The nutritional community doesn't like having its conventional wisdom questioned.
In a dramatic departure from mainstream nutritional advice, three cardiologists have published an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, stating that saturated fat does not clog the arteries. The abstract calls this popular belief among doctors and the public “plain wrong” and in need of an urgent paradigm shift. The Guardian reports:
“A key previous research study, they say, ‘showed no association between saturated fat consumption and all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, CHD mortality, ischaemic stroke or type-2 diabetes in healthy adults.’ Instead they say that a Mediterranean-style diet and 22 minutes of walking a day are the best ways to prevent heart problems.”
These are strong words to use in a discipline notorious for its attachment to conventional wisdom, industry interests, and nutritional theories often attributable more to strong personalities than solid evidence. Not surprising, many members of the medical and scientific communities are not pleased with this latest pronouncement and are speaking out with derision, calling it naïve and simplistic, with cherry-picked data.
One researcher from Essex University, Dr. Gavin Sandercock, says that the cardiologists’ advice to replace refined carbohydrates with saturated fat is not based in evidence. He thinks we should “continue to research the complex links between fat, cholesterol, and heart disease, but we must not replace one myth with another.” (Another nutrition professor even suggests it’s elitist, because poor people cannot afford the recommended 4 tablespoons of olive oil and handful of nuts to be consumed each day.)
But what if it’s not all that complex? What if we’re overthinking the whole thing? Based on my casual observations and conversations with friends and family, people are sick and tired of the focus on dietary minutiae, the endless stream of complicated advice, the ever-changing study results. It seems odd that, for centuries, humans have been able to feed themselves relatively well, without suffering the rates of chronic disease that have skyrocketed in developed nations over the past 30 years; and yet nutritional ‘experts’ tell us to continue following their advice, despite the fact that it’s visibly failing.
In an excellent, lengthy article called “The Sugar Conspiracy,” Ian Leslie explains how poor the general state of health has become:
“Just 12 percent of Americans were obese in 1950, 15 percent in 1980, 35 percent by 2000. In the UK, the line is flat for decades until the mid-1980s, at which point it also turns towards the sky. Only 6 percent of Britons were obese in 1980. In the next 20 years that figure more than trebled. Today, two thirds of Britons are either obese or overweight, making this the fattest country in the EU. Type 2 diabetes, closely related to obesity, has risen in tandem in both countries.”
Some doctors are delighted by the cardiologists’ public rejection of low-fat, high-carb eating. Dr. Mary Hannon-Fletcher calls it “the best dietary and exercise advice I have read in recent years. Walking 22 minutes a day and eating real food. This is an excellent public health message.” Real food and daily exercise is about simple as it gets – and that’s precisely the kind of practical advice that people need and crave. There's a reason why Michael Pollan's Food Rules took off like a rocket when published in 2009 -- they were easy to grasp and implement.
Unfortunately, it’s safe to assume that the study authors will be skewered by the establishment for publishing such an unorthodox piece. This has been journalist Nina Teicholz’s experience, ever since publishing The Big Fat Surprise (in support of saturated fat) in 2014 and becoming an outspoken advocate for better dietary guidelines. She has since been disinvited from nutritional panels, had an article petitioned for removal from the BMJ, and called “an animal unlike anything seen before” – all because she challenges conventional dietary advice. It’s not all that different from one professor now accusing the BJSM of publishing this article only for its eye-catching headline.
Regardless of the community in-fighting, the general public seems ready for a simpler, clearer message when it comes to food. Judging by the current state of affairs, it's hard to imagine a world in greater nutritional disarray than the one we inhabit now. The majority of Americans are debilitated by sickness and excess weight. Do we really stand to lose much by trying a radically different approach? I think not.