1985: The year the dough hit the fan

In 1985, the National Cholesterol Education Panel delivered its Adult Treatment Panel guidelines to Americans, advice to cut cholesterol intake, reduce saturated fat, and increase “healthy whole grains.” Congress followed suit with legislation requiring that the USDA provide dietary advice to the American public.

Per capita wheat consumption increased accordingly. Wheat consumption today is 26 lbs per year greater than in 1970 and now totals 133 lbs per person per year, or the equivalent of approximately 200 loaves of bread per year. Because infants and children are lumped together with adults, average adult consumption is likely much greater than 200 lbs per year, or the equivalent of approximately 300 loaves of bread per year. (Nobody, of course, eats 300 loaves of bread per year; tallying up the pretzels, pizza, bagels, focaccia, bruschetta, breading, rolls, etc., it all adds up to approximately 300 loaves-equivalent.)

Another twist: The mid- and late-1980s also marks the widespread adoption by U.S. farmers of the genetically-altered semi-dwarf variants of wheat to replace traditional wheat. While in 1980 the loaf of bread–or bagel, pretzel, pizza, bruschetta, ciabatta, or roll–likely came from 4 1/2-foot tall traditional wheat, in 1988 it was almost certainly a product made from high-yield semi-dwarf wheat. No questions were asked about its appropriateness for human consumption, no questions asked about animal safety testing. Just grown, processed, and sold.

And that’s when the dough hit the fan.

The Centers for Disease Control has been tracking multiple health conditions, including diabetes. Here is the curve for diabetes up until 2009:

From 1958 until 1985, the number of diabetics nationwide was climbing. After 1985, the curve shifted sharply upward reflecting the explosion in the number of diabetics across the U.S. The data (not shown) for 2010 are even worse, with the curve now headed straight upward.

Eat more “healthy whole grains” . . . indeed.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. You make a convincing case, and I am broadly on board with your ideas, but I would like to see the increase from 1958 explained please. I think this rise, although not as steep as post 1980, is still significant and could undermine your argument. Maybe there are other factors as well.

    Like the new site by the way.

    • > … I would like to see the increase from 1958 explained …

      Ancel Keys
      Ancel was the godfather of low fat mania, whose influence precedes his being featured on the January 13, 1961 cover of Time Magazine. When people fall for the low fat myth, they almost always start eating more carbs, primarily starches and sugars, which excel at launching insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and T2D.

      When techno-wheat hit full stride in ’85, it arrived in a marketplace ready to consume it, and already settled into the hyper-glycemic lifestyle.

      T2D used to be called “adult onset diabetes”.
      How long has it been since you last head that phrase.
      Ponder the implications.

      • > Ancel Keys

        And Ike.
        President Eisenhower had had a heart attack in 1955, and an aneurysm (and stroke) in Nov 1957.The public was paying very close attention to all this as we entered 1958.

        Ike was getting well publicized low-fat low-cholesterol advice from Dr. Paul Dudley White.

        The advice finally killed Ike in 1969.
        Got White too, four years later.

  2. Well, the first Pizza Hut opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1958. The first franchised McDonald’s started in 1955, by 1959 they had over one hundred locations. The whole decade of the 1960’s saw explosive growth in cheap, fast, food; all of which was based on cheap, processed, carbohydrates; mostly wheat.

  3. Andre

    Youve correlated increase in a certain type of wheat production, but how many other crops/correlations can we make? I think there is a stronger argument supported by a proposed mechanism for high fructose corn syrup, which you will find in ALL of the wheat containing products as well as pretty much everything else you consume.

    • Julia

      If you read labels carefully, you can find at least a few wheat-containing products without HFCS. I read labels carefully. My son’s peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches contain no HFCS, but *do* contain cane sugar. (My daughter’s contain HFCS because she prefers the cheap grape jelly to the expensive only-one-store-within-30-miles-carries-it jelly my son and I like.)

    • Hi, Andre–

      While I agree that high-fructose corn syrup and other fructose sources (including REALLY bad ones like “organic agave nectar”) generate all manner of undesirable effects, simple whole wheat or whole grains still generates sky-high blood sugars, triggers appetite via gliadin protein, allows entry of undesirable antigens across the intestinal barrier via lectins and gliadin, and stimulates abnormal immune responses via gluten. And that’s just the start!

  4. I pre-ordered your book yesterday and am excited about it.

    This post is quite disturbing, I’ll help make it go viral.

    I work at a paramedic and we’ve noticed a dramatic increase in dialysis transfers and nursing home accounts. Those are the bulk of our private ambulance service profits. My coworkers will call this increase in diabetes job security.

    I find it horrifying to see our patients lose their legs, there sight, and their minds as they get sicker. And, what irritates me the most is the American Diabetes Association’s diet folks are fed in nursing homes and hospitals is low fat and high in grains – the very same foods that made them sick and dependant on drugs and extended care facilities.

    It breaks my heart that the sweet old folks, sick with ESRD, are served Rice Krispies, juice, skim milk, toast, and margarine for breakfast, all compliments of the nursing home via ADA recommendations.

    Gee, might there be a vested financial interest in keeping folks sick? There is no money in healthy people, yet sick-care is a booming business.

    Thank goodness for intelligent, heroic pioneers like yourself.

    • Hi, Sheryl–

      Yes, you are seeing the end-result of years of carbohydrate overconsumption, particularly the darling of the USDA and other “official” purveyors of health advice.

      Incredibly, do the opposite of what they tell you and incredible health results!

  5. waynegreen6@yahoo.com

    How much is the rise in diabetes attributed to better health care and more poeple getting tested?

    • > How much is the rise in diabetes attributed to better
      > health care and more people getting tested?

      I’m going to argue: almost none.

      Advance symptoms of T2D are hard to ignore and have been well known to the general public for perhaps a century now.

      T2D is being caught earlier, but that just shifts the curve to the left a bit (earlier in time).

      The elevated, increasing, accelerating T2D rate is really the elevated, increasing, accelerating T2D rate.

  6. Bartacus

    Perhaps the earlier, though less steep, rise in diabetes cases from ’58 through ’85 can be attributed to the postwar rise of huge commercial bakeries. These companies started using “bread improvers” and production techniques to speed up the fermentation process. Enzymes like protease and amylase were added and the dough was processed by machines that overworked it. Ascorbic acid was added to strengthen the gluten. The result was a dough that was ready for the oven in just a couple of hours. Eventually. most bakeries abandoned the slow, traditional methods for making bread in favor of the new technology. Could it be that this sped-up, time-is-money approach allowed a higher percentage of anti-nutrients to survive the fermentation process?

    • Hi, Bart–

      Fascinating insights! I suspect that the newer processes allowed amylopectin to either be more readily released and/or predigested into glucose. I wonder if there was modification of the gliadin in some way.

      To my knowledge, there has been no formal analysis of precisely what changed.

  7. Tanya

    I’m curious if anyone can explain what happened around ’96-’97 where that little -albeit sharp- drop occured!