December 19, 2010
Deep Fat Is Not The Problem

The mainstream is beginning to accept elements of the Paleo Diet. Refined flour and sugar are the root evils.

"Fat is not the problem," says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases."

It's a confusing message. For years we've been fed the line that eating fat would make us fat and lead to chronic illnesses. "Dietary fat used to be public enemy No. 1," says Dr. Edward Saltzman, associate professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University. "Now a growing and convincing body of science is pointing the finger at carbs, especially those containing refined flour and sugar."

Could it be that experts were wrong for decades? Wheat seems like something to avoid. Though oddly potatoes might not be bad.

The old conventional wisdom is "precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true".

Sleeper was prophetic. Oh, and chairs are evil too. Sitting in a pastry shop eating sweet carbs is about the worst thing you can do for your body.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 December 19 10:14 AM  Aging Diet Studies


Comments
Bruce said at December 19, 2010 10:25 AM:

I remember margarine being touted as saving us from the evil of butter. Thank dieticians for transfats.

Joseph Hertzlinger said at December 19, 2010 11:42 AM:

In the 1980s, I used to work with someone who tried convincing me that eating nuts was bad for my heart because of the fat content. I think I can give him a Bronx cheer nowadays.

The real question is how long will it be before this new consensus becomes obsolete.

Matthew said at December 19, 2010 11:50 AM:

The american heart association was wrong about heart attacks for decades.

Jake said at December 19, 2010 1:53 PM:

Holy Cats. If Willett changes his mind than one of three things have changed:
1. Harvard has lost it funding from processed food companies. A huge conflict of interest for Harvard nutrition department and is the main reason they have no respect in the scientific nutrition arena.
2. The world is coming to an end.
3. The beginning of the end of Americans being the sickest people on the planet.

gnolls dot org said at December 19, 2010 6:36 PM:

Randall: Wheat flour is required by US law to be "enriched" with a whole suite of vitamins and minerals, because not only does it contain few nutrients, it contains anti-nutrients like phytates that bind to necessary nutrients and keep us from absorbing them.

Yes, that's right: in order to stop us from dying of deficiency diseases or having babies with birth defects, all flour sold in the USA must be "enriched" with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, niacin, and iron.

The reason potatoes aren't bad in moderation is because there is ample evidence that humans have been consuming root starches long before agriculture. (Though carbohydrates provided 1/3 or less of our calories, the rest coming from meat and its associated fat.)

Jake: The evidence against "diet-heart" is so overwhelming now that they are at risk of being sued if they continue to push conclusions that are provably false. Think of how many millions of people have spent decades eating low-fat "food" like Snackwells because they were told it was healthy, and suffer diabetes and CHD/CVD because of it. Think of how many of those are lawyers.

Bruce: yes, you can thank the CSPI for killing millions of people by demanding McDonalds stop using beef tallow to make french fries. The substitute? Trans fats. Don't expect an apology anytime soon.

Here is chapter 1 of Tom Naughton's "Big Fat Fiasco", which explains the genesis of the bad science involved, with plenty of references. It's an hour total but worth it. You can also order the DVD off his web site (http://www.fathead-movie.com)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exi7O1li_wA

Randall Parker said at December 19, 2010 6:54 PM:

Jake,

I'm thinking Holy Toledo.

Gnolls,

Stephan Guyenet writes about soaking, fermentation, and other techniques for cutting grain toxicity:

The amount of minerals your digestive system can extract from a food depends in part on the food's phytic acid content. Phytic acid is a molecule that traps certain minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium), preventing their absorption. Raw grains and legumes contain a lot of it, meaning you can only absorb a fraction of the minerals present in them.

In this study, soaking had a modest effect on the phytic acid content of the grains and legumes examined (although it's generally more effective). Fermentation, on the other hand, completely broke down the phytic acid in the idli batter, resulting in 71% more bioavailable zinc and 277% more bioavailable iron. It's safe to assume that fermentation also increased the bioavailability of magnesium, calcium and other phytic acid-bound minerals.

Fermenting the idli batter also completely eliminated its tannin content. Tannins are a class of molecules found in many plants that are toxins and anti-nutrients. They reduce feed efficiency and growth rate in a variety of species.

So can we eat grains safely if they are properly prepared? Or can we only make them less bad? It is not clear. But given that most of us aren't going to start fermenting grains I think avoidance is the best policy.

But maybe fermenting sorghum would be beneficial.

nick said at December 19, 2010 8:15 PM:

I get a headache if I consume too much saturated fat (eg. from cheeze). Perhaps some people can handle dietary fat better than others.

MetaThought said at December 20, 2010 1:20 AM:

nick,

It might be the casein that's disagreeing with you as opposed to the sat fat.

bbartlog said at December 20, 2010 11:34 AM:

'The reason potatoes aren't bad in moderation is because there is ample evidence that humans have been consuming root starches long before agriculture.'

This argument needs some blanks filled in. You've phrased it sloppily (the reason is not the evidence, but the underlying facts), but basically you're saying that people have had enough time to adapt to whatever problems root vegetables might cause. But root vegetables may differ (not many are as starchy as a potato) and potatoes per se have not been eaten outside the New World until a few hundred years ago. I would be more inclined to chalk up our tolerance for (cooked) potatoes to sheer luck and ease of breeding (the plant) than to human adaptation.

Randall Parker said at December 20, 2010 9:23 PM:

bbartlog,

Yes, I agree: We do not have a big enough evolutionary history with potatoes to make us well suited to eating them. Plus, we've evolved them into something quite different than they were hundreds of years ago. I'm still trying to figure out potatoes. Good or bad or somewhere in between?

nick said at December 21, 2010 3:51 AM:

@MetaThought
"nick,

It might be the casein that's disagreeing with you as opposed to the sat fat."

I have the same symptom when I eat butter, so it's probably the sat fat.

nick said at December 21, 2010 4:04 AM:

Could be the cholesterol though. Are there any foods that are high in one and low in the other?

Tom said at December 21, 2010 9:56 AM:

nick, some cheeses, red wine, etc are rich in tyramine that can cause a headache.

TheLastBrainLeft said at December 21, 2010 10:48 AM:

There is no way you will eliminate all these things from the American diet. Pasta, potatoes and white bread? Ain't happening anytime soon. Nor should it. Plenty of people eat these foods and are not obese. It's about amounts, not types, of food.

George said at December 21, 2010 10:55 AM:

"If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks"

Gonna be a hell of black market.

Sam Hall said at December 21, 2010 11:07 AM:

A good part of the world's population diet is primarily white rice and do they just fine with it.

diana said at December 21, 2010 11:23 AM:

Wow, Walter Willett changed his mind? He used to be a big whore for the lipid hypothesis! That's some big cheese to change his mind! Pun intended!

Forget about cholesterol, that theory is garbage. It was based upon a study of rabbits 75 years ago that developed plaque as a result of being fed egg yolks. Bunnies didn't evolve to eat meat or eggs. They evolved to eat huge amounts of vegetation. That's why they chew through everything.

I don't think eating a potato now and again is that bad for you. A lot of Neolithic New Guineans eat yams as a staple.

The problem with sugar is it is so yummy, and is addictive. I speak from personal experience.

REL said at December 21, 2010 11:57 AM:

The LastBrainLetf wrote:

"It's about amounts, not types, of food."

Gary Taubes addresses this point in a recent blog post: http://www.garytaubes.com/2010/12/inanity-of-overeating/

This was the excerpt I found most interesting:

"let’s say you’re carrying around 40 pounds of excess fat and you put on that 40 pounds over the course of 20 years, as many of us do. When you’re in your late 20s, say, you’re still lean, and then, lo and behold, you celebrate your fiftieth birthday and you’re obese and your doctor is lecturing you on eating less and getting to the gym regularly (and probably writing you a prescription for Lipitor, as well). Now, if you gain 40 pounds of fat over 20 years, that’s an average of two pounds of excess fat accumulation every year. Since a pound of fat is roughly equal to 3500 calories, this means you accumulate roughly 7000 calories worth of fat every year. Divide that 7000 by 365 and you get the number of calories of fat you stored each day and never burned – roughly 19 calories. Let’s round up to 20 calories, so we have a nice round number. So now the question: if all you have to do to become obese is store 20 extra calories each day on average in your fat tissue — 20 calories that you don’t mobilize and burn — what does overeating have to do with it?"


Brock said at December 21, 2010 11:57 AM:

The problem isn’t “carbs”, or “fats”, or “proteins.” The problem is eating industrially processed chemicals instead of real food.

Many ancient cultures were healthy and disease resistant on a high-carbohydrate diet. But did they eat Wonder Bread with grape jam? Of course not. They ate whole potatoes, or fresh ground corn or wheat, beans, and/or rice. Whole. Fresh. Unprocessed. (and in the case of grains and legumes, properly prepared to neutralize their natural anti-nutrient qualities)

Many ancient cultures were healthy and disease resistant on a high-fat diet. But did they eat Crisco with canola oil? Of course not. Those were invented during the 20th century, and are entirely artificial. They ate coconut, or grass fed dairy, or seal and fish fat. Whole. Fresh. Unprocessed.

Every culture that produces tall, healthy, disease resistant individuals eats between 10 and 25% of their daily calories from proteins. But do they eat soy burgers? Obviously not. They eat meat or dairy. Soy is only consumed when properly fermented and in small quantities (e.g., soy sauce).

The human body is marvelously adaptable. A diet of almost pure potatoes can be healthy (and this should surprise no one, particularly any Irish reading this), but so can a diet of nothing but cow blood and half-and-half (the Masai eat this). Or seal fat and rotten fish. Or coconuts, yams and fresh fish. Or rye bread, butter and cheese. Or wheat chapatis, yogurt and apricots.

As long as its fresh, whole and unprocessed it’s really hard to go wrong.

Unfortunately that means that all wheat (and rye) products are basically “out” in America today (unless you soak, mill, leven and bake at home) as it’s darn near impossible to get anything decent. That’s why I stick to brown rice, beans and root vegetables for carbs. Potatoes are fine.


Randall, you asked "So can we eat grains safely if they are properly prepared?"

Yes. The healthiest cultures studied by Robert McCarrison were wheat-based cultures. And Weston A. Price cured all sorts of crazy diseases on a diet centered around wheat. But it's a pain in the ass in modern America. The wheat must be soaked for a day (at least) prior to milling into flour; the flour must be absolutely fresh (preferably milled the same day you use it); and the levening must be natural sourdough rather than quick-risen yeast. And of course, no preservatives.

Although it's possible there are others I only personally know one bakery in the country that does all of the above. Anywhere else it's easier to find a unicorn.

Alex said at December 21, 2010 12:23 PM:

Brock,

You haven't presented, and I have yet to see, any logical discussion of WHY "whole foods" are categorically better. Most of the pro- whole foods argumentation I've heard, including from the occasional doctor, boils down to technophobia and/or elitism. No discussion of what actual physical properties make any variety of whole food better than its "processed chemical oh no!" equivalent; "natural==good" is taken, a priori, to be an identical relationship. There are only a limited few cases, rBGH being one and B-vitamin absorption in humans being another, where anybody has even demonstrated what the differential impact of "natural" and "industrially processed" versions of food substances even are.

diana said at December 21, 2010 1:08 PM:

Alex,

Lighten up. Processed foods tend to be high carb. "Whole foods" tend to be lower in carbs, esp. refined carbs. I'm on your side, but please, lighten up. Is there such a thing as industrially processed steak?

Brock,

The issue here is the effects foods have on the metabolism, which really comes down to insulin levels. One of the interesting things Taubes did was compare obesity to pregnancy. A woman becomes pregnant. Her eating habits don't change. Or maybe she even eats less due to morning sickness and other forms of food issues. Yet she gains some protective fat. Why? Insulin.

"Pregnancy alters the normal balances involved in glucose metabolism and insulin production, regulation, and action in a dynamic way that changes throughout gestation. Although, pregnancy is often referred to as a "diabetogenic state" with progressively increasing postprandial (after eating) blood sugar levels, presumably, secondary to an increase in insulin resistance, point in fact is that most pregnant women do not actually develop overt diabetes, and those that do, usually do not do so until late in the second or early in the third trimesters. In normal women, compensatory increases in insulin production overcome the increased resistance to its action."

Read more: http://www.healthline.com/blogs/pregnancy_childbirth/2007/08/diabetes-in-pregnancy-3-normal-changes.html#ixzz18mZ5WW6A
Healthline.com - Connect to Better Health

In a very real sense, obese people have a metabolism like a pregnant woman: they are insulin resistant due to the abuse the metabolism has experienced over a lifetime of eating refined carbs.

What Taubes hasn't explained is why everyone doesn't respond the same way to ALL carbs. The Chinese have eaten loads of rice for thousands of years: they aren't fat. Ditto Japanese. The Pima Indians that Taubes talked about at the beginning of his book (obese thanks to a Western diet) ate as their traditional diet beans.

Gordon said at December 21, 2010 1:31 PM:

Brock: re the variety of diets found around the world, Taubes (mentioned in the post just before yours) told in his book of some European explorers in the early 20th century who lived among the Eskimo for 2 years. When their food supply ran out, they ate the native diet which consisted only of animal products and was very high in blubber.

Upon their return they were in normal health, despite the very 'unbalanced' nature of their diet.

I've been a doctor for over 40 years and have seen all the theories come and go in that time and doubt we're even close to understanding atherosclerosis, except maybe in genetics. Nonetheless, I follow the so-called low-carb approach, have for years, and my numbers are quite good. Lucky? or diet?

Bill Johnson said at December 21, 2010 1:55 PM:

Just eat it. You're gonna die anyway. Enjoy what life you have.

OK, the rest of you, enjoy not enjoying your life. Why are you prolonging that which you don't enjoy?

Eat, drink, be merry. Tomorrow is promised to no man - well, we did mortgage it to China.

Kent G. Budge said at December 21, 2010 2:21 PM:

I don't understand why pasta is on the list of bad carbohydrates. It has a relatively low glycemic index, and it's part of my diabetic diet.

Brock said at December 21, 2010 2:26 PM:

Alex, you said:

"Brock, You haven't presented, and I have yet to see, any logical discussion of WHY "whole foods" are categorically better."

I study nutrition a lot. There are lots of theories. But you know what? No one really knows how it all works. It's an evolving field.

So I don't have a Grand Unified Theory for you. All I have is empirical evidence. I have experimental data. And the data says whole, unprocessed foods are better. Do you really need to know why in order to be healthy? Nope. Just avoid the junk, and you'll reap the benefits.

Some great sources of empirical data are:

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston A. Price.
Studies in Deficiency Disease, by Robert McCarrison
The Sacharine Disease, by T. L. Cleave
The Minnesota Experiment, by Ancel Keys

None of them are recent, but most recent nutrition research is worthless. It's all infected by the lipid hypothesis.

Diana, you said:

"The issue here is the effects foods have on the metabolism, which really comes down to insulin levels."

You're right about the effect on metabolism being key, but wrong about it coming down to insulin. There's a lot more to it than insulin. You might be interested in ghrelin, or leptin, or Interleukin-6. Or the various types of polunsaturated fats (such as Omega-3 and -6) and the chain of reactions that lead to the production of arachodonic acid in the cells. Or the role of intestinal flora in determining which foods are digested and how efficiently. It's enormously complicated and does NOT just simplify down to insulin.

That's sort of like saying "Engines are all about spark plugs. As long as the spark plugs are maintained, it'll go." Nonsense. They're necessary, but hardly the whole story.

"What Taubes hasn't explained is why everyone doesn't respond the same way to ALL carbs. The Chinese have eaten loads of rice for thousands of years: they aren't fat. Ditto Japanese. The Pima Indians that Taubes talked about at the beginning of his book (obese thanks to a Western diet) ate as their traditional diet beans."

This isn't hard, Diana. The Chinese and Japanese, and the Pima, ate whole grains properly prepared. They didn't just get the carbohydrates; they got the fiber, the minerals, the vitamins. The whole package. Rice is naturally low in phytates (and so doesn't need to be fermented much before consumption, a good overnight soak will do), and the Pima produced a fermented porridge from their corn that broke down the anti-nutrients before they ate it. Modern Asians eat too much white rice though (better than white flour, but not great) and suffer from the same health problems observed by Robert McCarrison in urban Bangalore, and by T.L. Cleave among the urban Zulu of Africa. And once the Pima switched from their fresh corn porridge to wonder bread fried in canola oil, they got it worst of all. The pattern repeats itself all over, if you know what to look for.

"In a very real sense, obese people have a metabolism like a pregnant woman"

Not really. Obese people are more like bears preparing for hibernation and famine victims (yes, famine victims. But with access to McDonalds). Pregnancy is completely different. That sort of mistake is what happens when you think insulin is the only variable worth measuring. It's not.

Gordon, I very explicitly mentioned the Eskimo diet (seat fat & rotten fish). It's fine, if you can handle the taste. But low carb isn't necessary, and if you do too long on a low carb diet you can damage your thyroid. It's a temporary solution for weight loss, and not the most effective one at that. Dr. Atkins himself was the first to admit that in his New Diet Revolution, but most people ignore it. The Eskimos beat it (and ended up hyperthyroid their entire lives) due to the ungodly amount of fresh Omega-3 fat in their diet. Check your body temperature (under the armpit, and give the thermometer a few minutes to warm up) first thing upon waking each morning for 3-4 days and take the average. It should be at leat 97 degrees in the morning, and preferably 97.8 - 98.0. Anything less suggests you're deficient in some nutrient (possibly carbs, but not necessarily) which is causing your metabolism to run at reduced function. Dr. Broda Barnes did great work on this, and you would no doubt be interested in his research.

Brock said at December 21, 2010 2:39 PM:

I'm really sorry folks. I didn't want to just dominate this thread. But Kent here really needs some help, as he has a personal health issue.

Kent G. Budge said:

"I don't understand why pasta is on the list of bad carbohydrates. It has a relatively low glycemic index, and it's part of my diabetic diet."

Kent, are you Type 1 or Type 2 diabetic?

If you're Type 1 there's obviously no cure (short of a stem cell breakthrough that regenerates your pancreas), but pasta should not be part of anyone's diabetic diet. Please, please read Arthur De Vany's blog. He spent decades perfecting a diet to help his Type 1 wife and son, and he really nailed it.

If you're Type 2, you should still get off the pasta. But the good news is that Type 2 diabetes is perfectly curable with dietary change. Yeah, curable. Ayone who tells you otherwise is stone cold ignorant. My mother used to have Type 2 diabetes, but not any more. Google Robert Lustig's talk on "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" as a intro to how he cures children with Type 2 Diabetes. That should get you started. Email me at bmcusick at gmail if you need more help.

Mthson said at December 21, 2010 3:14 PM:

Brock, thanks for all the great info. (Thanks to everyone else, also.) Do you have the name of the bakery you mentioned?

Brock said: "Although it's possible there are others I only personally know one bakery in the country that does all of the above."

Randall Parker said at December 21, 2010 5:52 PM:

Alex,

Evidence exists that refined foods are worse than their whole food equivalents:

Most of the studies were done using refined palm oil, unfortunately. Besides only being relevant to processed foods, this method also introduces a new variable because palm oil can be refined and oxidized to varying degrees. However, a few studies were done with red palm oil, and one even compared it to refined palm oil. Dr. Suzanna Scholtz and colleagues put 59 volunteers on diets predominating in sunflower oil, refined palm oil or red palm oil for 4 weeks. LDL cholesterol was not different between the sunflower oil and red palm oil groups, however the red palm oil group saw a significant increase in HDL. LDL and HDL both increased in the refined palm oil group relative to the sunflower oil group (2).

Although the evidence is conflicting, most studies have not been able to replicate the finding that refined palm oil increases LDL relative to less saturated oils (3, 4). This is consistent with studies in a variety of species showing that saturated fat generally doesn't raise LDL compared to monounsaturated fat in the long term, unless a large amount of purified cholesterol is added to the diet (5).

Unrefined coconut oil is better than refined coconut oil.

FB said at December 21, 2010 6:47 PM:

Refined flour and sugar are the root evils.

Nah. It's (almost) all about the calories. Flour and sugar are only "bad" in the sense that they pack a lot of calories into a small mass, and are harder to eat in small quantities.

What Taubes hasn't explained is why everyone doesn't respond the same way to ALL carbs. The Chinese have eaten loads of rice for thousands of years: they aren't fat. Ditto Japanese.

I'll explain it for you: Calories. Cut 25% of your calories (which is essentially the difference between the Japanese and American diet) and see what happens.

PJ Gruber said at December 22, 2010 11:47 AM:

Brock,

Inre Alex' comment, it certainly does matter /why/ natural might beat processed - it may well be statistical fluke.

Say red wine and green tea were consumed disproportionately among the highly educated. High education correlates with basically every health outcome. Presto, red wine and green tea correlate with beneficial health outcomes. Spurious correlation, but even worse is that once the theory comes out what type of people seek and follow health food advice? Again, high education. So the spurious correlation reinforces.

So now you've got some poor schmuck who hates red wine and hates green tea, consuming them because somebody somewhere couldn't control for an outside variable. Very common, imo.

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