Big Fat Lies

The notion that saturated fat, specifically the type found in animal products, is "bad" because it raises cholesterol, "clogs" arteries and leads to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases is not just a little off, it's flat out false.

In the 1950's, a researcher named Ancel Keys decided that our country was in the middle of an epidemic.  He believed that American's were suffering from cardiovascular disease and, in his mind, the culprit was dietary fat.  His developed of the "lipid hypothesis" of chronic disease and set about on a crusade to prove his notion correct.

Unfortunately, the data he collected by testing the total cholesterol of men in dozens of different countries didn't back-up his theory.  Unswayed, Ancel simply removed the data that didn't fit his hypothesis, interpreted his findings as "proof" and then engaged in a marketing campaign that culminated in a Time Magazine cover story.  Keys' findings were then adopted by the 1977 McGovern Commission, against the will of the commissions board of doctors and scientists, culminating in the first set of national dietary recommendations.  

The red dots indicate the data Keys used to "prove" his correlation between  fat intake and mortality.  The black dots reflect populations that were not considered in Keys' study and when they are incorporated, the empirical support of the fat/cholesterol hypothesis of disease falls apart.  (Image from Hyperlipid

The McGovern Commission guidelines, which recommended limits on the consumption of meat, dairy and other sources of dietary fat and cholesterol, institutionalized Keys' cholesterol hypothesis, directed the funding of future research, and  reshaped the perceptions of millions of Americans.  The results, however, have been deadly.

As you can see from the below graph below, since the McGovern commission released it's findings in the mid 1970's, there has been a dramatic spike in the incidence of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in this country.

Just in case you were thinking that the above graph could be explained by an increase in dietary fat intake, the graph below charts average carbohydrate consumption in grams over the same period of time.

From Gross et al 2004 (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

While it may be easy to point the finger at fast food companies like McDonalds, the truth of the matter is that American's really did listen to the advice that they were given and reduced their fat intake, replacing fat calories with carbohydrates.

At this point, the problem is now a matter of entrenched beliefs posing as facts.  The recommendation to "reduce fat" has been repeated so many times that it is confused for an absolute truth.  Doctors, Dieticians, and Nutritionists who studied in the years following the McGovern Commission were taught that fat is "bad" and now accept the notion without engaging in a critical examination of the actual scientific evidence.

The average American, believing in the infallibility of "experts" is directed to eat more "good" carbohydrates like whole grain cereals, beans, and breads.  They are told to avoid "fatty" foods and to eat "lean" meat.  They then buy "low-fat" high carbohydrate foods, margarine and other "low cholesterol" oils, and as many "Now with more whole grain!" items as they can.  They avoid rich, satisfying foods and instead eat copious amounts of craving-inducing refined carbohydrates.

Sadly, a low-fat high carbohydrate diet, as recommended by American Heart Association, the ADA, and by so-called nutrition "experts", is precisely the kind of diet that leads to the development of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and every other form of chronic, auto-immune, and degenerative disease.  An honest look at the actual scientific evidence is difficult to find and it is only through the courageous efforts by passionate informed individuals such as Gary Taubes, Tom Naughton, Sally Fallon, and Mary Enig that the truth has slowly been brought to light.

If you want to help bring the decades long war against dietary fat to an end, join our online petition.  It only takes minute and the more of us who speak up, the greater the chances that we will be heard. 
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About Unknown

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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  1. Dr. Weil is on board but dosen't quite get that carbs need to be treated like an addiction. The further into Paleo I get the less cravings and attraction to sweets I have. Yams and dark chocolate taste very sweet to me now. You couldn't pay me to eat cake or ice cream. Maybe I'm just lucky that I enjoy eating meat (not afraid of fat) veggies and some nuts and fruit. Or maybe I got off the gluten, casein and sugar (and alcohol!) and I'm on the other side of carb addiction. This is something you have to experience to understand, just how your metabolism changes as you get keto-adapted. A junkie isn't interested in giving up drugs and folks aren't keen on giving up the sweets and bread. Plus, there is a strong cultural factor involved with sweets as comfort food. How many times on TV or in a movie have you seen someone pig out and get to the bottom of a carton of Ben & Jerry's to feel better? Sugar comes pretty damn close to drugs and alcohol IMHO.

    Thanks for putting this together Tony.

  2. Lots of great stuff! One small correction...the red dots on Hyperlipid's graph are not the dots that Keys used, but are points not in the original data, from the "Masai, Inuit, Rendale, Tokelau, and a few others". These peoples consumed prodigious amounts of fat and had some of the lowest death rates on the chart.

  3. Walquis, thanks for the catch. I'll update to accurately reflect the data.