This is a story about how the grain and processed food lobby has successfully manipulated our governmental agencies into feeding us so many lies about consuming fat.
Let me begin this story with some with some basic facts.
FACT: Fats, unlike carbohydrates, are essential, and are as necessary as water or oxygen.
FACT: We are, at the core, carnivorous creatures, a product of our unique evolutionary past, thus consuming the fat of animals is also part of our natural physiology.
FACT: Consuming fat, particularly the saturated fat of butter, animal flesh and organs, does not makes us fat and cause diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, but grains do.
FACT: The evidence used to advance the low-fat message was incomplete, epidemiological, and riddled with methodological flaws—none of which stopped overenthusiastic dietary fanatics sold on the low-fat message in the 1970s and 1980s.
While grain consumption was a mistake we made 10,000 years ago, limiting fat consumption was a mistake we made starting 50 years ago, a man-made blunder based on misinterpretation, misrepresentation, the leanings of dietary zealots, and politics.
Here’s how it all began…
When such fanatical leanings reached the ear of Senator George McGovern, chair of the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, he then decided that all Americans should engage in a low-fat lifestyle.
The McGovern committee pushed through legislation, written by a staff member with no background in health or nutrition, that charged the USDA, an agency whose mission had been to support agriculture and monitor food safety, to lead the charge in providing dietary advice to the public. This created an odd collision of responsibilities: Regulate an industry while also promoting consumption of the industry’s products.
Despite resistance from the scientific community over the potential hazards of government-driven dietary advice, the USDA proceeded to fulfill its charge. In addition to delivering McGovern’s pet agenda of limiting fat consumption, the grain and processed food lobby was allowed to weigh in on the details of the USDA’s final draft, doubling grain intake over that recommended by USDA nutritionists.
The low-fat movement gained further momentum when the processed food industry recognized what a financial bonanza had been thrown into its lap, paving the way to create thousands of foods to suit the reduction in fat created by government advice. Revenue growth at Kraft, General Mills, and companies represented by the Corn Refiners Association leapt to double-digit annual rates as they introduced low-fat cookies, low-fat yogurt, and margarines made with corn, soybean, and other processed oils (you’d better believe it’s not butter). It made the 1980s and 1990s an era of unprecedented growth in Big Food. Low-fat products proliferated, even gaining health endorsements from the FDA, the American Heart Association (AHA), and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It meant that products that contained liberal quantities of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup but were low in fat could acquire the appearance of health with, for example, the AHA “heart healthy” Heart-Check mark endorsement affixed to them (Berry Berry Kix, Count Chocula, and Cocoa Puffs breakfast cereals, to name a few)—for a fee, of course.
Government advice, industry profiteering, and the innate human love of anything sugary (a genetically programmed survival mechanism taken to perverse extremes during times of plenty) all combined to create epidemics of disease that go beyond weight gain, with conditions such as diabetes (both type 1 and 2), autoimmune diseases, joint deterioration, and dementia. Incredibly, even while the USDA and other agencies continue to promote the low-fat, plenty-of-grains message and food companies continue to sell tens of thousands of low-fat products, the science has become clear: There are no clinical trials demonstrating that limiting fat or saturated fat provides any health benefits or reduces cardiovascular risk. Likewise, red meat consumption has no relationship to cardiovascular risk if the effects of cured processed meats (salami, sausage, lunch meats, hot dogs) are factored out.
And as this experiment in cutting fat and increasing grains and carbohydrates has played out on a worldwide stage, the data revealing how destructive this advice has been are now overwhelming. But as in many things in health care, this scientific revelation has not yet graced the ears of John Q. Primary Care, who still manages to obtain most of his ongoing medical education from the drug industry. Even in the face of societal and scientific evidence that contradicts the low-fat message, most of the medical community still sends their patients to the dietitian (i.e., the dietary professional whose “education” was largely subsidized with support from Big Food) for counseling on cutting fat and eating more “healthy whole grains”—you know, a “balanced” diet, all in “moderation.”
This dietary pyramid has begun to crumble. After decades of dietary misinformation, the latest 2015 dietary guidelines concede that restricting total fat and cholesterol is not beneficial, thereby removing that woefully outdated and destructive advice, though the saturated fat limitation remains. The number of servings of grains recommended every day was also reduced from the 6 to 11 servings per day to just 6. (Such a slow and stepwise backpedaling on previous bad advice, by the way, is how you manage damage control and avoid the liability that could result. Imagine if all the guilty agencies admitted that their dietary advice not only did not provide health or reduce cardiovascular risk but also contributed to the nationwide epidemics of obesity and diabetes? Liability, loss of credibility, and loss of revenues would be huge.) However, how much faith can you put in advice that has been flawed for so long, having made substantial contributions to the deteriorating health of the public? Should we suddenly accept that they were wrong on such a colossal scale, only now to have finally gotten it right? I think you’d have to be nuts, or at least incredibly naive, to believe anything they say.