Big Cabbage

Big, Bad, and Unfortunate Mistakes

The bigs are out to get us. Really. Big food, big government, big agriculture, big medicine, big marketing, big academia, and more. We could go on, but no need. When all these bigs align, some big, bad, and unfortunate mistakes can fall out.

A self-professed angry old man – George Lundberg – outlines a case study in a decades-long example of one such big mistake in nutrition. The case study is the ill-informed campaign against dietary fat. As the Editor-in-Chief of JAMA, Lundberg watched and even participated in this scientific misadventure.

Seemed Like Good Science at the Time

Lundberg describes how these bigs all fell in line behind science that seemed good enough at the time:

It wasn’t all bad science. The massive effort at culture change – stop eating this, that, or the other fat – was excessive, considering the meager amount of supporting data. The unintended effects were so extreme and went so unrecognized because of this huge effort based on what had become dogma: that eating fat is bad (9 calories per gram vs 4 calories for protein and carbs). The laws of thermodynamics – calories in, calories out – had been everything in weight control.

Still Fighting About Saturated Fat

But it proved to be false. And so the recommendations for low-fat everything as a dietary holy grail have slowly faded from dietary guidelines. The last vestige of this misadventure is the ongoing fight about saturated fats.

Some folks are saying, “we might have had the low-fat thing wrong, but saturated fats are still a problem.” Count the American Heart Association in on that one. Others are pointing to the possibly benign saturated fat in dairy and saying that it’s not so simple. The fight goes on.

Rewriting History and Moving on to Sugar

But bigs are realigning. Now the common enemy is sugar. We have a sugar epidemic, say many public health nutritionists. Even better, we can blame big sugar for misleading us about fat. Those dirty dogs tricked us into thinking fat was the problem. Sugar-is-poison crusaders have emails to prove it. A few heretics say “not so fast,” but we can easily ignore them.

A common enemy is great for motivating the herd. The stampede is progressing. Big food is innovating with low-added-sugar products. Government is taxing sugar. Academics are discovering that consumption goes down when you tax something. Forget about compensatory behaviors and unintended consequences. Ignore the man behind the curtain.

The herd has no time for complexity. Simple sells. For now.

Click here for Lundberg’s commentary and here for more on the saturated fat skirmish.

Big Cabbage, photograph © Kurt Bauschardt / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


September 2, 2018