Archive for the “Media Misinformation” Category

I saw a debate on Facebook recently in which a woman warning about the horrors of arterycloggingsaturatedfat! replied to someone disputing her advice with You do realize you’re arguing with a registered dietitian, don’t you?

A registered dietitian?!  Oh, goodness.  The infallible have spoken.

An appeal to authority is a weak argument, especially when the authority you’re appealing to is yourself. And of course, whenever I read I’m a registered dietitian, I can’t help but interpret it as I earned a degree by parroting what I was taught in a curriculum designed and funded by the makers of industrial foods.

There are some good dietitians out there. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of nincompoops with the awe-inspiring title of registered dietitian. I was reminded of that today when a reader sent a link to an article titled A Month Without Sugar—One Dietician’s Day-by-Day Tell-All. Let’s look at some quotes.

As a dietitian, I’ve heard of every crazy diet. No dairy, no carbs, no sugar, no tomatoes, no gluten, no fat—you name it, I’ve heard of it (and have probably rolled my eyes at it).

No dairy is a crazy diet? No sugar is a crazy diet? No gluten is a crazy diet? Amazing … humans somehow managed to thrive for 99% of their time on earth living on nothing but crazy diets. And now that the craziness ended, we sure are healthier, aren’t we?

The problem with these restrictive diets is they aren’t sustainable and often cause you to crave whatever you gave up. But no matter how many times I tell my clients this, I’m met with resistance.

So the dietitian is against restrictive diets. Just keep that in mind for later.

So I decided to try it for myself, and I stopped (correction: I tried to stop) eating all added sugar for 30 days. Spoiler alert—it sucked!

Aw, shucks, I was hoping you’d keep me in suspense. Oh, well.

First, added sugar refers to sugar that is added to a food, not sugar naturally found in fruits, vegetables, grains, or dairy. Cutting out all those food groups would just be cray cray. Regardless of my lack of desire for sugar, I still add a bit of brown sugar to my oatmeal, enjoy a pre-workout granola bar, and top my spoonful of peanut butter with mini chocolate chips. But that’s the extent of my sugar habit, so I figured I would be fine. Reality hurts.

The registered dietitian regularly adds brown sugar to her oatmeal, eats granola bars with sugar before working out, and adds chocolate chips to her peanut butter. But she lacks the desire for sugar.

Day 1

While eating whole-wheat crackers with my super-healthy salad (feeling great about my food choices), I check out the crackers’ ingredients label. WTF? Cane sugar! Day 1=fail.

Oh, no! Those otherwise healthy wheat crackers contain sugar! If only she’d checked the label before buying, she could have bought wheat crackers without sugar and been super-healthy.

Day 2

My oatmeal definitely tastes a little bland without a scoop of brown sugar, so I head to the store and pick up some naturally sweet foods, such as dates, bananas, red grapes, and papaya. Problem solved.

The dietitian lacks a desire for sugar, but couldn’t get through her oatmeal until she added dates and bananas.  Problem solved.

Or so I thought… until lunchtime, when I add Sriracha to my rainbow grain bowl. Surprise—Sriracha has sugar. I guess I need to read EVERY single food label.

Dang! Two days in, and she still hasn’t managed to avoid added sugar.

Day 5

I’m getting the hang of this no-sugar thing, but I have a dilemma. Today I’m running the Brooklyn Half. Since this is my 10th half-marathon, I have a pretty standard fueling routine that consists of water for the first six to seven miles, followed by a sports drink for the second half of the race and a CLIF Shot Blok around mile eight or nine.

I’d never heard of CLIF Shot Blok, so I had to look it up. Here are the ingredients: Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Maltodextrin, Pectin, Citric Acid, Watermelon Extract with Other Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Potassium Citrate, Colored with Organic Black Carrot Juice Concentrate, Organic Sunflower Oil, Carnauba Wax.

So to get through a half-marathon, the registered dietitian normally needs a sports drink (if it’s a 16-oz. Gatorade, that’s 21 grams of sugar) plus an energy bar with another 24 grams of carbohydrate, 12 of them in the form of sugar.

In other words, my usual fueling plan is loaded with sugar because sugar (a.k.a. glucose) powers muscles during endurance activity.

Actually, sugar is not a.k.a. glucose. Sugar is half glucose and half fructose. And we don’t need either for endurance activities.  I’ve somehow managed to spend five hours pushing a mower up and down the hill in our back pasture several times without consuming sugar (a.k.a. glucose) beforehand.

Luckily, another dietitian (and marathoner) told me to try dates, stuffed with peanut butter and sprinkled with sea salt, for the right mix of sugar and sodium.

Thank goodness another registered dietitian was able to suggest an alternate source of sugar to replace the sugar from a sports drink. Disaster averted.

The only problem was I got an annoying cramp around mile seven that wouldn’t go away, so I gave in and reached for a sports drink.

So that would be yet another day in the “sugar free” month when the dietitian failed to go without added sugar.

Day 7

All in all, I feel like the first week was much harder than I anticipated. #fail. Between the added sugar in my crackers and Sriracha and my sports drink during the half-marathon, I’m beginning to understand how incredibly difficult it is to omit an entire ingredient from your diet.

Yeah, you wouldn’t want to omit an entire ingredient from your diet. That would be just plain crazy – especially if it’s added sugar, which of course humans have been eating forever.

Day 15

Halfway there, and it’s finally starting to feel easier. I’ve become accustomed to sweetening my morning oatmeal with bananas and eating pre-workout snacks with natural sugar (dates and peanut butter, anyone?). I can definitely do this for two more weeks.

Wow, I’m impressed with your ferocious discipline. You can actually avoid added sugar (most days, anyway) if you eat enough bananas and dates to replace the added sugar with natural sugar.

Days 17-22

Status quo. Omitting added sugar from my diet has made my already healthy diet even healthier. I have no choice but to eat plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

Glad to know that already healthy diet full of grains and added sugars has become even healthier because you substituted natural sugar for the added sugar.

Day 23

All self-control goes out the window when I’m tired. We arrived in California last night, and I’m super jet-lagged. I need an afternoon cookie to make me feel better. And let me tell you… it worked.

Yet another day in the “sugar free” month when the registered dietitian couldn’t get by without eating added sugar. Glad to know that sugary cookie helped you get over an exhausting day of sitting in an airplane seat.

Day 26

I’ve done this long enough, and I give up! Being on vacation and trying to “diet” isn’t fun. It’s actually really terrible. So I cut this little experiment short and ordered an espresso shot in a chocolate-rimmed ice cream cone. And I’m not sad about it.

Well, dang. The registered dietitian just couldn’t continue the “month without sugar” experiment, even though she broke down and ate sugar several times. I wonder what conclusions she’ll draw from the experience.

The Big Takeaways

This confirmed my right to roll my eyes at diets that eliminate entire food groups, because it’s nearly impossible to sustain that change for the long term. I’m a dietitian, and I wasn’t able to do it for longer than a week without a slipup.

Impeccable logic. The registered dietitian is a sugar addict who couldn’t go a month without added sugar, and that confirms her right to roll her eyes at diets that eliminate entire food groups.

And now for the punchline … curious about who this woman is, I looked her up. Here are some quotes from another of her articles:

As a vegetarian, I pretty much hate barbecues. While the meat-lovers pile on burgers, hot dogs, and steak, I’m usually stuck with a plateful of potato salad.

… You can almost always count on one thing at a barbecue: burgers. And with burgers come mustard, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles. Although it’s not the most creative sandwich ever, combining these ingredients on a bun will definitely equal a sandwich that will probably keep you full for a few hours.

A meatless burger will definitely probably keep you full until your next dose of sugar a few hours later.

… Take a creative dish to the barbecue, and you may pique the interest of vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. How about some carrot hot dogs or cauliflower steaks with chimichurri sauce?

… When all else fails, throw your own party! … Let them know what you’re serving is all veg-head friendly. Encourage them to step out of their meat-eating comfort zone and get creative with plants.

Hmmm, let’s combine quotes from the two articles:

This confirmed my right to roll my eyes at diets that eliminate entire food groups.

As a vegetarian, I pretty much hate barbecues.

The problem with these restrictive diets is they aren’t sustainable and often cause you to crave whatever you gave up.

Let them know what you’re serving is all veg-head friendly.

So there you have it. You shouldn’t give up added sugar — even if you substitute with the sugars in dates and bananas — because it’s just crazy to eliminate an entire food group — added sugar, of course, being a food group.  But giving up meat is fine and dandy and good for you, and you should encourage your friends to try a meatless diet by throwing a vegetarian dinner party.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to survive the rigors of a cross-country flight without a cookie.  If a registered dietitian can’t handle it, neither can you.

That’s the kind of dietary wisdom we so often get from registered dietitians.

My apologies to the good dietitians out there.

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Boy, I was really hoping we wouldn’t be found out. But now that it’s out in the open, I guess it’s time to admit it: I’m a member of a cult. Dr. Steve Nissen, the nation’s statinator-in-chief, exposed the cult in a recent editorial. Here are some quotes from an article in CardioBrief:

A leading cardiologist has unleashed a blistering attack on “statin denial,” which he calls “an internet-driven cult with deadly consequences.”

In an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine, Steve Nissen (Cleveland Clinic) expresses grave concerns over statistics showing that only 61% of people given a prescription for a statin were adherent at 3 months. “For a treatment with such well-documented morbidity and mortality benefits, these adherence rates are shockingly low. Why?” he asks.

Good question: why are so few people taking their life-saving statins? Since I’ve employed several Svengali-like deception and persuasion techniques in my posts, many of you who read this blog probably think people are avoiding statins because the drugs don’t work as well as the pharmaceutical companies want us to believe.  Or because the side-effects are worse than reported by pharmaceutical companies.  Or because statins damage muscles.  Or because there’s no evidence statins prevent heart attacks in women or the elderly.  Or because statins screw up people’s brains.

But Dr. Nissen (who by pure coincidence receives a ton of money from pharmaceutical companies) has figured out the real reason:

Nissen writes that “we are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our patients to Web sites developed by people with little or no scientific expertise, who often pedal ‘natural’ or ‘drug-free’ remedies for elevated cholesterol levels.” The anti-statin forces employ two distinct strategies, “statin denial, the proposition that cholesterol is not related to heart disease, and statin fear, the notion that lowering serum cholesterol levels will cause serious adverse effects.” Nissen admits that some patients will have statin-related adverse effects but “intolerance in many patients undoubtedly represents the nocebo effect.”

That is, of course, what happened with my mom. The only reason she experienced awful muscle and joint pains while on statins is that she believed they might cause muscle and joint pains. Granted, she didn’t believe statins could cause muscle and joint pains until she complained to me about the pains and I asked if she was on statins. But that’s the power of cult-like thinking: it can go backwards in time and cause a nocebo effect.

Anyway, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I may as well tell you about the cult. To make the confession more convincing, I clipped some “signs and practices of cults” from the internet as headings.

Authoritarian leadership. Cult members are expected to completely submit to a leader who is seen as a prophet, apostle, or special individual with unusual connections to God.

Our authoritarian leader is, of course, Dr. Uffe Ranvskov. All of us who joined the cult have a 10-foot-tall picture of him somewhere in our houses or apartments. We’re required to bow to the picture six times per day while chanting “cholesterol does not cause heart disease.”

Dr. Malcolm Kendrick is our Maximum Leader’s … uh, I mean Dr. Ravnskov’s second-in-command. His picture is only six feet tall and we only have to bow to it on Sundays. However, we all know that any command Dr. Kendrick issues is coming directly from Dr. Ravnskov and should be treated as such.

Opposition to Independent Thinking. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

I’m on the email list for THINCS (The International Network of Cholesterol Sceptics), and I can tell you there’s never any debate or discussion among the members. It’s just one email after another agreeing with whatever Dr. Ravnskov says.  This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what happens with doctors, who are constantly debating the risks and benefits of statins while attending seminars sponsored by Pfizer.

And I can attest to that bit about punishment. Remember when I told you all how I banged myself in the head with a t-post hammer while building a chicken yard? Well, that’s not what happened. I made the mistake of wondering aloud if perhaps statins were okay for some people. I was alone in the back pasture and didn’t think anyone was listening. But sure enough, I got a call from Dr. Ravnskov within the hour.

“Listen, doubter,” he told me. “Your brain clearly isn’t working correctly. I want you to go to the tool shed, grab a 16-pound steel hammer, and smack yourself in the skull with it. Do this, or be banished.”

Love Bombing. Cult members show great attention and love to a person to help transfer emotional dependence to the group.

After he ordered me to hit myself in the head with a hammer, Dr. Ravnskov had several cult members drop by and tell me how awesome I looked with a big wound on my head. Then we all played checkers and they let me win every game.  I never felt more loved.

Isolation. Subservience to the group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

I was hoping all those farm reports including pictures of Chareva and the girls would provide some cover. But the truth is, they left two years ago … perhaps because Chareva asked me why I’m always posting about the dangers of statins, and I offered to smack her in the head with a 16-pound steel hammer to help get her mind right.  Anyway, doesn’t matter.  Those pictures of us working on the farm together are all old.  I now live alone and dedicate all my time and energy to whatever Dr. Ravnskov asks of me.

Group Think. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel.

Yes, that happens all the time in our cult. I don’t know how I feel about it because Dr. Ravnskov hasn’t told me yet.

Salvation. Members are often promised salvation from an apocalyptic future through association with the group and its Special Knowledge.

I can’t explain this one in great detail. I’ve only reached level nine in the cult, which means I haven’t been given all the details on the master plan. (To reach level 10, I have to start giving them 90% of my income instead of the current 75%.)

I do know, however, that the plan came to Dr. Ravnskov in the form of secret messages in Beatles songs. The gist of it is that if we convince everyone to stop taking statins, the current leaders in society will all die of heart attacks. With a leadership void created, the oppressed masses will rise up and kill all the oppressors and all the good doctors who prescribe statins. The cult members, of course, will be hiding out in the desert until it’s over. Then we’ll emerge from hiding, and the formerly oppressed people will welcome us as heroes and put us in charge. Then we’ll oppress them by refusing to let them take statins and other miracle drugs.

If for some reason the oppressed people decide instead to put themselves in charge and oppress us, we’ll all drink a special concoction of coconut oil and bacon fat, at which point a spaceship will pick us up and take us to another universe, where we’ll be placed on a planet with no human population, but an endless supply of eggs. Then our task will be to eat eggs and populate the planet.

I’m not sure how a planet without humans can be full of chickens to lay eggs, but like I said, I haven’t been given all the details.

Mind-Altering Practices. Meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, and debilitating work routines are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader.

I don’t know if we do this one or not. But I have to stop writing now. Dr. Ravnskov just called and told me to go out and mow the entire back of the property, then do it again tomorrow.

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During the time I was going a little batty trying to finish a version of the Fat Head Kids film, what I refer to as the Save The Grains Campaign was in full swing. I didn’t respond to any of the articles, but did save them for later. Let’s look at some of the horrors that will be visited upon us if we ditch bread and cereals, at least according to media shills for the Save The Grains Campaign.

Horror #1: You’ll die

No, seriously. If you don’t eat whole grains, you’ll get sick and die. That’s the warning from the opening of an article from SBS News in Australia:

Think avoiding all grains is healthier, helps you lose weight? Just like fruit and veggies, we need wholegrains to avoid disease and death.

Goodness. I stopped eating grains as anything other than a very occasional indulgence almost eight years ago. As a result, I also waved goodbye to arthritis, psoriasis, twitchy legs, frequent bellyaches, gastric reflux and a mild case of asthma. In fact, I’m pretty much never sick with anything. So now I’m wondering which disease caused by wholegrain deficiency is lurking under the surface, waiting to kill me.

To avoid dying, the article suggests eating more grains like Quinoa. But the writer offers other options as well:

But there’s no need to go fancy – brown rice, rolled oats, muesli and popcorn are wholegrains, too.

And later, after admitting that some people can’t tolerate gluten:

Those people can eat gluten-free wholegrains, such as rice, quinoa, corn and buckwheat.

Okay, then. You gluten-intolerant people still need grains to avoid dying from a grain-deficiency disease, so load up on the rice.

Horror #2: You’ll fill up with so much mercury, you’ll be able to measure the temperature outside by watching the mercury rise in your eyeballs.

I may have exaggerated it a bit, but here’s the warning against gluten-free diets from an article in Natural Blaze:

According to a new report in the journal Epidemiology, people who eat a gluten-free diet may actually be at higher risk for exposure to arsenic and mercury.

This is quite concerning considering the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet with a quarter of Americans having gone gluten-free in 2015. That was a 67% increase from 2013.

Just think when the global warming really kicks in and all that mercury starts rising. We may see gluten-free people’s heads explode in the South.

The cause for the increased risk for arsenic and mercury exposure, however, is not necessarily a result of the gluten-free diet itself.

Say what? You mean a lack of gluten in your diet doesn’t cause your body to fill with toxic metals? And here I was, thinking gluten must plug holes in our skin where mercury naturally seeps in from the atmosphere.

Instead, it appears to be due to the fact that many gluten-free products contain rice flour as a substitute for wheat. Rice has been known to bioaccumulate both arsenic and mercury, as well as other toxic heavy metals, from water, soil or fertilizers.

I see. So we need to eat grains to avoid dying, but some people can’t tolerate gluten and should get their death-preventing grains from rice … but the rice will fill them with mercury. Man, I’m starting to think maybe we’d be better off with no grains whatsoever in our diets. But that can’t be right, because …

Horror #3: You’ll develop Type 2 diabetes

Here are some quotes from a U.K. Telegraph article titled Is going gluten-free giving you diabetes?

Gluten-free diets adopted by growing numbers of health-conscious consumers enhance the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, scientists have warned.

A major study by Harvard University suggests that ingesting only small amounts of the protein, or avoiding it altogether, increases the danger of diabetes by as much as 13 per cent.

Wow. So in addition to plugging the holes in your skin where mercury seeps in, gluten somehow creates a protective shield against dangerous diabetes.

The findings are likely to horrify the rising number of people who are banishing gluten from their daily diet, encouraged by fashionable “clean eating” gurus such as Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley.

I have, in fact, noticed a lot of horrified expressions on faces in my area recently, but I figured it was because so many people are moving here from Illinois and California.

The Harvard team examined 30 years of medical data from nearly 200,000 patients. They found that most participants had a gluten intake of below 12g a day, which is roughly the equivalent to two or three slices of wholemeal bread.

Within this range, those eating the highest 20 per cent of gluten had a 13 per cent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with those eating up to 4g a day. The study showed that those who eat less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fibre, a substance known to protect against diabetes.

Apparently Type 2 diabetes is like a virus that attacks and invades your body unless you have some kind of protection against it – protection that can only come from cereal fiber.

Boy, if only we could test that idea by comparing the before-and-after health status of humans who didn’t eat any grains at all, then started eating grains after being conquered by grain-eating people with better weapons. I’m sure the record would show that they were riddled with Type 2 diabetes until they were forced to become “civilized” and live on grains.

Unfortunately, the humans who didn’t live on gluten-containing grains quickly became extinct. I know this because …

Horror #4: Your babies will die

Here are some quotes from a U.K. Daily Mail article with the rather long title of Malnourished seven-month-old baby dies weighing just 9lbs in Belgium after his parents fed him a gluten-free diet which included quinoa milk.

A malnourished seven-month-old baby has died weighing just 9lbs after his parents fed him a gluten-free diet which included quinoa milk.

That’s horrible and I hope the parents are prosecuted. But since we were told earlier we need to eat grains like quinoa to avoid dying, I’m trying to figure out how the gluten-free aspect of the diet caused a baby to die.

The parents, who run a natural food store in their hometown, fed their child on a special milk diet.

According to their lawyer Karine Van Meirvenne the parents thought Lucas had an eating problem. Van Meirvenne said: ‘Lucas had an eating disorder. He got cramps when he was fed with a bottle and his parents tried out alternatives. Oat milk, rice milk, buckwheat milk, semolina milk, quinoa milk. All products which they also sell in their store.’

Gluten-free was the problem? I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) the parents had the baby on a vegan diet. Only a shill for the Save The Grains Campaign would blame a lack of gluten without asking if the parents are also vegans.

So there you have it. Eat your grains and your gluten, or you’ll develop diabetes, fill up with mercury, then get sick and die. Oh, and your kids will die too.

This is, of course, complete nonsense. But the shills for the Save The Grains Campaign assure us there’s just scads and scads of evidence that whole grains prevent disease. We’ll look at some of that evidence in an upcoming post.

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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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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.

Canola
Corn
Olive
Peanut
Safflower
Soybean
Sunflower

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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