CHD vs Fat Consumption... or not?

As anyone who follows food will doubtless be aware, the nightly news is a terrible thing. Scares over “this food”, “that food”, “that other food”… you name it, there’s probably been a scare over it at some point or another.

And yet, for some reason, an oddity persists in that people – or should I say, Americans – have been taught over the years to treat the word “fat” as if it were the devil incarnate, something to be driven away with pitchforks and torches. Now, certainly, there are definitely some things that if eaten every day can cause you problems.

But then again, the second link I just posted is a combination of HFCS and water… no fat at all. Tricky, aren’t I? Of course, sugar is something that it’s been argued Americans eat (or drink) way too much of, and the argument over sugar is nothing new.

To his credit, Mr. LaLanne doesn’t tell people they “can’t” eat sugar, just that hey, they should watch how much of it they eat. And his selling of a juicer in his later years (fruit juices are mostly sugar) may seem slightly hypocritical, but I’d still rather see people having fresh grapefruit juice than HFCS-laden sodas, and he himself was in dang good shape right until his final days.

The joke of the graph above is rather obvious. If you – as a “scientist” (I use quotes for a reason, since cherry-picking data isn’t science) – were to take a large number of data points and throw out anything that disagrees with a foregone conclusion, you’d be laughed at. Yet somehow, Encel Keys, the guy who is also the father of the Meal Rejected by Everyone (then called “K-rations”), and who along with his wife was relentless in pushing the “Mediterranean Diet” later in life, got away with this. The graph at the top of this blogpost is important for a reason; on the left side is Keys’ “research” graph, while on the right is a graph putting back in all the data Keys just threw out.

Notice the difference. If you plot “Japan vs USA” on the “Fat vs Heart Disease” curve, you get this wonderful, sky-is-falling, “correlation” between fat intake and heart disease. But if you start putting other nations in… the French, despite eating an “alarming” amount of fat, have no greater heart disease risk than the Japanese. The Swedes eat as much fat as the US, yet have 1/3 the risk of heart disease. Plot the data another way, cherry-picking a different 7 countries, and you could easily come up with the Atkins Diet.

Go further and widen the study, and you wind up with other studies… the most credible of which, the Framingham Study, concluded after 22 years of observation of a wide variety of subjects: “There is, in short, no suggestion of any relation between diet and the subsequent development of CHD in the study group.” The World Health Organization in 1983 came to the same conclusion in the European Coronary Prevention Study.

So why the deal with food in the US? Fishy and/or stupid health claims on the label of a “food” seem to draw people in. Candies that are essentially 100% refined sugar label themselves as fat free in order to sucker people in. A rush of shoddy studies regarding fish oil led to everyone labeling their products as “enhanced with omega-3”, “high in omega-3 oils”… you get the idea.

Chasing a particular nutrient, avoiding a particular nutrient or food, is the result of fads. Eating according to fad isn’t going to help you.

In the end it comes down to… well… the same old story. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Category: Elsewhere, Kitchen

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4 Responses to Fat as Villain

  1. Peter says:

    MRE’s are also known as Meals Rejected by Ethiopians.

  2. rob says:

    Ansel Keys did another odd and interesting thing. He oversaw an experiment during WWII where volunteer conscientious objectors were placed on severe caloric restriction for maybe 2-3 months, longer I don’t remember. The starvation phase was meant to bring the subjects to famine-level. Then several different diets for renourishment(?) were compared. The goal was to find the most efficient ways to keep the Europeans from starving off when the war was over. There’s a book about called “The Great Starvation Experiment” which I totally recommend.

  3. Brandon Berg says:

    The graph on the right looks like a separate graph superimposed over the graph on the left. Note that there are two dots each for the countries Keys included–one matching the graph on the left side, and the other in a slightly different position.

  4. Maria says:

    Jack LaLanne didn’t eat sugar or dairy products, exercised every day, and lived to be 96, so he is a good advertisement for his dietary and fitness lifestyle.

    OTOH, the late “Queen Mum” stuffed her face with bon bons every day and consumed a pint of gin daily as well, and she lived to be 101.

    Who to emulate?:

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