This week, reports have surfaced that the Sugar Research Foundation (aka "Big Sugar") paid off Harvard scientists in the 60's to skew heart disease research findings away from sweets and more towards fats. These findings had been used for decades to inform public policy on food and create dietary guidelines.
As a result, the general public had gone down a rabbit hole of trying to eliminate fat from their diet, but meanwhile did little to curb their sweet tooth. In fact, sugars were often added to newly faddish "low-fat" foods to mask the bland taste. Doctors promoted low fat diets that, as it turns out, aren't so healthy after all. We became a nation of "lite" low-fat carb munchers with equally as poor health outcomes.
I AM OUTRAGED!!! OUTRAGED, I SAY!!!
Many people's instant reactions to this news is that we can no longer trust any dietary science, or every conspiracy theory of food production is all true. Every sector of agriculture and government is out to get us and all we can ever do now is grow heirloom organic produce in our own pesticide-free soil and raise chickens in our backyard. Otherwise, it's all tainted. Everyone is trying to make us sick so that Big Pharma can medicate us for the rest of our lives!!!
Okay, here's a paper bag. Take a few deep huffs and come back to me.
Scientists aren't out to get you, though corporate greed is capable of some shady shit. This kind of using funds to bribe outcomes is unethical. Although funding policy has changed since the 60's, it is worth noting that science is greatly underfunded and undervalued in this country, which can lead to the cherry picking of studies that get funded and the conclusions the public draws from these studies once they are.
These particular scientists didn't make studies up or fake data (according to the article) but they did downplay sugar's link to heart disease by not accepting as many undesirable results into their evidence pool, and accepting more of the studies that linked fat to heart disease. In other words, they unfairly weighed the evidence.
As far as the scientific end is concerned, we need to understand the flaws in studies but not throw he baby out with the bathwater. Scientific consensus is reached by growing bodies of evidence and replicated studies, meaning there should be multiple sources showing similar results. One study that links X to Y is not impressive, however, hundreds of studies across the board that link X to Y is. And then, we are still left to figure out what that link is and how it works. What these scientists did doesn't mean all the evidence that came before or since is somehow invalid.
Dietary guidelines have changed a lot since we were encouraged to eliminate fat. The American Dietetic Association and other policy-making groups do not suggest eschewing fats anymore, rather they say we should be eating less saturated fats and little to no trans fats, but "healthy" fats like mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are a go. They are working on deepening scientific evidence of fat's link to heart disease. Their position on sugar is that ADDED sugars should be consumed sparingly.
So, even though this may be startling to some people, trust that scientists, the government and dietitians are way past this bullshit. Most doctors are, too.
I heard that fat is where it's at!
Put down the butter, and calm the fuck down. This kind of pendulum attitude will get you in trouble when the fat fad is dead and some new superfood is in.
Did you not learn anything form the food trends of decades past? THIS STUDY SAYS NO EGGS! THAT STUDY SAYS EGGS ALL DAY! THIS STUDY SAYS LOW FAT! THAT STUDY SAYS WHALE BLUBBER WILL MAKE YOU IMMORTAL! THIS STUDY SAYS NO CARBS! THAT STUDY SAYS DOUGHNUTS AFTER DEADLIFTS!
First of all, stop thinking there is some manna from heaven or ancient diet plan direct from the garden of Eden that will turn your body into a specimen of perfect health. It doesn't exist. Sorry, I know. But the truth will set you free.
There IS STILL a link between excess cholesterol and heart disease. Growing consensus though, is steering away from blaming all fats (which are a necessary and vital part of your diet) and towards high amounts of specific fats, trans and saturated, as being unhealthy. Point being, eat some fatty steak and bacon sometimes, but don't make saturated fat your primary fat source.
There IS STILL a link between excess sugar and heart disease. Consensus says eating a doughnut here and there and fitting glucose into an active lifestyle isn't so bad as sitting on your ass and guzzling sugar-laden beverages. Point being, eat fruit, (and sometimes dessert!) but avoid dumping sugar on everything you eat or pouring it into everything you drink.
It's not so much about the food, it seems, but the excess intake and obesity.
SO, WHAT DOES THE IRON BEAVER THINK ABOUT ALL THIS?
In my opinion, the best dietary advice comes from the American Dietetic Association, because they amass the most evidence and play it conservatively. You may hear a bunch of one-off studies, or one thing from some guy in India who says this or that... but again, these studies aren't that impressive until more evidence across the board reaches the same conclusion or deepens the mystery of a simple "link."
As for what I eat, I know that protein helps build and retain muscle, so I make sure to get about a gram of it per pound of bodyweight a day. I do this because I lift and my goal is building and retaining muscle. I use canola and olive oils to cook, as well as eat avocados and nuts. I don't eat all those things every day, but those are the sources where most of my fat comes from. I also know that plant-based foods are good for fiber intake and lowering cholesterol (as well as phytonutrients,) so I try to get plenty of carbs from vegetables and whole grains. Lately, because I've been on a strength campaign, I've eaten a fair amount of pasta, too. I try to fit all these foods into a calorie count in accordance with my activity level and goals (1800-1900 lean, 1900-2000 maintain, 2100-2200 bulk.) That's about it.
Oh yeah, and sometimes I eat baggies of cheeze-its until I hate myself. Or giant bacon burgers with a basket of french fries. Or waaaaay too much chocolate. Or sip alcoholic drinks until I feel like shit the next morning. Because, I'm human and what the fuck, right?
But you know what part of my diet is the most important? The part where I go to my doctor every year for a physical and have my lipid panel and blood sugar tested, as well as my liver and kidney function, blood pressure and heart rate. This shows me exactly how my body is responding to both my diet and my fitness level. Depending on how my body is doing, I might need to make some changes. But as for right now, the balance is working just fine.