Although they love to position themselves as independent, high-minded, scientifically motivated organizations, the nation’s university-based public health schools that churn out doctors, scientists and researchers often are just as biased as the typical consumer.
As is true for most people, they believe in what they’re selling, and it’s not easy for the rest of us to be dissuaded from the notion that the choices these highly educated “experts” have spent their careers recommending might not be the best ones we could make — especially when it comes to something as personal as food.
So it’s eye-opening when experts from Harvard university’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an organization noted for its heavy-handed promoter of vegetarian diets and a harsh critic of meat-eating, suddenly does a 180 on the dietary front.
“Recent research suggests that eating a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet, which Americans were advised to do for about 40 years, is not a good idea.”
That’s the lead of the school’s latest “Update” newsletter, which led off with an article titled, “Forty years of low-fat diets have been ‘a failed experiment.’ ”
Without question, there’s been not just recent research, but studies going back decades that have pointed out the folly of switching out nutritious, natural foods such as meat and dairy for processed alternatives high in carbs and sugar.
Now, it seems to have finally dawned on the self-styled nutritional experts that all those processed products touted as superior alternatives to animal foods have become the problem, not the solution, to America’s No. 1 public health problem: obesity and the clinical consequences that result.
But of course, it’s not considered kosher for learned researchers to actually come out and say, “Hey — we were wrong.”
Instead, you get this quote from Frank Hu, T.H. Chan School of Public Health Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology:
“Current evidence indicates that clinically meaningful weight loss can be achieved with a variety of dietary approaches. Weight-loss diets should be tailored to cultural and food preferences and health conditions of the individual and should also consider long-term health consequences of the diets.”
I guess that’s supposed to serve as a repudiation of the low-fat dietary gospel that Hu and colleagues have been preaching since the 1990s.
A better job of framing the issue came from Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, who wrote a commentary posted on CNN.com last week in which he admitted that despite evidence to the contrary, the low-fat diet remains “deeply embedded in public consciousness and food policy.”
In an Oct. 6, 2016 article, Ludwig wrote that longstanding recommendations about avoiding dietary fat — from the government and from virtually every professional nutrition association — were based on “limited scientific evidence.” The learned researchers who pushed for low-fat diets argued vehemently that such a reversal of longstanding nutritional wisdom — and centuries of experiential evidence — would help people stay lean and healthy. Instead, the exact opposite occurred.
More research? Really?
Of course, even converts like Ludwig can’t quite bring themselves to acknowledge that meat and milk and cheese — even full-fat versions — are healthy, nutritious and worthy of regaining their place in the American diet. Here’s how he phrased his “conversion.”
Not all fats are bad, he suggested. In fact, some fats are healthy and important in a balanced diet. But even though the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans lifted the restrictions on dietary fat, Ludwig still called for a “rigorous examination of the low-fat diet debacle.”
And, of course, for more government funding to test new ideas in nutrition.
Yes, let’s have another several decades of research before anyone in the Nutritional-Industrial Complex actually admits that wolfing down shopping carts full of processed, sugary foods might not be the greatest weight-loss strategy ever devised.
And maybe, just maybe, we can be allowed to occasionally sample a bite or two of beef or pork, but only if it’s fresh, natural, lean and trimmed of all visible fat.
And only 3 ounces a couple times a week, people. Wouldn’t want to gain weight, develop diabetes and die early from cancer and/or heart disease.
And we wouldn’t want to displace all of those fat-free, flavored, processed, packaged products the food industry has worked so hard to develop.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator