Industry News - AM

Last 50 years of diet advice on meat, saturated fat could be wrong

By Rita Jane Gabbett on 9/16/2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nearly everything the government and the American Heart Association have recommended regarding restricting saturated fat intake to prevent heart disease, including USDA’s dietary guidelines and food pyramid, appear to be wrong, according to author Nina Teicholz, a journalist who spent nine years reviewing 50 years of research and interviewing nutrition experts.

She recounted the findings of her book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” at the North American Meat Association Outlook Conference here last week.  

Teicholz is an independent investigative journalist who has no affiliation with the meat industry and has received no funding from government or private sources.

“I was pretty much a vegetarian when I started,” Teicholz told the group. Her research was ignited by curiosity after increasing her intake of red meat, organ meat and creamy sauces as a restaurant reviewer appeared to be helping her lose weight.

“Now I send my kids to school after eating bacon and make them defend bacon to their teachers,” she quipped.

Among the conclusions her review of existing research led her to:  

  • Fat does not make you fat – it is a “tragic homonym.”
  • Evidence does not show saturated fat contributes to heart disease or cancer.
  • Red meat is the only food that actually improves “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
  • There are health benefits to eating red meat high in saturated fat that go beyond the health benefits of eating lean red meat with less saturated fat.
  • The switch away from a diet that includes saturated fats in meat, eggs and dairy has resulted in increased carbohydrate consumption, which has contributed to obesity and diabetes.  

Teicholz’s book describes what she called, “the blood sport of nutrition science,” where scientists wedded to their own theories about saturated fat and heart disease went to any length to protect their hypotheses and discredit contradictory studies and the scientists that produced them.

Teicholz names Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, as two of the current major proponents of the low-fat health guidelines. 

In CNN interviews, Ornish called "The Big Fat Surprise" a "dangerous book because it is telling people what they want to hear, not really what is true." 

Willet said if you compare saturated fats to everything else in a person's diet, including sugar, they may not look very damaging, but called the idea that saturated fats are not all that bad "only sort of a half a truth."

Dietary guidelines

The book has come out just as the five-year review of USDA's dietary guidelines are underway. The advisory committee is holding its fifth meeting on the new guidelines today and tomorrow.

The meat industry is watching those deliberations with great interest, as past recommendations have not favored meat as a major diet contributor.

The current guidelines, issued in January 2011, suggest consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids will reduce blood cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk. The guidelines further suggest lowering the percentage even more, to 7 percent of calories, can further reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Barbara Millen chairs the 2015 guidelines committee and Tufts University Nutrition Professor Alice Lichtenstein is the vice chair. Both have in the past supported the low fat diet premise.  

Loading Comments