Archive for the “Low-Fat Nonsense” Category

Back in June, I wrote a post titled This Pretty Much Explains What Went Wrong.  The post featured a Wall Street Journal report about how the FDA is still considering whether to change its definitions of healthy and unhealthy foods.  Under the current definitions, an avocado is an unhealthy food, while Frosted Flakes are good for you because they’re low in fat.  That’s the kind of advice that turned us into a nation of fat diabetics.

I recently found another example of what went wrong on one of our bookshelves.  When we bought this place, we told the previous owner to just leave anything she didn’t want to move and we’d deal with it.  We’ve since re-purposed a lot of old farm gear she left behind.

She also left behind quite a few books.  Don’t know why I didn’t spot it before, but one of the books is titled Great Health Hints & Handy Tips, published by Reader’s Digest in 1994. It’s full of the usual drivel — and I don’t mean that as a knock against Reader’s Digest.  I wrote for a small health magazine in 1980s, and we offered the same kind of advice.  Back in those days, anti-fat hysteria was in full swing, and diet and health information passed through a small number of gatekeepers.  Fortunately, the internet enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to crowd out such nonsense.

Anyway, here are some quotes from the chapter on nutrition:

Does it ever seem like everything you thought you knew about food has been disproved?  Information we learned in school on avoiding starches and eating plenty of red meat has been reversed.  We’ve found that other old favorites, like whole milk and cheese, should be limited.

Ugh.  If only that information we used to learn in school hadn’t been reversed.  Look at what’s happened since we decided we knew better than all those previous generations about what constitutes a healthy diet.

We now know that carbohydrates should form the largest part of your diet, approximately 55 to 60 percent, and that you should hold the quantity of protein to about 15 percent of calories.

And that’s how pasta-makers became a must-have in fashionable kitchens.  Load up on those healthy carbs, people, and cut way back on meat!

To avoid raising their blood cholesterol, most people have to follow two dietary rules: limit both high-cholesterol foods and those containing saturated fat.

Can you say Egg Beaters and margarine?

There is, of course, a color picture of the Food Pyramid, with this text on the opposite page:

The Food Guide Pyramid was created to illustrate not just food categories, but the correct proportions for a healthy diet.  Bread and cereals form the large base, followed by fruits and vegetables.

And a lot of us ended up with a large base by following the Food Pyramid.

Limit the amount of fat in your breakfast.  When eating pancakes, waffles or toast, restrict the butter or margarine to one teaspoon or skip it entirely.  For a topping, try a fruit spread or apple butter.

Right.  Because when you’re loading up on grains for breakfast, nothing enhances the metabolic effects quite like putting sugar on top.

Rather than a doughnut or sweet roll, eat an English muffin or a bagel.

That reminds of a commercial from back in the day:  the announcer says something like Now that we’ve learned a bowl of grains in the morning is good for your health, why not try this?  Then a bagel drops into a cereal bowl.  The book would apparently agree:

Bagels, which are low in fat, aren’t just for breakfast.  Top them with low-fat cottage cheese or salmon or tuna salad.

Bagels in the morning, bagels in the evening, bagels at suppertime.  Yup, that will help you eat the 6-11 servings of grains per day the USDA assured us was the key to good health.

Here are some tips for lunch on the go:

Sandwiches made at delis, diners and other eateries are often overstuffed with meat.  Ask for yours to be prepared with less mean than usual, or else remove some of the meat.

Think twice before ordering a diet platter if it includes a hamburger patty, hard-boiled egg and cottage cheese made from whole milk.  This high-fat meal is no calorie bargain.

And here’s some advice for packing your kid’s lunch:

If your son or daughter won’t eat vegetables for lunch, send extra fruit.

Pack 1 percent chocolate milk mixed at home instead of having your child buy 2 percent chocolate milk (which contains more fat) at school.

Obviously, this was written before the USDA decided to ban anything other than skim or 1% milk in schools.

Offer grains rather than white bread.  Quick breads, such as banana-oatmeal bread, pita wedges and low-fat crackers may also be good alternatives.

So there you have it.  Eat your grains – with fruit topping! – and cut way back on meat, eggs, whole milk, and anything containing cholesterol or saturated fat.

That’s what we were all told, and that’s the advice most of us tried to follow.  That’s how I ended up eating bowls of pasta with low-fat sauce as the main course for dinner.

And that’s how we became a nation of fat diabetics.


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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’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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Well, I guess fans of the Atlanta Falcons are stuffing themselves with saturated fat today.  Meanwhile, fans of the New England Patriots – who saw their team stage the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history – are probably cutting back on saturated fat and possibly losing a few pounds by eating less overall.

I know this because of a study I stumbled across in my database.  Here are some quotes from an NPR online article about the study:

Backing a losing NFL team isn’t just bad for your pride.  It’s bad for your waistline.

A study that links sports outcomes with the eating behavior of fans finds that backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss. Backers of winning teams, by contrast, eat lighter food, and in moderation.

Dangit.  Since Atlanta is in Georgia, this is going to add fuel to that whole “southerners are fatter than northerners” myth.  It is a myth, by the way.  As I explained in a previous post, the belief that southerners are fatter is the result of those danged Yankees lying about their weight in phone surveys.  But back to the NPR article:

After a defeat, the researchers found that saturated fat consumption went up by 16 percent, while after a victory it decreased by 9 percent. “After a victory, people eat better,” says Pierre Chandon, a professor of marketing at the business school INSEAD in France. “After a defeat, people eat a lot worse.”

In many ways, the research fits with what we already know about the psychology of eating. When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy. Call it a form of self-medication – when your happiness levels are low, junk food and high-calorie food provide the brain with much-needed pleasure.

Wait a minute … something here doesn’t quite make sense.  Let’s put toggle back and forth between two of those sentences:

Backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss.

When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy.

Backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss.

When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy.

I could’ve sworn people eat candy for the sugar, not the saturated fat.  And yet the study seems to be saying people comfort themselves after their NFL team loses by eating more saturated fat.  Let’s read on.

Chandon and his co-author Yann Cornil, also at INSEAD, find the same thing happening with sports defeats. They tracked the eating behavior of people in cities with NFL teams and measured how eating changed after victories and defeats.

Chandon says the connection between eating and sports outcomes was off the charts in the cities where following the local football team was tantamount to a religion.

“When we look at the behavior of people living in cities where football is really important — places like Green Bay, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, then the performance of the team has an even greater impact on what they eat,” Chandon says.

After a loss, people in those cities eat 28 percent more saturated fat. A win swayed them over to eat 16 percent less saturated fat. “So, in those cities, people are even more responsive to the wining or the losing of the football team,” says Chandon.

Maybe that’s why the people in San Diego didn’t vote to build the Chargers a new stadium.  Given the team’s lousy record in recent years, perhaps voters figured they’d eat less if the Chargers did their losing somewhere else.

In one part of their study, the researchers found that asking people to remember terrible sports defeats had even bigger effects on what they ate – defeats lead to a 45 percent increase in saturated fat consumption.

Well then, for heavenssakes, don’t ever talk to me about the 1984 Cubs, the 1989 Cubs or the 2003 Cubs.  I might go crazy on saturated fat.

The most interesting part of Chandon’s research might not be the effects of defeats, but the effect that victories seem to have on fans. Winning seems to make people think long-term – they look forward to the next match, for example. The satisfaction of winning increases the capacity of people to withstand difficult choices – to pick the salad over the fries.

Now that you mention it, I finally began to truly appreciate the taste of lettuce right after the last play of the 2016 World Series.  I just didn’t make the connection.

But I still don’t see why the researchers focused so much on saturated fat.  So I took a peek at the study.  Here’s the relevant portion:

We examined two measures of unhealthy eating: saturated-fat consumption and total food-based caloric consumption, both of which are major contributors to cardiovascular diseases and obesity (Hu et al., 1997).  Unlike other macronutrients, which are present in all kinds of foods, saturated fats are present mostly in highly processed, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor “junk” food (e.g., pizza, cakes and cookies, dairy-based desserts).

Well, there you have it.  Unlike the other macronutrients (which would be protein and carbohydrates), saturated fat is present mostly in highly processed junk foods, according to the study authors.

The only things wrong with that statement are 1) saturated fat isn’t a macronutrient (fat is), 2) saturated fats are present in all kinds of unprocessed and natural foods (meats, eggs, whole milk, yogurt, cheeses), and 3) carbohydrates are most definitely present in countless processed junk foods … including pizza, cakes and cookies, dairy-based desserts.

In fact, I’m going to step out a limb here and say that when people eat comfort foods like pizza, cakes and cookies, dairy-based desserts, etc., it’s because they want the sugar and flour.  After all, plenty of cakes and cookies these days are made with vegetable oils.  And as the article said, When many of us feel miserable, we’ll down a big bag of candy.

So the researchers made the usual guilt-by-association mistake:  they see people stuffing themselves with foods that contain saturated fat and sugar, or saturated fat and white flour, or saturated fat and sugar and white flour, and assume the problem is the saturated fat – because the stuff is so unhealthy, ya know.  Dr. Hu at Harvard said so, which means it must be true.

Chandon says he had seen the effects of the research firsthand. The same thing applies to soccer, he explains: “As a Frenchman, both the performance and the behavior of the French soccer team were so distressing, I’m sure it’s part of the reason why I gained so much weight lately.”

Let me offer some advice, Professor Chandon:  the next time the French soccer team loses, skip the pizza, cakes and cookies, diary-based desserts, etc., and just eat more bacon.  I promise you won’t gain any weight.


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In the previous three posts, we looked at why The Anointed aren’t big fans of free speech or the wide-open discussion and debate free speech enables:

1.   They believe they are very, very smart.
2.   They believe the rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are therefore easily fooled and led astray.

In comments, a reader posted a link to an excellent blog post by Charles Hugh Smith that makes the same point:

Perhaps what has failed here is the narrative that everything fails and falls apart if it isn’t centrally managed and curated, a narrative that inevitably leads to censorship under the guise of “protecting you, the easily confused sheep, from these nasty wolves.”

Censorship then enables another, much more well-organized and centralized pack of wolves (the ruling elites) to prey on the obedient sheep at their leisure, without fear of any disruptive dissenting narratives.

What the ruling political elites and their mainstream media shills fear is a wide-open, chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas.

I’ve got to start reading his blog.  Sounds like my kinda guy.

Whether The Anointed like it or not, that chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas is happening.  Thanks to the internet and social media, the information gatekeepers have lost control of the gates.  The rest of us are now communicating directly with each other.  The results haven’t been good for The Anointed, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out in his essay The Intellectual Yet Idiot (his term for The Anointed):

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.

… 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.

My, my, my … with the great unwashed masses rebelling and trusting their own instincts, or their grandmothers, or each other, or bloggers and podcasters whose ideas and advice they’ve found useful, how are The Anointed supposed to protect people against their own stupidity?  (As you may recall, The Anointed believe anyone who defies them must be stupid, or evil, or perhaps both.)

One way or another, The Anointed believe they must coerce people who disagree with them into shutting the hell up.  As we saw in our last post, demanding retractions of critiques and opinions they don’t like is one favorite tactic.

Another favorite tactic is to personally attack the messenger, as opposed to arguing against what the messenger has to say.  That’s where the “anyone who disagrees with us must be evil” attitude shows itself.  Yelling “racist!” over disagreements that have nothing to do with race is certainly near the top of The Official Anointed Playbook.  So are comments like this, uttered by our ol’ buddy Dr. David Katz while responding to the Nina Teicholz critique of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines:

The report does take into account sustainability, something that the committee noted was not traditionally in their purview. “Ms. Teicholz seems inclined to ignore that altogether; perhaps she does not care whether there is anything for the next generation to eat or drink, but I suspect most of us do,” Katz noted.

Got that?  If Teicholz argues that the guidelines aren’t based on good science, well then by gosh, it means she doesn’t care if our kids and grandkids end up starving and dying of thirst – a looming disaster the U.S. Dietary Guidelines would of course prevent.  Gee, she must be a terrible, terrible person.  Best not listen to anything she has to say.

When demands for retractions and personal attacks fail, there’s always the final option: bring the rebellious naysayer up on charges.  Initiate some kind of prosecution, preferably one with the threat of real punishment attached.

As you probably recall, a state board threatened to prosecute blogger Steve Cooksey for promoting a low-carb, paleo diet for diabetics on his Diabetes Warrior blog.  Here are some quotes from a Carolina Journal article about that incident:

The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.

Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license. According to the law, “practicing” nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups” and “providing nutrition counseling.”

Hmmm, certainly sounds like a case of The Anointed feeling threatened by a wide-open, chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas.  After all, there are plenty of bloggers and health professionals in the world promoting the low-fat diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association.  Are they afraid people will try Cooksey’s advice and discover it actually works?  Yes, I think that’s part of it.

In South Africa, The Health Professions Council of SA brought Professor Tim Noakes up on charges for a tweet – that’s right, A TWEET! — in which he advised a young mother (in response to her question) to wean her baby onto high-fat, real foods.  The sane response there would have been to send out tweets and press releases explaining why HPCSA disagrees with Noakes.  But we can’t expect The Anointed to behave sanely when there’s a risk ordinary people might come to believe their advice is wrong.

Meanwhile, in the land down under, The Anointed initiated another prosecution.  Here are some quotes from ABC in Australia:

Gary Fettke is an orthopaedic surgeon and an advocate of a low carbohydrate diet.

He said he became passionate about nutrition after amputating limbs of diabetic patients whose diets were a big part of the problem.

“What I’ve been advocating for some years is cutting sugar down, particularly all the refined sugars in the diet,” he said.

“Over time that’s evolved, and it’s evolved to what I call low carb, healthy fat.

“It’s just eating lots of vegetables, pasture-fed meat and the right amount of oil in the form of things like nuts, avocado, cheese, olive oil and fish.”

Geez, that sounds really, really dangerous.  Humans never would have survived and evolved on a wacky diet like that.

According to Dr Fettke, an anonymous complaint from a dietician at the hospital sparked an investigation by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Two and a half years later the watchdog found he was working outside his scope of practise and was not qualified to give specific nutritional advice, and he was ordered to stop speaking about the low carbohydrate, high fat diet.

“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, such as the LCHF lifestyle concept,” it read.

Now, stop and wrap your head around that last statement.  Dr. Fettke isn’t qualified to give nutrition advice because he’s just a doctor?  Have you EVER heard of a doctor who recommends a low-fat diet with lots of healthywholegrains! being prosecuted anywhere in the world?  Of course not.  Dr. Fettke summed it up nicely himself:

“You go to your cardiologist and he tells you what to eat, you go to a neurosurgeon and he tells you what to eat, gastroenterologist and all of them, by definition, don’t have a major training in nutrition and yet they’re all giving advice.  You cannot push a way of eating onto a person. All I’ve ever done is told patients that there is a choice, that there is an option that’s out there.”

Ahh, but The Anointed don’t want the great unwashed masses to know about options.  That could lead to a wide-open, chaotic and very Darwinian competition of concepts and ideas – which would of course be very, very bad.  No, The Anointed much prefer something like this:

AHPRA has released a statement reaffirming that it expects medical practitioners to provide appropriate dietary advice to patients.

And “appropriate” means whatever The Anointed say it is.

That’s why we can never stop fighting these arrogant morons.


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