Saturated fat deserves fair shake in new Dietary Guidelines

SHARE Saturated fat deserves fair shake in new Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines impact food labels and so much more. | Tony Dejak~AP

Oh, I am such a neophyte in the world of nutrition.

Or at least the politics of nutrition.

See, I figured that with the USDA working on the update of the Dietary Guidelines there will be changes in 2015 that reflect what we now know about carbs and fat, especially saturated fat. Basically, that we should cut back on carbs  significantly and fat really is our friend, particularly if you want to lose weight.

True, the experts have pretty much ignored these findings, which the highly regarded science journalist Gary Taubes has been writing about for more than a decade. But, in the last couple years and 2014 in particular, Taubes has not been singing solo. Many other respected voices have joined the chorus, agreeing that the old science (follow a low-fat/high carb diet) was wrong, never right really.

But maybe I am being too naive. Could it really turn out that when we see those new guidelines next year these major revelations won’t be addressed?

I talked with Nina Teicholz, author of the ground-breaking “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” (Simon & Schuster, $27.99), last week about what’s happening as the USDA panel of experts does its review. I reviewed her book early last summer.

As the title of her book makes clear, Teicholz discovered — through nine years of meticulous reading of thousands of nutrition studies and talking to experts — that there is no reason to avoid butter, meat and cheese. In fact, they all have health benefits.

The early science that those recommendations were based on was shoddy; it doesn’t hold up and instead shows us that an overabundance of carbohydrates is more likely to cause the health problems and weight gain we’re trying to avoid, according to Teicholz’ book.

Her best-seller really has had people talking and rethinking fat/carb intakes since it came out this spring. Yet Teicholz doesn’t sound so sure that any of what she determined will be reflected in the new guidelines.

Every five years the USDA gets together an expert committee of 10-12 scientists to go over the best science and medical literature. The goal for the Nutritional Guidelines is to set eating standards that help people maintain a healthy weight and prevent disease, according to Teicholz.

And while the panel seems to have gotten the message from Dr. Robert Lustig’s work that sugar, particularly added sugar, must be drastically lowered (if not totally eliminated) in our diets, Teicholz says that the early vibe coming out of these meetings doesn’t look encouraging when it comes to saturated fat.

Not only do these experts seem to be ignoring Teicholz research (and she points out, the significant meta-analyses led by the University of Cambridge’s Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, which showed no link between heart disease and saturated fat), but seem to be leaning toward lowering the sat fat recommendation even more. There is a lot of talk about advocating for a near-vegan diet.

And that’s really bad, because as Teicholz points out there are “no long-term studies to support that that diet would be healthy.”

After Chowdhury’s research was made public, he was quoted in Science Daily as saying, “These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines.”

Exactly. But I get the feeling the USDA panel members have held onto that old science so long they just can’t let it go.

I should make clear what Chowdhury’s work found. It looked at 72 studies that featured some 600,000 participants in 18 countries. This was no little study. What the researchers found was not only no link between heart disease and sat fat, but they also discovered the polyunsaturated fats that are pushed on us were shown not to have an impact on reducing heart disease.

So I’d think the USDA panel would be paying attention to this and Teicholz’s book and see how these new discoveries would factor into changes that should come to the Dietary Guidelines. Think about what this news would mean to your average American.

For so long people been told their weight gain is their fault, and they’ve hung their heads in shame. But here’s something else Teicholz book showed: People have indeed been following the Dietary Guidelines. They’ve done as told and increased their veggie and fruit intake. They are walking and exercising. Yet they still are overweight, even obese, and facing myriad health problems.

“People are just doing what they’ve been told,” says Teicholz,” and they’re not getting any results.”

So whatever the USDA panel settles on, we know people will follow. These guidelines not only are what you see on the side of packages, but set the recommendations for school lunch programs and nutritional education as well as impact research dollars at the National Institutes of Health, as Teicholz points out. The guidelines are a really big deal.

Teicholz says she doesn’t know what will be the final result. But in the meantime, what should you and I do? Contact our congressional leaders. Get them to pay attention to what is going on.

Because we need that panel to get it right. We can’t afford to keep getting this stuff wrong, considering the alarming diabetes and obesity rates in this country.

“Another five years of this can only continue the trends we’ve been seeing,” says Teicholz.

Note: This post was updated to correct a quote.

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