This is a story about Bob. There are millions of people who have stories just like his.
When Bob was 35 years old he had his blood cholesterol checked. The results indicated that his total cholesterol was through the roof – 351 mm/dl. The conventional wisdom said that anything over 200 was indicative of a high risk for coronary heart disease, which happened to run in Bob’s family.
The doctor put Bob on a cholesterol lowering medication but the drug wreaked havoc with Bob’s digestive tract. In addition, the warning that came with the drug said that it could possibly damage his liver, and since Bob enjoyed both beer and wine, with the occasional adult cocktail, he decided to forgo the medication and attempted to lower his cholesterol with diet and exercise.
The American Medical Association along with the American Heart Association had long ago ‘conclusively’ determined that fat in the diets of Americans were killing them off. Following their (and his doctor’s) advice, Bob began a regime of a very low fat, high carbohydrate diet coupled with daily rigorous exercise. His fat intake was well below the recommended 30% of daily calories (it was likely well below 20%). Every day he engaged in cardiac stimulating exercises for at least an hour, usually two. He began running and was soon up to 15 miles a week. His weight dropped from 175 to 155 lbs but he could never achieve his doctor’s suggested goal of 145 lbs (he was only five feet, five inches tall but with a muscular build). Still, he felt great.
After a year of this discipline he returned for his follow up blood test and was dismayed to find that his total cholesterol had dropped only two points! In addition, he was advised to keep on eye on his salt and sugar intake as now his blood pressure had risen along with his triglycerides (whatever they were). He agreed to take the cholesterol lowering drug and eliminate as much animal fat from his diet as possible. So began a lifestyle that included a diet allowing only minimal lean cuts of meats, lots of fruits and vegetables along with plenty of plain bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. No more butter or mayo. No whole milk or cheese. No more ice cream or sour cream. No more Caesar dressing. No salt on his peanuts or pretzels. And no more rib-eye steaks. But plenty of fiber; he could have all the crunchy fiber he wanted. He took to wearing Birkenstocks and he was always hungry.
Even with such a lean diet, Bob struggled to keep the weight off. Disillusioned (and getting a bit older), Bob’s exercise regimen gradually fell off to taking brisk walks about three times a week. He slowly put the weight back on (as he just as slowly lost his hair) and after 10 years he was back up to about 180 pounds. Even though he didn’t feel ‘fat’, the conventional medical wisdom ( of that week) said that he was downright obese. But ‘they’ also said that he was obese when he weighed twenty pounds less. He finally got over feeling offended.
Right around this time Bob called his doctor, complaining of an occasional tingling along the entire right side of his body. Undergoing multiple tests it was thought that he had experienced TIA (Trans Ischemic Attack) – a mini stroke, likely caused by hypertension. Now he agreed to take medication for this condition, yet it still hovered around the high borderline. The other meds had helped to drop his overall cholesterol to around 220 mm/hg yet his triglycerides (which had something to do with both arterial sclerosis as well as blood sugar) continued to rise. He was diagnosed as pre-diabetic along with being at an ever higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Continue to lay off the animal fats (except for fish – now that fat was good for you) and eat lots of fruits, vegetables and plenty of fiber, his doctor said. Oh, and drop 20 or so pounds while you’re at it.
No matter how much Bob stuck to the prescribed diet, he could not lose weight. In fact, he started to develop that famous characteristic of the Western male; a beer belly (although he drank little beer). Not long after Bob’s 50th birthday his blood pressure shot up again. He began to feel occasionally dizzy and weak. Aware of his pre-diabetic condition he bought a cheap monitoring device from Walgreen’s and was not surprised to find that his blood sugar was now through the roof:over 300 mg/dl! (normal is between 90 and 120). Bob had come to resign himself to the fact that he was just one of those genetically engineered walking time bombs. Now, with full blown Type 2 diabetes added to his medical file, his doctor placed him on Glucophage to assist with insulin production and ordered a cardiac stress test, which he passed, but just barely; there might possibly be some blockage of his pulmonary arteries. This would have to be closely watched. Meanwhile, it was recommended that he visit the American Diabetes Association website for advice on what and what not to eat.
Bob was amazed. Rather than recommending a radically different diet, the ADA was telling diabetics to eat essentially the same foods that he had been eating for 15 years now; low fat, high carbs and high fiber. The only difference he could see was that he should completely eliminate alcohol from his diet, while minimizing, but not eliminating, sugar and simple carbs like white bread, white rice and potatoes. They even said that diabetics could eat the occasional dessert, as long as they exchanged it with another high glycemic item from their diet like biscuits or hamburger buns (something that made little sense to Bob, if he was supposed to be avoiding biscuits and hamburger buns anyway).
When Bob informed his parents of his new condition, his father ( a retired physician) was surprised. He wondered how Bob had developed diabetes since he knew of no incidence of this disease on either side of the family. As diabetes had been traditionally linked to genetics, he wondered where this gene had come from. (This idea has become highly suspect, as the rising rate of diabetes among indigenous populations throughout the world who had no history of diabetes prior to colonialism, would attest.)
Bob began to wonder; if fat is the great food evil of modern times (as populist activists like Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest keep telling us), then why had his health deteriorated along with this supposedly healthier diet? And why, as hundreds of studies have shown, did the non-Western peoples of the world historically not suffer from diabetes, heart disease, periodontitis and numerous other common Western afflictions (including cancer) even though their diets were high in animal fat and salt and low in vegetables and grains? Now, as they have adopted Western habits, these diseases have become common, even epidemic, among those people.
Why was it that, as Americans have dramatically cut meat and animal fat from their diets, the incidents of diabetes, vascular disease and cancer have increased? Was it possible that somewhere along the line the ‘experts’ got it wrong? Could it be possible that the true villain was not animal fat but actually the carbohydrates that the USDA, the AMA and the NIH had been pushing on us for over thirty years? Was a low-fat diet killing millions of people?
According to distinguished science writer Gary Taubes, in his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, the answer is a resounding YES. And this well documented answer is one that many medical researchers have been proclaiming for years, much to their professional detriment. To contest the conventional wisdom that advocates the benefits of a low fat diet is to suffer the ridicule and derision of the professional powers that be, not to mention the government, the media and numerous public interest groups. It is risky business indeed to question an entrenched doctrine that many have staked their reputations on, along with their patient’s health. Not just Bob’s health, but the good health of millions of the world’s citizens have been compromised not by fat and salt, but instead a recipe of sugar and flour mixed with a large portion of political correctness.
Meanwhile, in our nation’s schools, the USDA and the departments of education have mandated that the current generation of children continue with this nutritional experiment. And we wonder why childhood obesity continues to rise.