.
It’s also about people rebelling against The Anointed, or what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls The Intellectual Yet Idiot. Taleb wrote quite a bit about the IYI in his recent book Skin in the Game, but as a reminder, here’s part of an essay on the subject:
What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.
… their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them. With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.
Yes, given the lousy track record of dietary advice from The Anointed, people are perfectly entitled to listen to their grandmothers. Or their friends. Or well-informed strangers in a Facebook group.
I have an email buddy who lives in Australia but has done quite a bit of traveling for work, including some long stints in the States. He told me Americans and Aussies are much more alike than Aussies and Brits. We’re friendlier, less formal, less impressed by titles and authority, and generally more rebellious. Perhaps because we’re both nations settled by castoffs.
Anyway, if Aussies truly are rebelling against The Anointed and other nutritional “experts” in the large numbers cited in the article, that’s great. And let’s hope Americans continue to do the same.