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February 08, 2006

Low-Fat Begone

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

So maybe a high-fat diet doesn't contribute to cancer or heart disease after all. (Link thanks to Shannon Love, who supplies a nice line: "Low-fat diets appeal to puritanical moralists of all stripes.") A Berkeley statistician is quoted: "We, in the scientific community, often give strong advice based on flimsy evidence."

I'll say. Do you suppose the time will ever come when the health-tips industry learns a little modesty?



posted by Michael at February 8, 2006


Heavens, no! The data show a strong correlation between modesty and eyebrow mange!

Posted by: Daniel Newby on February 8, 2006 9:23 PM

Dr. Atkins must be jumping for joy now that he's been vindicated.
Okay, he would be jumping, if he weren't dead.

Posted by: Peter on February 8, 2006 9:26 PM

Part of this, it seems, is another example of a collapse of good old-fashioned rhetoric, logic and science. Michael Crichton has been pointing out how we try to cover the sins of often-terrible science by saying something absurd like "the majority of scientists" or "virtually all experts" agree. What does that mean? Nothing. And the food and environment police are major offenders. Are we abandoning science in favor of new sets of "folk wisdom," maybe? -- "everybody knows" you don't eat fat; everybody knows you have to drink 50 gallons of water a day; everybody knows the planet is boiling over (though everybody knew a new ice age was its way back when I was in high school in the '70s). Has politics invaded science fatally? I tend to leap on the studies I like and ignore the ones I don't like; and maybe we should handle both with skepticism.

Posted by: Kent on February 8, 2006 10:02 PM

Dr. Atkins must be jumping for joy now that he's been vindicated
Hardly - the study also found no support for Atkins's theories about high carbs - no effect was found on diabetes, insulin levels, etc., etc. from carbohydrates.

It should also be noted that the study did not cover low saturated fat diets - where you eat normal levels of fat but in the form of monosaturates and polyunsaturates.

Posted by: ziel on February 8, 2006 10:08 PM

But at the end of the day, it's hard to argue that we should just do everything in moderation. The evidence and the prescriptions change so frequently that we should assume that the food police are incompetent to give advice until further notice. Science has to make do with limited data. But strong medical and dietitic advice should be limited to that which is demonstrably and repeatedly shown to be true beyond reasonable doubt. If we fear both Type 1 and Type 2 errors, then common sense should dominate.

Posted by: nn on February 8, 2006 11:14 PM

You should check out Linus Pauling's views on how to prevent and treat heart disease and cancer. I'd believe him long before these other medical doofuses. He thought it was less about eliminating or reducing some external source of bad stuff, and focused instead in how our bodies' naturally cope with junk, heal, and eliminate these toxins. He thought heart disease was a low-level form of scurvy brought about by vitamin C deficiency (he observed that only primates and humans could not produce vitamin C in their livers, and noted how Vitamin C levels were much higher in animals, and that primates lived in environments with an abundant supply of vitamin C, which they ate in large quantities). I don't know if anyone else here either knows about his theories or agrees with them, but its an interesting topic.

Posted by: btm on February 8, 2006 11:55 PM

I have grown extremely cynical whenever it comes to dietary studies as they're so contradictory. One day we hear that eating a particular food will have you running marathons at age 90, and the next day there'll be a warning that eating the same food means you'll be taking a dirt nap at age 50. What's the truth?

Posted by: Peter on February 9, 2006 10:26 AM

You know, I always hated the concept of "light" beer. For all you squeegees out there who have been standing around in bars with a bottle of "Something Light", I can only offer my sympathy. And for those of you who I have seen in BREW PUBS standing around drinking this same cat p**s when you could have had a freshly brewed pale ale, I can only assume you go home every day and eschew home cooked meals just to get into that can of Spam.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on February 9, 2006 10:45 AM

Anybody ever see the Australian movie "Bliss". There's this scene where one of the characters gives a great rant about how the more we are inundated with information about how this or that food causes cancer the more we just shut such evidence out. At the end of the diatribe the same character says, "Let's get some hookers". Great movie.

Posted by: chris on February 9, 2006 11:45 AM

It's shocking how eagerly and confidently the experts hand out advice, isn't it? They really seem to know very little in any solid way, at least beyond "get some activity, don't smoke, and don't get too, too fat."

I wonder if the time has come to start making active fun of the whole health-tips industry ... They've really inflicted a lot of needless misery and joylessness on a lot of people, who might have enjoyed their lives a lot more had they not paid attention. Why do you suppose they're so incapable of saying, "Y'know, really we don't know enough to give super-solid advice"? Is the temptation to play-expert too great? Are the rest of us just such eager rubes that it's too hard to resist taking advantage of us?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 9, 2006 12:02 PM

I wonder if the time has come to start making active fun of the whole health-tips industry

The fact that it's an industry should be Clue Numero Uno.

Beef enchiladas, here I come.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on February 9, 2006 12:47 PM

I can happliy debunk the cholesterol scare. Once mine was taken and found to be high (230) whereupon I ate a pint of butterfat ice cream every day for 6 months and it declined to 166.
So much for medical theory!

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 9, 2006 1:35 PM

Darn! I used to feel safe doing exactly the opposite of what any "study" said was good for you. But now we've got studies on both sides, saying no fat is good and saying it doesn't make any difference. What to do? I've lost my guiding star.

Posted by: Robert Speirs on February 9, 2006 2:35 PM


In nutrition, as in all forms of science, the truth is complicated, and the media reporting is simplified. There you go.

Posted by: Peggy Nature on February 9, 2006 4:51 PM

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