Challenging the Current Diet Advice Paradigm

I am currently rereading “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It” by Gary Taubes. I saw Gary Taube’s lecture online in Dr. Mercola’s article, “These Vilified Foods Help Build Hormones and Tame Your Appetite,” and wanted to review his book. Gary reported on how the low-fat advice for heart health became a government recommendation. Back in 1984, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute launched a massive health campaign. “At the time, the NHLBI experts lacked confidence in the fat/heart-disease connection, for good reason: the institute had spent $115 million on a huge, decade-long clinical trial to test the idea that eating less saturated fat would curb heart disease, but not a single heart attack had been prevented. This could have been taken as reason to abandon the idea entirely, but the institute had also spent $150 million testing the benefits of a cholesterol-lowering drug, and this second trial had succeeded. So the institute’s administrators took a leap of faith, as one of them, Basil Rifkind, later described it: They had spent twenty years and an inordinate amount of money trying to demonstrate that cholesterol-lowering, low-fat diets would prevent heart disease, Rifkind explained, and they had, up until then, failed. Trying again would be too expensive and would take at least another decade, even if the institute could afford it. But once they had compelling evidence that lowering cholesterol with a drug would save lives, it seemed like a good bet that a low-fat, cholesterol-lowering diet would as well. ‘It’s an imperfect world,’ Rifkind had said. ‘The data that would be definitive are ungettable, so you do your best with what is available.’” They declared the diet study to be flawed and went ahead with their health campaign.

But here’s the thing: the effect of a drug is not limited to the purpose it was developed for. When the cholesterol lowering drug trial succeeded, it was assumed that the cause of the success was the lowering of the cholesterol, but that may not actually be the case. In 2003, the American Heart Association reported this: “Statins Promote Potent Systemic Antioxidant Effects Through Specific Inflammatory Pathways.” In the conclusion, they state, “Statins promote potent systemic antioxidant effects through suppression of distinct oxidation pathways. The major pathways inhibited include formation of myeloperoxidase-derived and nitric oxide–derived oxidants, species implicated in atherogenesis. The present results suggest potential mechanisms that may contribute to the beneficial actions of statins.” So now we have a major health organization reporting a cause of benefit for statins other than its cholesterol lowering effects. Given that multiple studies have not shown a heart health benefit for following a cholesterol-lowering low-fat diet, perhaps the original NHLBI study on low-fat diets was not flawed after all. In other words, following a low-fat diet may not actually be heart-healthy as we’ve been led to believe for the past nearly 30 years.

A closer look at the effects of a low-fat diet reveal that the opposite may be the case. A low-fat high-carbohydrate diet will:
• decrease HDL cholesterol
• increase triglycerides
• increase the harmful small dense LDL cholesterol while decreasing the large fluffy healthy LDL cholesterol
• increase insulin in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of insulin insensitivity and metabolic syndrome.

The A TO Z Weight Loss Study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007, gives an indication of what may actually be the best diet for losing weight and improving heart health. The winner in the study surprised even the researchers. This study compared four diets: the Atkins diet, a traditional low-fat diet, the Ornish diet, and the Zone diet. Those on the Atkins diet lost the most weight, and they had the best results for heart disease risk factors. Keep in mind that the Atkins dieters did this while eating as much food as they wanted while those on the other diets were restricting their calories. “The point man on this trial was Christopher Gardner, director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. Gardner presented the results of the trial in a lecture that’s now viewable on YouTube—“The Battle of Weight Loss Diets: Is Anyone Winning (at Losing)?” He begins the lecture by acknowledging that he’s been a vegetarian for twenty-five years. He did the study, he explains, because he was concerned that a diet like the Atkins diet, rich in meat and saturated fat, could be dangerous. When he described the triumph of the very low-carbohydrate, meat-rich Atkins diet, he called it ‘a bitter pill to swallow.’”

Video: Gary Taubes—Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It

Video: Christopher Gardner—The Battle of Weight Loss Diets: Is Anyone Winning (at Losing)?


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