How truthful is the modern nutritional policy, and how objective is the science it is based on?

Back in 1958, Ancel Keyes a physiologist from the US began his so-called “Seven country study”, which had a goal of examining the correlation between the traditional local diets and the rates of coronary heart disease in all these countries. The study included the following countries: Greece, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Japan, and Finland. The results were very interesting and the general conclusion, Dr. Keyes reached to, is that in countries in which fat was consumed more, the rates of people suffering from coronary vascular disease and heart problems was greater. So, he concluded that dietary fat actually causes heart disease and problems. This turned Keyes into the founder of the “diet heart” idea, which was prevalent for years and decades. But, there have been a huge outpour of criticisms of this study and the conclusions. The main criticism was that Keyes had hand-picked the countries which best suited his theory, and that the survey didn’t involve random enough subjects to reach to objective conclusions.

For example, some critics claim that Keyes intentionally didn’t include countries in which the diet consists of a lot of fat and yet the rates of heart disease are relatively low, such as the Netherlands and Norway, as well as the countries like Chile, where people do not traditionally eat as much fat and yet there is a large rate of people suffering from heart disease.

The seven country study, though led to a drastic change in the perception of which food is healthy and in the false conclusion that high-fat in food is responsible for coronary vascular disease.

Another cornerstone in the development of modern nutritional policies were the dietary guidelines of Senator George McGovern given under the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, which was formed and lasted between 1968 and 1977, and had a goal of resolving the issues of hunger and malnutrition in the US. In 1977, the committee published its Dietary guidelines for the US in order to reverse the increasing rates of heart disease in the country.

They basically recommended that the US citizens:

  • Increase the consumption of carbs to 55-60% of the daily calories;
  • Decrease the consumption of dietary fat to no more than 30% of the daily calorie intake, which though required the reduction of the consumption of saturated fat, and instead eating approximately equivalent percentages of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats to meet the 30% percent target;
  • Decrease the food cholesterol intake to 300 mg/day;
  • Decrease sugar consumption to 15% of the daily calories;
  • Decrease salt consumption to up to 3g/day.

Today, this low-fat and high-carb dietary guideline for everyone has been widely condemned, because of the lack of scientific evidence that this is a healthy and should be a preferred diet by all, and also because of the ongoing research being performed which has revoked some nutritional myths such as the myth that high-fat foods are bad, that grains are good for everyone, and that the high-carb diets are healthy and good, to name a few.

These critics even find a correlation between the publication of the McGovern guidelines and the beginning of the growing problem of obesity among US residents, followed by an “epidemic” of diabetes which started increasing shortly after that.

With such biased research results and public dietary guidelines written by politicians, it is no surprise that what we know and believe about nutrition and about what a healthy diet is, is mainly based on biased science and pure lies.

With the “findings” of the seven country study, the US and the Western diet turned radically from eating high-fat animal foods to eating low-fat and high-carb diets with a lot of grains in it, which has lately been found to not only be an unhealthy one, but to be even dangerous for some.

21 thoughts on “How truthful is the modern nutritional policy, and how objective is the science it is based on?

  1. Starchy carbohyrdrates make you fat?!? Quick, someone tell all those skinny Japanese people to stop eating so much rice! (Also, China, Vietnam and India).

    Humans have been eating starches for ~500,000 years without suffering massive obesity. HFCS and vegetable oils were 20th Century inventions.

    1. No, the “root cause” is that Americans do not have the self-discipline to do what you prescribe. It’s evolutionary: The goal of all technology, as in the discovery of fire, is to make our lives more comfortable and convenient and, ironically, better. But technology is not free and in this case the price has been an inherited dietary ignorance and sloth. We didn’t always have “instant”, “new and improved,” remotes, drive-thru, and Doritos.

  2. No wonder people are obese in the US. They are being force fed drugs in their meat such as genetically engineered hormones, antibiotics daily (80% made used on animals). Those animals are fed GMO grain to eat, leftover cow parts from the slaughter house, expired Twinkies and Little Debbie pies not high Omega 3 grass like in years past.

  3. The USDA is solely responsible for obesity in America. Overeating, little exercise, and poor parenting certainly have a role in all this, but in light of the above information, that role is not as significant as we have been told. It would be unreasonable to suggest that there is only one cause for such a complex health issue, but the nutritional quality of our diets explains why so many people consume too many calories and fail to exercise as they should.

    Nearly half a person’s caloric intake from carbohydrates is far too high a percentage. Furthermore, with only 35% (at most) coming from fat, and only 9% from saturated fat, the recommended diet is indeed a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet.

    I would agree that different people should eat varying amounts of carbohydrates. This is a good set of guidelines for anybody interested in a low-carb diet. So, my suggestion is to reduce carb consumption. But it’s not absolute. I didn’t claim otherwise and neither has any prominent advocate of the low-carb diet to my knowledge.

    Yes, excess calories from fat and protein get broken down and ultimately stored as fat. But that’s besides the point. Overeating is a bad idea, I agree. But my argument is that diets high in carbohydrates are what keep people consuming too many calories, because their metabolisms aren’t functioning properly.

    It’s also true that some carbohydrates are necessary for good health, but too many can be very harmful, even if they’re the “good” ones, because they have the same impact on blood sugar. What we’re talking about is a matter of degree, not completely abstaining from carbohydrates.

    Regarding our evolutionary history, you can pick certain points on the timeline to prop up your argument. But there is no denying that for many millions of years we consumed a minimal amount of grains, and followed today what has been termed a paleolithic (or “paleo”) diet. As Dr. Michael Eades put it, “…in anthropological circles, there’s absolutely no debate about it – every respected authority will confirm it – that we were hunters.” What’s more, before agriculture was introduced, according to Eades, we were more robust, had greater bone density, decreased infant mortality and a lower incidence of infectious diseases, to name a few benefits. So I stand by this point, too.

    Physical activity, genetics and caloric intake are the most important factors in controlling weight. But until we recognize the importance of hormone regulation, specifically insulin, and saturated fat in this equation, we won’t solve our problems.

  4. The entire world believes that “calories count” — that overeating and being sedentary make you fat and that eating less and exercising more makes you thin — because energy and mass must be conserved, according to the laws of physics.

    You can’t make something out of nothing. In order to grow a beer belly or a fifth chin, you MUST take in more calories than you consume.
    Likewise, in order to lose fat, a calorie deficit MUST take place. You must burn off more than you consume.

  5. One issue I can see is in not separating carbohydrates by type. A pound of celery, squash, or broccoli is not going to be digested by the body in the same manner as a pound of pasta.

    However, I agree that the government is in some way responsible for the “obesity epidemic”. Currently, obesity is measured by BMI. It is a quick and easy way of measuring weight to height. Unfortunately, it is also a load of crap.

    If I am 6 foot 2 and weigh 195 lbs, I am considered overweight. It does not matter if I have 7% body fat and it is primarily lean muscle. I am still considered overweight.

    The BMI was developed during between the 1830’s and 1850’s before antibiotics and when a trip to the doctor was often a death sentence.

    In my opinion, the government is responsible for the obesity epidemic more because of how they measure obesity than by what they recommend Americans eat.

  6. In support of Cameron’s main point, a major issue with government is not so much that they encourage a high carbohydrate diet explicitly, but that they have vilified fats. Calories have to come from somewhere, and people replaced those from fats with carbs. I agree with Cameron that this is a major contributor to current obesity problems.

  7. The new guidelines have clarified and strengthened the suggestions that carbohydrate consumption be limited to natural, high fiber sources but this is shutting the barn doors after the horses are out. Entenmanns sold millions of low-fat, high sugar pastries under the umbrella of the “science” of old food pyramid and the government deserves the blame for giving them that cover. Despite the lukewarm warning about “sweets” in the top section of the pyramid, the explicit message of the old pyramid was to eat LOTS of bread and to avoid fats – thus was born the disaster of Entenmann’s low-fat pastries as a “healthy” alternative.

    The argument that “fat and protein get broken down and stored as fat, too, albeit through different bodily mechanisms” is tantalizingly close to an important truth. However, he misses the opportunity to explore just how different those mechanisms are. Watch Robert Lustig’s “Sugar is Poison” talk on YouTube and you’ll realize the extent to which the conversion of sugars to fats (de novo lipgenesis) in the liver is fundamentally different from, and worse than, the metabolism of other macronutrients. That is, it isn’t just about the result (the amount of fat stored), it is also critically about how that fat was created and the metabolic state of the body that led to the lipogenesis.

    Carbohydrates are more efficient when the body needs energy for exercise (at least in those people not adapted to the use of ketones as a primary energy source) but that is hardly an argument for consuming the great mass of one’s nutrients as carbs. For example, I advocate (and personally practice) the consumption of a low-glycemic carb just before and during exercise. The question is: what does this have to do with the other 22-23 hours of the day? Why would the need for carbs during moderate to vigorous exercise be an argument for consuming excess carbs (6-11 servings of bread!) during normal metabolism? Given a reasonable adaptation to a low-carb diet, the primary reason to eat carbs outside of exercise is to gain the micronutrients and hormetic challenges inherent in plant-based foods (which bread, by the way, is horribly deficient in).

    With respect to the hunter-gatherer populations, it is correct that human evolution took place over a great variety of dietary patterns but it’s wrong that our ancestors subsisted primarily on vegetable sources with “occasional” animal sources. Throughout evolution there is one constant: the consumption of and preference for large quantities of fatty meats – especially organ meats and seafood. Indeed, while our ancestors may not have eaten mammoth every night – and sometimes ended up with rodents, fowl or even insects instead – many populations (e.g. eskimos) didn’t eat tubers, nuts, fruits, and grains very often if at all.

  8. I believe stories came to light several years ago commenting on how the food industry was adding ingredients that have an addictive quality.

    I remember a few years back when a co-worker brought in some snack – I think smores – well I took one and kept going back for more. It was rather unsettling that I felt so drawn to eat them. I decided to walk to another office in hopes they would be gone when I got back. Fortunately, when I returned they were gone. That experience was weird & I never ate smores again.

    Organic pies are really great!

  9. I think that it’s not necessarily the governments fault that they endorsed what nutrition experts advised them to, but it’s the experts fault for suggesting that the government endorse a diet that is not actually that healthy. If we are going to point fingers, it most certainly should not be here.

  10. I agree that the food pyramid and how it’s ingrained into our society, especially in schools, has helped cause obesity, but we need to also consider how our fast-paced convenience-based society today makes obtaining healthy food such a struggle. Even if the government promoted a healthy diet, obesity would still persist the the availability of fast food (and other overly processed food).

  11. The government doesn’t actually promote a high-carb diet. The old pyramid is dead and gone, but even that wasn’t a bad approach if people actually ate well and in appropriate proportions (which doesn’t happen as much as it should). The new MyPlate program advocates a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and only a small portion is dedicated to grains. And of those grains, the government recommends that at least half come from whole grains. MyPlate also provides resources for weight management and physical activity. What America needs is more people who follow this common-sense approach.

  12. People should not (and most often do not) take their cues from the government when it comes to personal choices such as diet. The root cause of obesity is mass urbanization of the work force, increase in leisure time, and commercialization of food.

  13. As soon as I ditched the government recommended low-fat, high-carb, high grain diet my pre-diabetes went away, my high blood pressure went down to normal, and I lost 80 pounds. Yes, people do follow government recommended diet advice and yes, it is harmful. Ignoring it was a life saver.

  14. Another ‘blame game’. Gov’t is responsible for a considerable amount of problems in this country. However, most of us do have the ability to think and make choices in our life. These abilities are gifts. How about assuming responsibility for choices we make in our lives. Yes – some people do have physical reasons for obesity. Yes – the gov’t portrays false information to the public; strongly rooted in the lobbying groups of the day. Blaming others for choices we make is personally irresponsible. Fast food places also have salads and yogurt choices or – chose not to eat there. Food stores that sell junk food also sell fruits and vegetables. Health food stores have FREE info, receipies, and staff willing to help. Health is largely based on our choices.

  15. I have another take on the issue of obesity.

    Many people become obese starting in their childhood. Children develop bad habits because their parents allow them to do so. Given that so many adults are overweight themselves, it isn’t surprising that their children follow suit.

    Moreover, parents are the ones who interpret the recommendations of the AMA and the USDA for their progeny. So, if they don’t care or don’t understand or can’t afford to follow directions, the little ones will gain too much weight. This problem is a very big deal that is going to result in more and more hardship, excessive medical costs and substandard lifestyles.

    The key is to educate parents and their children in elementary school.

  16. There is a false assumption that people actually pay attention to government dietary guidelines. I’d be willing to bet they do not. Most Americans can’t name a single Supreme Court justice, so I doubt they’re going to know what’s in the USDA’s official dietary guidelines.

    Also, the government doesn’t recommend ingesting fast food on a regular basis, but many (or most) Americans do. And the very guidelines you criticize actually recommend regular amounts of aerobic exercise, but many Americans do not do that. So the argument that Americans are obese because their government promulgates the wrong dietary guidelines seems pretty weak.

  17. I’m actually a Certified Personal Trainer as well as I have my ISSA Diet Accred. (which is worthless). I’m not going to go too in depth here and I will add my two cents.

    From the hundreds of clients I had while working at a Golds Gym in Washington D.C. , a very fast paced environment, the combination of fast food being readily available, cheap, and extraordinarily delicious to most, was a huge obstacle to overcome. I can only help you burn x amount of calories in a half hour to hour.

    Like stated though “It’s not good enough to say that fat people are fat because they eat too much”.

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