Copenhagen Sewage Lid

Lifting the Lid on Fat, Bringing the Hammer Down on Sugar

A new commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) celebrates recommendations for new dietary guidelines lifting the lid on fat and bringing the hammer down on sugar:

The limit on total fat presents an obstacle to sensible change, promoting harmful low-fat foods, undermining attempts to limit intakes of refined starch and added sugar, and discouraging the restaurant and food industry from providing products higher in healthful fats.

But apparently, one of the artifacts of low-fat dogma — low-fat dairy — will hang on in dietary guidelines for now. This recommendation is persisting despite the absence of compelling evidence to support a recommendation for low and nonfat dairy products over whole dairy products.

The result of low-fat dietary dogma from the 1980’s was not a reduction in the total consumption of dietary fat. Instead, people listened selectively to advice and began eating more carbohydrates. Food companies reformulated for higher carb and sugar content. As best we can tell (dietary intake data is notoriously unreliable because it comes from self-reports) consumption of dietary fats stayed pretty constant overall.

One outcome of these new recommendations — eat more fat, eat less carbs — might well be that people hold carbs and sugars constant while increasing their fat consumption. It will take years to know the outcome of this uncontrolled experiment — if we ever really do.

Our modest proposal would be to stop focusing on individual good and bad foods that seem to change with the wind. Instead, find ways to do a better job of guiding people toward a healthier overall pattern of eating.

Promoting good, holistic diets might not be as gratifying as vilifying and venerating individual foods. But it might be the better path to good dietary health.

Click here to read the commentary in JAMA.

Copenhagen Sewage Lid, photograph © Blondinrikard Fröberg / flickr

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2 Responses to “Lifting the Lid on Fat, Bringing the Hammer Down on Sugar”

  1. July 01, 2015 at 3:35 pm, David Ludwig said:

    Ted, regarding your “modest proposal” to focus on a healthful eating pattern, that was exactly the point of our piece in JAMA. Arbitrary limits on dietary fat impede that goal. See the last sentence:

    “Based on the strengths of accumulated new scientific evidence
    and consistent with the new DGAC report, a restructuring of
    national nutritional policy is warranted to move away from total fat
    reduction and toward healthy food choices, including those higher
    in healthful fats.”

    PS, the uncontrolled experiment was the one to limit dietary fat in the 1970s, without an evidence basis.

    Best wishes, David

    • July 02, 2015 at 4:57 am, Ted said:

      David, thanks for your thoughtful comments and for taking the time to share them. I agree with what you’re saying here, especially in your post script about the uncontrolled experiment on dietary fat. I do worry about how a thoughtful and complex set of recommendations gets translated to the public. I hope you and other respected experts will keep the focus on whole, healthful diets. Popular culture likes to promote magic foods instead.