October 19, 2015
More On Walking Back The Low Fat
By Michael D. Shaw
Last week’s article provided a bit of historical perspective on how the elites could be so wrong for so long on dietary matters. Also included was one comment from Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), at the recent House Committee On Agriculture Hearing On 2015 Dietary Guidelines For Americans, which featured this put-down: “I just want you to understand from my constituents, most of them don’t believe this stuff anymore. You have lost your credibility with a lot of people, and they are just flat-out ignoring this stuff.”
During the same hearing, and referring to the obesity epidemic, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: “Are Americans healthier or less healthy since the guidelines have been published, and therefore, are these—have these—in some way, have these guidelines somewhat failed?”
The Congressional hearing was convened primarily to address the 571-page document, issued in February, 2015, entitled “Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.” This report has a major influence on the Dietary Guidelines themselves, to be issued before the end of the year. The report generated an incredible 29,000 public comments, way up from the 8,000 posted during the 2010 iteration of the Committee.
Perhaps the most comprehensive—not to mention withering—critique of the report was done by Nina Teicholz, bestselling author of The Big Fat Surprise. Here’s the elevator pitch for this well-reviewed book:
“Investigative journalist Nina Teicholz reveals the unthinkable: that everything we thought we knew about dietary fats is wrong. She documents how the past sixty years of low-fat nutrition advice has amounted to a vast uncontrolled experiment on the entire population, with disastrous consequences for our health.”
“For decades, we have been told that the best possible diet involves cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, and that if we are not getting healthier or thinner it must be because we are not trying hard enough. But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? What if those exact foods we’ve been denying ourselves—the creamy cheeses, the sizzling steaks—are themselves the key to reversing the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease?”
Working off a small grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Teicholz published “A Critical Review of the Science for Key Recommendations in the 2015 Report by the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee” on September 20, 2015. An abridged version appeared a few days later in theBMJ. Some key findings…
1. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) admits that its recommended diets fail to meet adequacy goals for a number of essential vitamins and nutrients including potassium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E.
2. Although the report seems to favor whole grains, it still recommends three servings per day of refined grains, despite acknowledging that refined carbohydrates worsen certain heart disease risk factors.
3. DGAC is still mired in the saturated fat/heart disease meme, and purposely ignores the latest evidence to the contrary. Indeed, it still recommends a low fat diet.
4. DGAC trashes low carb, and willfully denies boatloads of favorable evidence. Teicholz provides 141 published references.
5. For its review of the relevant literature, DGAC relied on outside entities for 63% of the work. In many cases, these were industry trade associations, or individuals directly supported by them.
6. Inexplicably, DGAC members are not required to reveal potential conflicts of interest. One member has received funding from the tree nut industry, and two have been funded by vegetable oil companies, whose types of products (polyunsaturated vegetable oils) are promoted in the report. The DGAC chair, a non-academic, is president of a company that directly benefits from DGAC positions, and dietary orthodoxy in general.
Teicholz assiduously documents these points and more. Yet, there are some voices that express disagreement.
One, of course, is DGAC itself. In essence, it mostly denies Teicholz’s allegations, but offers scant factual basis, and categorizes her critique as nothing more than an effort to boost book sales. Apparently, committee member Miriam Nelson has no interest whatsoever in selling her own oeuvre of ten popular books. DGAC seems blissfully unaware of its “echo chamber” mentality, and clings to the puerile notion that any vetting process at all could overcome its inherent bias toward institutional orthodoxy.
Another is the inaptly named Center for Science in the Public Interest. To attack Teicholz, CSPI offers a call to authority: “[T]he DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority, including the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, and the Obesity Society.”
Hey guys, if obesity were decreasing, maybe then you could invoke these pathetic self-serving trade groups. Is it just a coincidence that obesity started to be a major problem the same year the first guidelines were published (1980)? Would you also continue to cite as an expert Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who averred a few weeks before the 1929 stock market crash, “There is no cause to worry. The high tide of prosperity will continue”?
Finally, it must be said that there is no love lost between CSPI and Teicholz, in that she outed CSPI’s chief ghoul Michael Jacobson as being instrumental in promoting trans fats—supposedly as a substitute for evil saturated fats.
Given 35 years of epic failure, maybe it’s time to agree with Rep. Peterson, and just ignore the Committee altogether.