May 3, 2014

"Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota."

"Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world—even gracing the cover of Time magazine—for relentlessly championing the idea that saturated fats raise cholesterol and, as a result, cause heart attacks.... As the director of the largest nutrition study to date, Dr. Keys was in an excellent position to promote his idea.... Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study.... In 1961, Dr. Keys sealed saturated fat's fate by landing a position on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, whose dietary guidelines are considered the gold standard.... Too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Dr. Keys's hypothesis. A bias in its favor had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense...."

Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal piece "The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease" (also titled "The Dubious Science Behind Anti-Fat Crusade"). 

Many lessons to be learned here, including: Science ≠ Scientists.

57 comments:

annk said...

Gary Taubes did a masterful job of explaining this in "Good Calories, Bad Calories" some time ago.

Hagar said...

Not unlike "AGW" and "Climate Change."

cubanbob said...

The lesson here is to skeptical of studies that aren't thoroughly vetted.

Michael K said...

Most of this began with the Korean War. Many young casualties showed considerable coronary atherosclerosis. Probably smoking related we now believe.

Then there were studies showing rabbits got coronary atherosclerosis from eating meat, which normal rabbits avoid.

It went on from there.

Drago said...

The science of saturated fats and heart disease was settled h8ters!

How dare you question "scientists" who are involved in political processes! Those political considerations play no role whatsoever in what research is conducted and which results are championed!

Everyone "knows" this, except those "climate deniers"!

Oso Negro said...

You pretty much can't believe anything that "science" has to say on nutrition, race, gender roles, homosexuality, or climate change. I have probably missed some, but that is enough bullshit to provoke wonder and disdain from future historians.

AReasonableMan said...

Nutritionists are scientists in the same sense that homeopaths are scientists.

PB Reader said...

But it was a consensus!

Big Mike said...

"All science is either physics or stamp collecting." -- Ernest Rutherford

Bob Boyd said...

We love celebrities.

"I'm giving up butter."
"Why?"
"This guy said it was really bad."
"Like how bad?"
"Like people are dying and they don't even know."
"Well, my Grandpa's like a hundred and...."
"Dude, this guy's famous and shit. He's on TV. He wrote a whole book about it. He's, like, a doctor."
"You know I always kinda thought butter could just not be good for you."

rcocean said...

I'm sorry but a consensus of scientists have spoken on this. I refuse to listen to saturated fat deniers.

rcocean said...

BTW, I thought the article was terrible. More than 1 scientist has shown the link between saturated fat, cholesterol and HD.

Japanese and others who eat Low fat diet = little HD. Japanese- Americans who eat high fat diet = lots of HD.

SteveBrooklineMA said...

What a strange article. "we were fools to follow that old bullshit. Let's follow my new bullshit instead!". Well, at least that's what it sounds like to me.

iowan2 said...

Add to Oso Negro's list. Enviromental Science. Oraganic is better......except no one can prove it. Keystone pipeline? approved by all science agencies, yet science is still used as the reason for delay.
Green enery? Scam. Fracking? has exploded the reserves of vastly cleaner Natural gas, yet fracking is endlessly maligned.

But the biggest point is that to question the conclusions gets you painted as a and illiterate knuckle dragger.

Ulcers? The doctor that discovered the bacteria that caused ulcers, was all but drummed out of practice, by the entire medical community, before they could not prove him wrong. So much for DR's only following the facts.

The blind following of the educated has given them unearned power and it has corrupted them.
Look at what academics have done to simple constitutional language, and changed the meaning and purpose.

Of course without the media intent on pushing their agenda and blindly disseminating what ever warped notion they agree with it wouldn't be so easy.

William said...

I haven't eaten butter in years. I feel cheated and foolish....,Fortunately, due to a lack of moral character, I didn't forgo the BBQ and the rib steaks. But I used to feel guilty about such indulgence.......Over the years the scientists, the economists, and our social betters have gotten a lot of things wrong, but that never seems to faze them. There's never any uncertainty in their pronouncements. This time they've got it right and those who disagree are fools or sinners.

DougWeber said...

What is frightening is that every year "Sleeper" looks more like a prediction than a comedy.

Moose said...

I think the order on that tag is reversed...

Christopher said...

The author wrote a book on the topic,coming out soon. Glad to see it out there but I also hope she's plowed some new ground since Taubes said all this some years ago. Well, more to the party, that's good. Maybe it will begin to penetrate the skulls of health professionals.

Had my semi-annual fight over cholesterol with my doctor; they want to put me on statins even though I have zero "other" risk factors: I'm physically active, I don't smoke, I'm not overweight, I have no history of heart disease in my family... I just laugh at them.

You want to respect their education and training but come on people. First you told me glucosamin and chondroitin wouldn't ease my joint pain, but it did. Then you told me if I went on a low-carb diet I would get fat and damage my health, yet I've maintained almost exactly the same weight for over 15 years into my late 50's now, and am far more active than I was in my 30's, when I was listening to you tools.

They'll never admit they're wrong though, just like the climate hysterics. At best they'll gradually back away from it, then pretend they never tried to force us all to take damaging drugs, get sick and be fat.

Greg Hlatky said...

Waiter! Ribeye! And make mine a double!

traditionalguy said...

It was the stubbornness of an Eastern European Jewish immigrant doing research into live virus vaccines while fighting the well known Science Super Stars of his day all the way that ended the Polio horror.

Thank God for Jonas Salk using rogue funding from an FDR created research Foundation. I like to walk and live.

Joe said...

More than 1 scientist has shown the link between saturated fat, cholesterol and HD

And many more have shown no link at all. The cholesterol/HD link is especially dubious.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

What a strange article. "we were fools to follow that old bullshit. Let's follow my new bullshit instead!". Well, at least that's what it sounds like to me.

What I was thinking, as well.

Ms. [NIna] Teicholz has been researching dietary fat and disease for nearly a decade. Her book, "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet," will be published by Simon & Schuster on May 13.

Established science can have its bias. So too can people selling books that justify unhealthy diets that people are addicted to.

Why should I believe her rather than, say, this article that suggests replacing saturated fat by polyunsaturated fats might reduce cardiovascular heart disease events by 19%?

And what about short-chain saturated fats that are in (say) coconut, or monounsaturated fats as in olive and canola oil?

In figuring out what to eat, I tend to use mix of how I notice stuff makes me feel, of how stuff tastes, and of what scientific opinion be. And I will occasionally develop my own theories about what evolution suggests might be healthful. For instance, I make a point of eating nuts every day, snacking on them often, because animals that would bury nuts would tend to do the same, and those are the animals trees need to encourage to survive. Sometimes I'll eat a certain way just because it seems right from a moral analogy. E.g., pretty much I limit myself to one nut (hazelnuts), whereas I'll mix lots of fruit together. Sort of reminds me of caring for one female while (ideally) having sex with many all at once, which is what I think morally is usually right for males to view as an ideal situation for great male.

Joe said...

From the article: "we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%,..."

Problem is that we are eating about the same amount of carbs as in 1900. We are also consuming slightly more protein than in 1900 and a lot more fat.

Indications are that Taubes et al are wrong; the main problem is simply that we are eating more. (There is also the adrenalin connection with heart attacks and the virus/bacteria theory of heart disease.)

Christopher said...

rcocean, it is also true that nearly 100% of people who have heart disease usually stop at red lights. Result: Red lights cause heart disease.

There are plenty of other factors causing Japanese in the U.S. to achieve U.S. rates of heart disease.

Here is the basic hit parade for heart disease and cholesterol: Half the people who get hospitalized for heart disease in the U.S. have low cholesterol. There are countries with high cholesterol and low heart disease; low cholesterol and high heart disease; low/low; and high/high. Ancel Keys did, in fact, cherry pick his research as indicated in the article. Others have followed suit.

It is gradually becoming clear that heart disease is related to inflammation, which in turn is driven by things such as sugars (see: carbs) and stress. The minuscule causal relationship between statins and lower rates of heart disease is likely a side effect of statins' inflammation-reducing properties and have just about zip to do, causally, with cholesterol for most people. And there are far better, less damaging ways to reduce inflammation than putting half the country (literally, that's about where the recommendations are now) on statins.

Statins appear to be useful for patients who have already suffered a heart attack. That's a relatively small % of the country. That's what the doctors and government regulators etc. are going to say when they're more fully exposed--rather than admitting they subjected tens of millions of people to unnecessary, damaging treatments. "See, we're just refining the guidelines now."

Another trick these people pull is the use of misleading stats. These are not the exact figures so don't hold me to it, but the basic issue is this: They'll say taking statins reduces your chance of a heart attack by 30%. Sounds great. What they don't tell you (possibly because they do not know, or care to know) is that this reduces your risk from 1 in 10,000 to .66 in 10,000.

Tools.

Leit Bart said...

This white paper, expounding on Taubes, is pretty sludgy. But if you jump to page 12 (at numbered para. 7) it's pretty readable and shows how politics and government funding wildly distort scientific output.

http://www.econ.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/14411/Butos_McQuade_20100419.pdf

Gerrard787 said...

Terrible trashy article. Almost as bad as some of those articles that claimed a link between vaccines and autism.

The author is making wild claims to pump up sales in her book but this kind of junk reporting truly does a disservice to the general public.

Brennan said...

Reproducible evidence is hard. If this has not been done, then the science most certainly is not settled. The mob of consensus among scientists is not scientific evidence.

Gerrard787 said...

=="They'll say taking statins reduces your chance of a heart attack by 30%. Sounds great. What they don't tell you (possibly because they do not know, or care to know) is that this reduces your risk from 1 in 10,000 to .66 in 10,000."==

What a load of rubbish! Do you have any idea how high the rate for heart attacks is?

gregq said...

The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.


The fact is, there's never been solid evidence that anthropogenic emissions of CO2 cause the globe to heat up. We only believe this to be the case because climate policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.


FIFY

grackle said...

Personal anecdote: Went from 40" waist and 215# to 34" waist and 165# using the recommended diet from the Gary Taubes book. I look and feel much better.

BUT, I also suffered a subdural hematoma and had to undergo brain surgery this month.

I wonder now if the one had anything to do with the other.

Unusual side effect of the surgery: After a lifelong addiction to nicotine, after the surgery I feel absolutely NO craving for it.

SGT Ted said...

The last 100 years have shown us that anytime science is used to justify telling other people how to live, especially through the force of law, it is most likely fraudulent, or cooked in some fashion to support the assertion at the expense of the truth.

David Davenport said...

I make a point of eating nuts every day, snacking on them often, because animals that would bury nuts would tend to do the same, and those are the animals trees need to encourage to survive.

If you're emulating squirrels, then you also should bury some of your nuts.

Even as I type this, trees are sending you thought-waves telling you to please plant some nuts.

Cole Colter said...

Gary Taubes book,"why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It" is very interesting. Chapters 1 through 8 explain the history of low carb diets. Chapters 9 through the end give medical evidence of the cause of obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and other problems caused by carbs and sugars. Stanford evaluated 4 diets and proved that low carb diets reduced chlorestal the best. Just eliminating white carbs and sugar has allowed me to reduce my weight by 35 lbs in two years.when I go on a cruise I return the same weight as I left.

Nutritional "scientests" as well as Climate "scientists" give science a bad name.

David said...

Have you been genotyped? I have. Supposedly they can now measure genetically your predisposition to heart disease.

There are four categories:

1. La-la-la-la-la-la eat whatever you want.
2. You can probably get away with it.
3. You are in deep shit brother, if you do not mend your ways.
4. Doomed to an early death.

It all has to do with how your body processes what you eat, especially carbs, but if you process carbs badly fats can be bad for you as well.

I am in category 3.My doctor showed me the recommended diet, and then said he did not recommend it because most people can't sustain the diet. He was pretty sure I would not. Basically he said cut down on sweets, be sparing with processed grains, take a statin and hope for the best.

So I'm hoping. And even if this article reads a bit like a new version of the old bullshit, I plan to believe it.

Pass the salt, please.

AReasonableMan said...

One point that should be made, to be fair, is that it is enormously difficult to do good clinical research. It is quite difficult even to do crappy clinical research. It is not like working with lab rats, and even that can be difficult. Working with humans adds orders of magnitude in complexity, generally not biological complexity but logistical complexity as well as endless ethical and regulatory problems and concomitant increases in cost. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The old medical literature has its ethical problems and can be an eye opener - it is always good to remember in this context that the guy who invented frontal lobotomies received a Nobel prize. Nonetheless, many of the problems that people are referring to have a basis in the fundamental difficulty of doing good clinical research.

If we could just breed humans specifically for medical research a lot of these practical problems could be sorted out, although the long generation time of humans would still make it a slow process :).

Smilin' Jack said...

Many lessons to be learned here, including: Science ≠ Scientists.

But do not suspect that Science ≠ Government.

Illuninati said...

Stephen A. Meigs has some good points including the study which supports the traditional view on fats.

One of my favorite studies is the Adventist Health Study which has been going on for years. The data there is about vegetarian diet vs. carnivorous diet which is somewhat different although the type of fats consumed by vegetarians would obviously be vegetable fats while the carnivores would eat saturated animal fat.

Vegetarians in this study have less type 2 diabetes:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2671114/?tool=pubmed

All cause mortality is also reduced:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23836264

One reason the Seventh-day Adventists have such good results is that they have practiced vegetarianism for generations and have learned how to produce nutritious vegetarian foods and how to protect themselves from deficiencies in B12.

chickenlittle said...

I wonder if the phenomena Keys observed were side effects of Americans consuming larger amounts of artificially produced saturated fats, i.e., partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Stick margarine and Crisco were two obvious examples. Those products are known to be larded with trans fats and always have been. Trans fats result from unsaturated fats isomerizing over heterogenous catalysis used in the hydrogenation of vegetable oils.

Just a hypothesis.

vicari valdez said...

if they were wrong about this, then maybe they were also wrong about the 'dangers' of smoking marijuana.

Sam L. said...

Remember, all, The Science Is Settled!

kimsch said...

Nature's fats are good, factory fats are not.

I've insisted on real food for years. Real butter, real dairy, real eggs, real sugar.

I never liked margarine, artificial sweeteners, or non-dairy creamers or "whipped" products like Cool Whip.

jacksonjay said...

Not to worry! Just 5 years ago, Obama unleashed science to further embryonic stem cell research! Soon, real soon, all diseases and human maladies will be cured!

The Democratic Party, the SCIENCE Party!

Joan said...

Gary Taubes' first big article on this, "What if it's all been a big fat lie?" was published July 2002 in the NY Times. He has staked out this territory and covered it masterfully with "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (serious medical research and science) and "Why We Get Fat" (targeted to non-science-y general public).

I guess I'm surprised Simon & Schuster gave this lady the go-ahead, and the WSJ is giving her promo space, when this topic is so, well, old.

But... what with the upheaval in the health care system, maybe the ruling class has finally decided to come clean on how wrong their dietary advice has been for the past 40 years, essentially precipitating the current obesity epidemic, because under the new system we simply can't afford all these sick, fat people anymore.

Too bad McDonald's will never go back to cooking their french fries in beef tallow. They used to be so very, very delicious -- and a small portion (much smaller than today's "small"!) was so satisfying. Good fat calories will do that the way no amount of carbs ever will: satiate.

Ann Althouse said...

"I guess I'm surprised Simon & Schuster gave this lady the go-ahead, and the WSJ is giving her promo space, when this topic is so, well, old."

I featured the detail about Keys. Taubes's book "Why We Get Fat" talks about Keys only in one place and only to discuss one study that he did (in Naples) and why that study was bad, not the things I excerpted in my post.

It seems to me that this topic is just getting started for the general reader, and most people still believe the things that are (apparently) making them fat, so I don't see declaring the topic "old."

Ann Althouse said...

I'm very interested in the political and media processes that surround science, and I don't think we've heard much about that yet.

These issues transcend the fatness problem and carry over to global warming, etc. etc.

Jim Fisher said...

NOTE to anyone with half a brain: This one article doesn't change decades of research on the dangers of animals fats. Saturated fats are known to increase the incidence of diabetes in pregnant mothers but it also reduces the incidence of stroke in Asian populations. It also increases the risk of breast and other cancers.

New research confirms there IS a connection between high cholesterol and heart disease. So I wouldn't call this issue "settled" by any means: http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2014/02/holmes/

But what I really take issue with is the notion that because this particular area of science might be wrong, GLobal Warming isn't something to be concerned with.

How so many of you folks associate the two widely divergent sciences is disturbing. And scientifically illiterate.

Rusty said...

iowan2 said...

I also get a kick out of "Environmental Engineers"
IOW according to my civil engineer BIL. Civil engineering candidate who couldn't do the math.

Rusty said...

"New research confirms there IS a connection between high cholesterol and heart disease."

Some types of cholesterol. Not all cholesterols are bad for you.


"But what I really take issue with is the notion that because this particular area of science might be wrong, GLobal Warming isn't something to be concerned with."

What I take issue with is that the promoters of AGW have a difficult time explaining the mechanisms involved and the research they have done.
for example; I'm being told that the excess CO2 or heat-take your pick- is being sequestered in the oceans, but there is never any explanations of exactly how that works or where all this excess stuff is being held. But I'm supposed to take on faith that it is. Also. How come the models that are supposed to be such accurate predictors of our future warming trend haven't accounted for or current cooling trend. The cooling trend that has been occurring for the last 16 or so years.
Entropy appears to be winning the global warming competition.

Fernandinande said...

Yet another subset of:
Why Most Published [medical] Research Findings Are False

Chuck Currie said...

If you're really interested in this stuff...

Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health by Denise Minger (who turned 27 today)

A very thorough, in-depth and balanced (not quite as harsh on Keyes as most) review of how we got to where we are today.

Illuninati said...

Jim Fisher said...

"New research confirms there IS a connection between high cholesterol and heart disease. So I wouldn't call this issue "settled" by any means: http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2014/02/holmes/"

Good link.

"But what I really take issue with is the notion that because this particular area of science might be wrong, GLobal Warming isn't something to be concerned with...How so many of you folks associate the two widely divergent sciences is disturbing. And scientifically illiterate."

It is not scientifically illiterate to distrust highly politicized "science". When there are special interest groups including "scientists" themselves who stand to benefit financially by finding a certain outcome, everyone should question their findings. After the leaked e-mails from East Anglia there is no question that climate science is a highly politicized endeavor.

Leit Bart said...

@DougWeber, great Sleeper reference. Here's a clip (at the end of this Powerline post) ~

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/05/the-big-fat-surprise.php

@Althouse, this is definitely news to the general reader. And we share your curiosity about how politics (and the press) determine which research is funded and which outcomes are rewarded. Your grumblers are in the "science is settled: the earth is flat" ostrich camp.

Jim Fisher said...

"Also. How come the models that are supposed to be such accurate predictors of our future warming trend haven't accounted for or current cooling trend. "

THERE IS NO FRIGGIN "COOLING TREND." Not now. Not in the past XX years. What we are experiencing is a slow-down of the increase. In other words, its not warming quite as fast as predicted.

There's about an 80% chance that El Nino will make itself known this year. That will introduce and sharp increase in the warming (and perhaps an end to the California drought--yaay!).

But that is more "weather" than "climate." But I expect you deniers to acknowledge that warming just as you acknowledge the so-called "cooling."

Good golly.

chickenlittle said...

THERE IS NO FRIGGIN "COOLING TREND." Not now. Not in the past XX years. What we are experiencing is a slow-down of the increase. In other words, its not warming quite as fast as predicted.

What was the reason for this miscalculation? Clouds?

Just curious.

grackle said...

A bit technical but highly informative article about research.

http://tinyurl.com/yk85sxj

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