Thursday, April 10, 2008

Low-fat diets, heart disease, and health

I'm reading a book right now called In Defense of Food. If you haven't heard of it yet, it is kind of the non-nutritionist nutrition book. Michael Pollan's argument is that for the most part, we don't need to dissect the components of food in order to eat a health diet — and that we definitely shouldn't be eating all of the processed food on the market, no matter what nutrients it contains.

One of the things he talks about is how there is some evidence that low-fat diets actually cause weight gain (pg 45). Since obesity is thought to be linked to heart attack, you have to wonder if advising diabetics to eat low-fat diets is really the best course of action.

The book also draws other interesting connections, such as that "many [people] date the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes to the late 1970s, when Americans began bingeing on carbohydrates, ostensibly as a way to avoid the evils of fat."

But by far the most interesting, in my opinion, is this:

Whether the low-fat campaigners should take the credit for [the lower number of heart attack fatalities] is doubtful, however... A ten-year study of heart disease mortality published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998 strongly suggests that most of the decline in deaths from heart disease is due not to changes in lifestyle, such as diet, but to improvements in medical care... For while during the period under analysis, heart attack deaths declined substantially, hospital admissions for heart attack did not.

Of course, I am not a scientist or a doctor, but I do know that I personally feel that eating primarily whole, unprocessed foods is far more important than eating low-fat, high-carb, or even than following the food pyramid. My own cholesterol was at its highest when I was eating a lot of processed foods, especially low-fat processed foods.

As Pollan points out in his book In Defense of Food, nutritionism has been wrong before — and disastrously so, such as with the whole trans-fats debacle. This just reinforces my reasons for deciding to not take Lipitor anymore: If you can't trust scientists to report correctly on the connection between dietary fat and heart disease, how do I know they are correctly reporting the connection between type 1 diabetes and heart disease?

I feel In Defense of Food is an important to read, particularly for diabetics. Our "culture of fear" doesn't stop with terrorism — nutritionists and scientists seem determined to make us fear dietary fat every bit as much as an invasion. In Defense of Food provides another look at these issues... and why we shouldn't fear our food.

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