Eat the Fat

The most important such nutrition campaign has been the thirty-year effort to reform the food supply and our eating habits in light of the lipid hypothesis – the idea that dietary fat is responsible for chronic disease…Thirty years later, we have good reason to believe that putting the nutritionists in charge of the menu and the kitchen has not only ruined an untold number of meals, but also has done little for our health, except very possibly make it worse…

[T]he admissions of error have been muffled, and the mea culpas impossible to find. But read around in the recent scientific literature and you will find a great many scientists beating a quiet retreat from the lipid hypothesis. Let me offer you just one example, an article from a group of prominent nutrition scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health. In a recent review of the relevant research called “Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review,” [Frank B. Hu, et al., the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 20, 1, 5-19 (2001).] the authors proceed to calmly remove, one by one, just about every strut supporting the theory that dietary fat causes heart disease…

“During the past several decades, reduction in fat intake has been the main focus of national dietary recommendations. In the public’s mind, the words ‘dietary fat’ have become synonymous with obesity and heart disease, whereas the words ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’ have been synonymous with heart health…It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences”

As for the dangers of dietary cholesterol, the review found “a weak and nonsignificant positive association between dietary cholesterol and risk of CHD.” (Someone should tell the food processors, who continue to treat dietary cholesterol as a matter of life and death.) “Surprisingly,” the authors wrote, “there is little direct evidence linking higher egg consumption and increased risk of CHD” – surprising, because eggs are particularly high in cholesterol…

By the end of the review, there is one strong association between a type of dietary fat and heart disease left standing, and it happens to be precisely the type of fat that the low-fat campaigners have spent most of the last thirty years encouraging us to consume more of: trans fat…

[T]he principle contribution of thirty years of official nutritional advice has been to replace a possibly mildly unhealthy fat in our diets with a demonstrably lethal one…

The lipid hypothesis is quietly melting away, but no one in the public health community, or the government, seems quite ready to publicly acknowledge it. For fear of what exactly? That we’ll binge on bacon double cheeseburgers? More likely that we’ll come to the unavoidable conclusion that the emperors of nutrition have no clothes and never listen to them again.

– Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, pp. 40 – 45

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