(Note: This post was inspired by the “Ancel Keys” section in a recent series of paleo-challenging YouTube videos, which I may critique in the future. The anonymous videomaker “Plant Positive” highlighted some important misconceptions about Keys and his research that I’d like to broadcast to a larger audience, but didn’t address some equally important points tangled in the Keys saga, and likewise made some arguments I believe are incomplete or misleading. This blog post is an attempt to address those misconceptions in a more balanced and thorough way, and provide a broader context for how we view the infamous Mr. Keys.)
This is one of those “gotta bust me some myths no matter where they come from” blog posts. And by that, I mean I’m about to challenge a story that’s been so well-circulated among paleo, low carb, and real-food communities that most of us have filed it away in a little brain-folder called “Things We Never Have to Question Because They’re So Ridiculously True.”
I’m talking about the late, great Ancel Keys, and his equally late (but maybe not as great) role in the history of heart disease research. The oft-repeated tale goes something like this:
Once upon a time, a scientist named Ancel Keys did an awful thing. He published a study about different countries that made it look like heart disease was associated with fat intake. But the truth was that he started out with 22 countries and just tossed out the ones that didn’t fit his hypothesis! When other researchers analyzed his data using all the original countries, the link between fat and heart disease totally vanished. Keys was a fraud, and he’s the reason my mom made me eat skim milk and Corn Chex for breakfast instead of delicious bacon and eggs. LET HIS SOUL BURN. BURN! BUUUUUURN! (more…)
A few days ago, the USDA finally unveiled their (fashionably late) 2010 dietary guidelines—the first update they’ve made since 2005. Are you as excited as I am? Can we live without bread yet? Leave the fat on our dairy? Ditch the rancid vegetable oils? Gobble down butter and coconut oil without fearing imminent death? By golly, has the USDA finally pulled its head out of the soybean fields and given us something useful, emerging as a reliable authority instead of a food industry puppet?
Contrary to my title, though, the new guidelines aren’t total hogwash. Just mostly. A few of their recommendations are passable, like these:
Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors. (Duh.)
Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors. (Duh.)
Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils. (Duh.)
Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium. (Yes!)
Unfortunately, the rest of the guidelines are the regurgitated—and often unsubstantiated—snippets we’re already inundated with. Case in point:
Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.
According to the guideline packet, these recommendations provide “information and advice for choosing a healthy eating pattern” and are “based on the most recent scientific evidence review.” If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you probably know by now that I’m weary of trusting second-hand interpretations—the original data often tells a different story than the mouths claiming to interpret it. So instead of taking the USDA’s word as gospel, why not see what they’re basing their recommendations on?