Health News Digest

November 11, 2013

Sverige Speaks: We’ve Found The Best Diet

By Michael D. Shaw

Readers of a certain age will recall a TV commercial from the mid 1960s for a small cigar called “Erik.” The unforgettable tag line, accompanied by a fine example of the real thing, was: “The most interesting idea from Scandinavia since the blond.”

Once again, Scandinavia—specifically Sweden (Sverige)—leads the way with another idea, and it’s much more than just interesting…

In September, the independent Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment published Mat vid fetma: En systematisk litteraturöversikt or Dietary Treatment for Obesity: A Systematic Review Of The Literature. The project was undertaken in light of the rate of obesity in Sweden more than doubling over the past 30 years. The report represents a two-year effort, comprising a review of 16,000 studies published through May 31, 2013.

The major finding rejects the long-held notion of the “healthy” low-fat/high-carb diet, in favor of exactly the opposite: Low-carb/high fat (LCHF)!

Sadly, this conclusion is revolutionary only to those who have been denying the obvious for decades. Nutrition guru and friend of this column Diane Kress told me that she would regularly observe a failure rate of more than 40 percent in her weight-loss clients who pursued the low-fat/high carb dogma. Her peers would officially explain this away as “lack of patient compliance.” How convenient.

Popular Swedish family physician and blogger Andreas Eenfeldt, MD—long a proponent of LCHF—translated findings from the report:

1.     LCHF is more effective for weight loss. Butter, olive oil, heavy cream, and bacon are not harmful foods. Quite the opposite. Fat is the best thing for those who want to lose weight. And there are no connections between a high fat intake and cardiovascular disease.

2.     LCHF will promote a greater increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol without having any adverse effects on LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The stricter low-carbohydrate diet (20% of total calories) will lead to improved glucose levels for individuals with obesity and diabetes, and to marginally decreased levels of triglycerides.

3.     The addition of physical activity to a dietary intervention for individuals with obesity have, if any, a marginal effect on weight loss at the group level. Again, this will come as no surprise to realists, who understand that if a 150 pound (68 kg) man runs a mile in six minutes, he will expend about 300 calories.

Eenfeldt also presented the reactions of one of the report’s authors, Prof. Fredrik H. Nyström—a specialist in internal medicine and endocrinology…

“I’ve been working with this for so long. It feels great to have this scientific report, and that the skepticism towards low-carb diets among my colleagues has disappeared during the course of the work. When all recent scientific studies are lined up the result is indisputable: Our deep-seated fear of fat is completely unfounded. You don’t get fat from fatty foods, just as you don’t get atherosclerosis from calcium or turn green from green vegetables.”

Nyström dishes on breakfast (“the most important meal of the day”) and snacking:

“If you can, skip [breakfast]! This is a habitual behavior, the body has no need for nourishment the minute you get out of bed if you’ve eaten a high-fat dinner the day before. We make our own glucose from stored protein, and it probably costs a few calories to produce this glucose, which can be one reason why a low-carb diet provides great weight loss. Also, skip snacks and any low-fat products. If we were meant to nibble on low-fat foods all day we wouldn’t have been equipped with a gall bladder. If you eat two meals daily, with few carbohydrates and plenty of good fats, you’ll do just fine. Do like the Mediterranean people. Let a cup of coffee be your breakfast in the morning.”

This all sounds like good advice, especially since our own American obesity and diabetes epidemic presumably stems from the anti-fat “Dietary Goals For The United States,” published in February, 1977, aka the McGovern report.

But, will we take the advice this time? Various forms of the so-called ketogenic (essentially low-carb) diet have been around since the 1920s. And, in July, 2002, the New York Times published an eye-opening 7700-word piece by science writer Gary Taubes entitled “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” This piece eviscerated the low-fat hypothesis, and exposed some of the politics behind it.

Let’s give another Scandinavian—Søren Kierkegaard—the last word. “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”