Why Low Fat Made Us Fat

This is my monthly column I wrote for our local newspaper (The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, VA) which I am posting in response to People's Pharmacy post http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2016/04/25/should-you-shun-saturated-fat-to-prevent-a-heart-attack/comment-page-1/#comment-4408874, which gives details of what was wrong with the science behind Ancel Keys conclusions about fat and heart disease. But which omits the fact that this coincided with a massive increase in sugar consumption.


A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a re-run of the controversial movie Fed Up - a movie that demonstrates how medical dogma can go through neck-snapping U-turns. But if there’s money to be made, bad science can be perpetuated by avaricious industries.


This was sponsored by Fredericksburg Food Co-op, The Doctor Yum Project and the vegetarian Group for animals, earth and health. I was meant to be moderating the discussion that followed – though “moderating” this highly informed, passionate audience of vegetarians, vegans, “gluten free’s” and tree huggers in general, was a bit beyond my expertise.


The message of the movie is how the food industry is feeding us massive amounts of sugar. And how it is feeding our kids frozen, sugar laden, calorie dense junk foods in schools (many fast food companies like Domino’s Pizza, Taco Bell, Mc Donald’s and Papa John, are setting up franchises in schools). The consequence is our society is becoming fat and diabetic.



Sugar Instead of Fat


The story behind how our diet has been perverted with all this added sugar by the “Big Sugar” industry dates back to research done by physiologist Ancel Keys in 1958. He concluded that fats, and especially saturated fats, are associated with heart and vascular disease. His ideas were then incorporated into dietary guidelines by a senate committee lead by George McGovern in 1977, and adopted by the USDA in the food pyramid.


The trouble is that low fat food tastes like crap, so to enhance palatability, manufacturers substituted sugar. And high fructose corn syrup in particular, which is now in a massive array of foods. But on a physiological level it does all sorts of bad things like turning off your satiety mechanism and increasing your insulin, which is why it is so potent at making us fat and diabetic (and the government/we tax payers pay billions of dollars in subsidies incidentally).


There’s been a fair amount of noise, and people are gradually coming round to the idea that soda, for example - which is just flavored water with about 40 grams of sugar in a 12 ounce serving - is not so good for you.


But many people do not appreciate how much sugar there is on other foods – like fruit yoghurt for example, which everyone thinks of as a health food. But the average 6 oz cup contains 32 grams of sugar.


Yoghurt itself is fine, but just eat the plain yoghurt, or add your own fruit.


The way to avoid all this sugar is to become a label reader of course - though unlike many other ingredients, the industry, with their lobbying clout, has been able to stop there being a “percentage daily allowance” indicated on the nutrition label, the movie tells us. And was able to block the WHO recommendation that our diets should contain no more than 10% of calories from sugar. Instead insisting on the number being 25% for the US.




Fatal Flaw



The trouble is that the science Keys’ used to convince everyone fat is so dangerous was flawed. In his Seven Countries Study, he conveniently omitted countries that ate a lot of fat and didn’t get heart disease (Holland and Norway) and those that didn’t eat a lot of fat and did get heart attacks (Chile).


And his studies were only observational, demonstrating association but not proving cause. And the low fat movement coincides with when we all started getting so overweight – and prevalence of diabetes has doubled over the last 30 years.


So thinking has changed about fat, with people like Dr. Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine writing Eat Fat: Get Thin. And saturated fat in particular has lost its stigma, so butter is back.


Thinking about cholesterol has also gone through a U-turn. There seems to be no correlation between consumption of cholesterol in the diet, and blood cholesterol level. So eggs are back as well.



Be Informed



I know it’s all very confusing and unfair when experts keep changing their minds. And then big business invests a lot in an idea, like low-fat, and doesn’t want to give it up – which, when their “fix” is more harmful than the problem in the first place is not good.


Most everyone at the showing of Fed Up had an interest and was knowledgeable about following a healthy diet. – which is often the case with vegetarians, vegans and the like.


But even if you are just an omnivore it’s important you know what is in your food (i.e. be a label reader) and support stuff like the Fredericksburg Food Co-op (that is urgently trying to recruit participants/investors to provide a place to buy healthy foods in Fredericksburg – go to http://www.FredericksburgFoodCoop.com if you’re interested) and the Dr. Yum Project, “making the connection between good food and good health.”


And if you haven’t already, see Fed Up.


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