Archive for the “Media Misinformation” Category

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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Hey Fatheads!

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

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

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

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

Seriously. These are experts.

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

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

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


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

We now return to our regular programming…

Cheers!

The Older Brother

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Hi Fatheads,

I told Tom I thought I felt another blog coming on, and he was happy to have the chance to spend the rest of the week putting the finishing touches on the final version of the Fat Head Kids DVD. So I get to stay in The Big Chair this week, too!

Think of it like this — your loss is his gain!

Feel better?

As always, I appreciated the comments people took time to write on my last couple of posts. Also, as always, I especially tend to appreciate the ones from people who don’t necessarily share my perspective. Everyone seems thoughtful and articulate. The international group we get showing up here still amazes me – this time while in The Big Chair, I got comments from Germany, Singapore, and New Zealand! The comment from our Kiwi friend, “S,” accidentally hit one of my triggers (hey, I’m a sensitive guy, ok?):

“…I’m not saying I support Obamacare… But perhaps the US should start thinking about *evidence based* health-care policies. There’s plenty of evidence out there if one is willing to look…”

Arrrrgh.

Yeah, Obamacare doesn’t rattle me much, but I tend to have a visceral reaction whenever I hear the phrase “evidence-based.”

First of all, it gets some contempt just because it’s soooo overused. It’s one of those phrases that everyone seems to feel sounded cool when they first heard it, then started sneaking in anywhere they can.

Like right after Newt Gingrich lead the Republicans to take control of the House. You couldn’t have a conversation with a lobbyist without them saying “I would submit that….(blah, blah, blah).”

Another was as IT was sweeping the economy in the late 90’s as everyone decided they needed to computerize and network all of their systems at once, and the Project Management field got flooded with sharp, young, eager, confident consultants who probably still had to have their parents drop them off at work. If you were in a meeting and asked a question the consultant deemed not relevant to the whole group (meaning they had no idea what the answer was), they’d say “let’s take that off-line.” I heard a corporate type use it three times in a one hour presentation. To cob one of Tom’s lines — Head. Bang. On. Desk.

But those kinds of affectations are just irritating. Then there are the kind of things you hear all the time that are designed to mislead, usually repeated incessantly by people who have no idea what they’re saying.

One example Fat Head types have probably heard often (usually by some 10% body fat “expert” in Spandex) is “you need carbs because they’re your body’s main source of fuel!”

I always considered this a trifecta — it’s a misstatement of an intentionally misleading fact that’s also false. Tom and others have covered this one over the years, but it still comes up. The misstatement is that the correct term is “primary,” which denotes order (primary, secondary, tertiary, etc) – not “main,” as in quality. The correct statement is designed to mislead the uninformed to interpret it as the misstated version. And it’s false – your body will burn alcohol preferentially over carbs, because too much blood alcohol will kill you faster than too much blood sugar.

“Evidence-based” is all the way in this category, and then some.

It sounds appealing. It sounds like science, only with maybe a bit more rigor built in, doesn’t it? Like hey, this isn’t just theory – we’ve also got evidence! It also is cursed with an origin in good intentions. “Evidence-based medicine” is the root, which proposed that physicians incorporate clinical results in their decisions instead of just going by their particular beliefs and experience.

We all know how the “clinical studies” thing worked out, now that Big Pharma owns the medical schools, clinical study industry, and most of the professional journals, right? “Hey, statins reduce heart attacks by a third! Don’t take our word for it – here’s a clinical study — it’s ‘evidence-based!’ 

That kind of success was duly noted by the rest of the groups that regularly line up at the trough. You can’t read a letter to the editor these days without whoever is begging for more of other people’s money citing “evidence-based” research. There’s evidence-based school funding, evidence-based juvenile justice reform, evidence-based climate science, evidence-based management, etc., etc.

Makes one wonder, for example, what they’ve been going by in Illinois for the last decade or so, where we keep pouring $35-40 billion dollars a year into the public schools. “Spitballing it-based” funding, perhaps?

There’s more, of course. I kind of think the icing on the cake is — wait for it…

“Evidence-Based Dietetics Practice” (!)

…brought to you by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Yeah, the same turds who’ve been pushing the Soda-, Grain-, Candy-, and Pharma-sponsored “arterycloggingsaturatedfat, hearthealthywholegrains, calories-in/calories-out” program for decades. That’s “evidence-based” now, too.

What all these advocates seem to have in common is that people are catching on to them. As I replied when another commenter (Brandon), while finding the plethora of “evidence-based education” initiatives laughable, thought perhaps it was a hopeful improvement:

“Evidence-based” is strictly a rhetorical (or perhaps more accurately — “marketing”) device. It’s used by people who’ve already been wrong so many times that even they realize people are onto them. It’s a term invented to give the impression there is something like science involved … when it’s the exact opposite of science. 

Collecting evidence (even done objectively, with no intention of isolating results that support a preferred outcome) and then developing recommendations based on interpretations of that data is not science. Its old (discredited) name was Observational Study.

Science is when you take that collected data, form a question, design a disprovable hypothesis, test the bejeesus out of it, then if you can’t disprove it, send it out to see if other people can replicate the results. No one using the term “evidence-based” has any interest in that kind of activity, although they desperately want whoever they’re lobbying to think of it as scientific.

Teachers’ unions use “evidence-based.”  Bureaucrats use “evidence-based.” Lobbyists use “evidence-based.”  Politicians use “evidence-based.”

Galileo didn’t use “evidence-based.” Newton didn’t use “evidence-based.” Einstein didn’t use “evidence-based.” They used “science.”

My suggestion is to adopt a mental habit of whenever you hear or see the phrase “evidence-based,” you automatically substitute “circumstantial evidence-based,” “cherry-picked evidence-based,” or “evidence- instead of science-based” before processing the rest of whatever statement a person has issued.

I believe you’ll find that the reconfigured statement will be much more understandable, both in integrity and intent.

Tell all your friends.

Cheers!

The Older Brother

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