One Of The Greatest And Most Harmful Misconceptions In The History Of Medicine: Lipophobia (The Fear of Fat)


 

“Few public health messages are as powerful and as persistent as this one: Fat is bad…The average American has substantially reduced the percentage of calories that she or he gets from fat over the past three decades…But we are not any healthier for all of this effort. In fact, we are worse off for it.” – W.C. Willett, Harvard Medical School

“[The ‘fear fat’ myth] is one of the greatest and most harmful misconceptions in the history of medicine.” – U. Ravnskov, MD, PhD

In the last post we covered a brief history of our government’s dietary guidelines (Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid, MyPlate, etc.). Looking at that disturbing past and our equally disturbing present, we have to ask: “What would cause our government to recommend we reduce our intake of natural foods so we can increase our intake of unnatural lower-fat foods?” Interestingly, the question is not “what” but “who?”

Before the Senate’s Dietary Goals (1976) that lead to the Dietary Guidelines (1980), the Food Guide Pyramid (1992), MyPyramid (2005), and finally MyPlate (2011), there was Ancel Keys (1950s).

 

 

Keys examined diet and heart disease trends in twenty-two countries. He was apparently more interested in headlines than science because he then published a study that included data from only the six countries that showed a scary link between diet and heart disease. Keys garnered a massive amount of press and then went on tour preaching that eating fat is deadly.

Here are the facts: When the data from all twenty-two countries in Keys’ study is examined, they show no relationship between fat intake and heart disease deaths. Keys selectively picked data and designed a headline-worthy conclusion. In the words of a fellow researcher:

“No information is given by Keys on how or why the six countries were selected.”

Further exposing the sketchiness of Keys’ methods, those same researchers revealed that by selectively choosing six different countries from Keys’ data, they could create a graph suggesting that eating more fat decreases the risk of dying from heart disease.

Heart Disease Deaths per 1,000 Men

(Finland, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands)

 

Finally, looking at Keys’ data a few years later, they concluded, “The examination of all available basic data…show that the association [between fat and heart disease] lacks validity.” They also discovered “a strong negative association…for both animal protein and fat with mortality from non-cardiac diseases.” Even the American Medical Association spoke up in protest:

“The anti-fat, anti-cholesterol fad is not just foolish and futile…it also carries some risk.”

No matter. A sensationalized myth gets more press than a common sense fact. The “fat is evil” myth spawned a nationwide campaign to replace natural foods containing fat with fat-free edible products and climaxed with the government’s Dietary Guidelines, Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid, and MyPlate diets. Those diets are high in starch because starch is low in fat. Unfortunately, over a billion dollars’ worth of studies have failed to prove these diets good for anything other than profits.

“It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences.” –F.B. Hu, Harvard University

“Current trends in health promotion emphasize reducing dietary fat intake. However, as dietary fat is reduced, the dietary carbohydrate content typically rises and…is frequently accompanied by an elevation of plasma triacylglycerol [a proven risk factor for heart disease]” – E.J. Parks, University of Minnesota

 

 

“Public health recommendations for the U.S. population in 1977 were to reduce fat intake to as low as 30% of calories to lower the incidence of coronary artery disease. These recommendations resulted in a compositional shift in food materials throughout the agricultural industry, and the fractional content of fats was replaced principally with carbohydrates. Subsequently, high-carbohydrate diets were recognized as contributing to the lipoprotein pattern that characterizes atherogenic dyslipidemia and hypertriacylglycerolemia [poor health].” – J.B. German, University of California

Let’s dig into that $1,000,000,000 of data in the next post. Until then, remember that when it comes to natural fats, the only thing we have to fear is the fear of fat itself.


  1. German JB, Dillard CJ. Saturated fats: what dietary intake? Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Sep;80(3):550-9. Review. PubMed PMID: 15321792.
  2. Elmadfa I, Kornsteiner M. Fats and fatty acid requirements for adults. Ann Nutr Metab. 2009;55(1-3):56-75. Epub 2009 Sep 15. Review. PubMed PMID: 19752536.
  3. Fallon, Mary G.(Author) ;, and Sally(Author) Enig. Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats. Nashville Tennessee: Plume Books, 2006. Print.
  4. Hu FB, Manson JE, Willett WC. Types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart  disease: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Feb;20(1):5-19. Review.
  5. Keys A, Anderson JT, Grande F. Prediction of serum-cholesterol responses of man to changes in the diet. Lancet: 1957;273:959–66.
  6. Keys A. Atherosclerosis: a problem in newer public health. J Mt Sinai Hosp N Y 1953;20:118-139.
  7. P.J. Skerrett, and W.C. Willett. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. Free Press Trade Pbk. Ed ed. New York City: Free Press, 2005. Print.
  8. Yerushalmy J, Hilleboe He. Fat in the diet and mortality from heart disease; a methodologic note. N Y State J Med. 1957 Jul 15;57(14):2343-54. PubMed PMID:13441073.
  9. Parks EJ, Hellerstein MK. Carbohydrate-induced hypertriacylglycerolemia: historical perspective and review of biological mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Feb;71(2):412-33. Review. PubMed PMID: 10648253.