Two weeks ago I posted a presentation by comedian Tom Naughton about the difference between good and bad science. A must-watch for anyone interested in nutrition, in my opinion.

Today, we're back with Tom Naughton but this time he tackles the science (or lack thereof) that originally implicated fat as a cause of cardiovascular disease and shaped the dietary guidelines of the past few decades.

This is actually a video split into 6 parts, total run time is a little over an hour. It starts with a small clip from Tom Naughton's movie, Fat Head.

In the year 1958, an American scientist called Ancel Keys started a study called the Seven Countries Study, which examined the association between diet and cardiovascular disease in different countries.

The study revealed that the countries where fat consumption was the highest had the most heart disease, supporting the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease.

The problem is that he intentionally left out:

  • Countries where people eat a lot of fat but have little heart disease, such as Holland and Norway.
  • Countries where fat consumption is low but the rate of heart disease is high, such as Chile.

Basically, he only used data from the countries that supported his theory, a process known as cherry picking.

This flawed observational study gained massive media attention and had a major influence on the dietary guidelines of the next few decades.

In 1977, an American committee of the U.S. senate led by George McGovern published the first Dietary Goals For The United States in order to reverse the epidemic of heart disease in the country.

These guidelines received major criticism at the time from many respected scientists like John Yudkin (who insisted that sugar was to blame) and the American Medical Association.

Basically, the dietary goals were:

  • Eat less fat and cholesterol.
  • Less refined and processed sugars.
  • More complex carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits and grains.

These guidelines were picked up by the USDA. Basically, a low-fat, high-carb diet for everyone.

The whole guidelines were based on observational studies made by biased scientists and had nothing even closely resembling scientific proof to back them up.

Since then, many randomized controlled trials have shown that this dietary approach doesn't really work for the people it was meant to help.

An interesting fact is that the obesity epidemic started around the time these guidelines were published and the type 2 diabetes epidemic followed soon after.

It is important to realize the massive significance of this.

This idea that saturated fat caused heart disease was the cornerstone of modern nutrition policy and the reason health authorities turned away from a higher fat diet rich in animal foods, towards a low-fat, high-carb diet with plenty of grains.

Even though saturated fat has now been shown to be harmless, modern nutrition is still stuck in that same paradigm based on cherry picking and plain bad science.

Many nutrition organizations are still preaching the low-fat, high-carb dogma that has pretty much been proven to be ineffective for the majority of people.