Science journalist and bestselling author, Nina Teicholz, just published an excellent (albeit scary) feature piece in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). It’s a must-read and a must-share. Here are some choice quotes from the article, The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific? in which she takes the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to task for offenses against logic, science and common sense:
- “Concern about this year’s report has been unprecedented, with some 29 000 public comments submitted compared with only 2000 in 2010.”
- “The BMJ has also found that the committee’s report used weak scientific standards… [which] seems to have made the report vulnerable to internal bias as well as outside agendas.”
- “Fewer than 12 small trials are cited [to support a stringent cap on saturated fats], and none supports the hypothesis that saturated fats cause heart disease.”
- “[The DGAC report] omits a large controlled clinical trial, the Women’s Health Initiative, which included nearly 49 000 people and achieved a significantly lower intake of saturated fat in the intervention group yet, compared with controls, observed no benefits for this group…”
- “New proposals by the 2015 report include not only deleting meat from the list of foods recommended as part of its healthy diets, but also actively counseling reductions in “red and processed meats”… [but] consulting the NEL for a review on this topic turns up a surprising fact: a systematic review on health and red meat has not been done.”
- “A cursory investigation shows several [conflicts of interest among the DGAC]: one member has received research funding from the California Walnut Commission and the Tree Nut Council, as well as vegetable oil giants Bunge and Unilever.”
And it goes on and on like this. Paragraph after jaw-dropping paragraph.
Here’s my take on this madness:
Kafka himself could not have dreamed up a more stupefying inept set of recommendations. The dogmatic opinions dressed up as settled science could very well lead to the deaths of thousands of people and sicken hundreds of thousands more over the next five years… all while indirectly crippling our health care infrastructure.
Plus, the DGAC buries the lead! And that is that a large and growing body of rigorous evidence suggests that low carbohydrate diets might be uniquely helpful for those with metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity – an increasingly large segment of the American (and world) population.
As Teicholz noted, “A meta-analysis and a critical review have concluded that low carbohydrate diets are better than other nutritional approaches for controlling type 2 diabetes, and two meta-analyses have concluded that a moderate to strict low carbohydrate diet is highly effective for achieving weight loss and improving most heart disease risk factors in the short term.”
Reading the BMJ editorial – and many similar critiques of conventional dietary advice this blog and others have explored for years – you’ve gotta wonder: what’s the actual deal with this committee?
1. Are they evil villains, like out of a Batman movie, who know they’re defrauding the American public and dooming millions to diabetes et al but who just don’t care because of the sweet, sweet cash from Unilever and PepsiCo greasing their palms?
2. Are they hapless dupes – what Vladimir Lenin might have called “useful idiots” – who honestly just don’t understand how science works and whose staggering incompetence and reverence for authority have blinded them to logic problems even a child could see through?
3. Or are they wilier than they let on, and are Teicholz and her fellow firebrands (me included) somehow missing the boat?
My money’s on #2 with a dash of #1 thrown in.
And here’s one of the reasons why. In fact, it’s why I feel so damn confident gorging on “artery clogging” saturated fats and eschewing “heart healthy whole grains,” despite the (still) overwhelming medical consensus supporting conventional recommedations.
The reason is that there is no coherent counter-critique to what Teicholz and Gary Taubes and others like them have been arguing.
This isn’t to say there aren’t critics. There sure are. Dr. David Katz, for one, along with others in the vegan mafia and many miscellaneous online trolls and bro-scientists.
But when I say there’s no counter-critique, I mean there’s no sensible, coherent, evidence-based response to their arguments that leads anywhere close to ratifying the status quo and dismissing their alternative narrative (i.e. saturated fats aren’t the cause of heart disease; some calories are worse than others; nutrition science as a discipline has been helplessly overrun by stupid hypotheses and incompetent researchers, etc.)
I’ll give you three examples of what I mean, just from Teicholz’s BMJ editorial alone:
CLAIM #1: “The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was the largest nutrition trial in history… Nearly 49 000 women followed a diet low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains for an average of seven years, at the end of which investigators found no significant advantage of this diet for weight loss, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer of any kind.”
What’s the response to this very specific assertion? That the WHI did find an advantage, and Teicholz just isn’t reporting it? If so, where’s the data supporting that idea? There IS no counter claim, because the facts are the facts.
CLAIM #2: “The report repeatedly mentions the need to reduce “sugar and solid fats,” because, “both provide calories, but few or no nutrients.” Yet this pairing is unsupported by nutrition science. Unlike sugar, saturated fats are mostly consumed as an inherent part of foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy, which together contain nearly all of the vitamins and minerals needed for good health.”
COUNTER CLAIM: ??
The DGAC’s claim that solid fats have ‘few or no nutrients,’ in no way at all squares with the not-at-all-controversial fact that butter (for instance) is a noted rich source of vitamins A, D, E and K2, choline, fatty acid butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid? Are the DGAC eggheads saying those vitamins and essential fatty acids somehow don’t pass muster as “nutrients”? Or are they so lazy and thoughtless that they can’t even be bothered to do a casual internet search to look up what’s actually IN the solid fats they disparage?
CLAIM #3: “The report offers advice that contradicts its data is on sodium. The committee says that it “concurs” with a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, which states that the evidence is “inconsistent and insufficient to conclude that lowering sodium intakes below 2300 mg/day will have any effect on cardiovascular risk or overall mortality.” Yet the report recommends that sodium intake “should be less than 2300 mg/day” and encourages the choice of low salt options without reservation.”
COUNTER CLAIM: ??
The DGAC’s vertiginous Mobius strip reasoning would be hilarious if this report didn’t threaten to (indirectly) maim thousands of innocent people, including many poor mothers and children who rely on government assistance to feed themselves and who, if the DGAC has its way, won’t be getting access to many healthful foods, like red meat and butter replete with vitamins A, D, E, K2, choline, fatty acid butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid, but rather instead will be dining on cheap processed sugar, refined grains and industrial nightmare rancid vegetable oils cooked up by their masters at Unilever and PepsiCo.
It’s time to stand up and tell the DGAC in no uncertain terms that this sloppy, bought-and-paid-for “science” will not stand and that their hundreds of pages of bloviating, self-contradicting nutritional nonsense can’t hold a candle to just four words of ancient wisdom that’s guided our species for millennia:
Just. Eat. Real. Food.