Rethinking fat: Are carbs the culprit?
‘ Dated, ineffective’ food guide under scrutiny in obesity debate
Over the last three decades, Canadians have upped our intake of fruits and vegetables while reducing fat and dairy.
We’ve increased grains and fish and reduced red meat, eggs and butter. We’ve even scaled back on sugars ( not counting the high fructose corn syrup found in processed foods) and soft drinks.
Yet, despite adherence to the Canada Food Guide — our trustworthy blueprint for a healthy diet — two- thirds of adults are considered obese or overweight and obesity rates are twice that of 1980.
Science journalist and author Nina Teicholz says it’s because the food guide got it wrong.
It advises adults to eat six to eight servings of grains a day and to limit saturated fat in eggs, dairy, meat and some vegetable oils like coconut and palm oils.
It counsels Canadians to trim visible fat from meat, limit butter and cook without or with just a little added fat.
This fixation on carbohydrates at the expense of fat is driving obesity, argues Teicholz in her bestselling book, The Big Fat Surprise.
For decades, governments and scientists have warned of the harmful effects of saturated fat on the heart.
The demonizing was based on Ancel Keys’s landmark Seven Countries Study that linked coronary heart disease to cholesterol levels.
The evidence was weak and preliminary, said Teicholz, but that didn’t stop the American Heart Association from pushing the idea in 1961 that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol caused heart disease.
“The U. S. was in a panic over rising heart disease,” she said. “Everyone got on board with this hypothesis and that has become the accepted dogma.”
Since then, more rigorous, billiondollar, government- funded trials involving tens of thousands of participants have failed to find an association between saturated fat and heart disease.
Teicholz was a witness at a Senate committee hearing in Ottawa on how to curb Canada’s rising obesity rates.
The results of the hearing: A damning report last month that called the Canada Food Guide “dated” and “at best ineffective and at worst enabling” the obesity crisis.
Witnesses said fat made up about 40 per cent of calories in the early 1970s. By 2004 Canadians had reduced their fat intake to 31 per cent. During this time, obesity rose.
A higher- fat diet is healthier than a low- fat diet, said Teicholz, citing more than a dozen reviews that concluded saturated fat is not associated with heart disease and has no effect on cardiovascular mortality.
A 2013 paper in the British Medical Journal called the link between saturated fats and heart problems a “myth.” A 2014 study by the U. S. National Institutes of Health found that people who ate fewer carbs and more fats, including the saturated type, lost more body fat and reduced their risk of heart disease.
Last fall, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation issued a position paper overturning the warnings about saturated fat and focusing instead on a “whole diet approach” and the dangers of processed food. It noted that, in hindsight, recommendations to cut back on fat and boost carbs may have played a role in obesity.
Teicholz said she is not advocating gorging ourselves on eggs, cheese and fatty meats — only that saturated fat should be “let out of jail.”
All witnesses at the Senate hearings agreed that whole foods are best and processed foods should be avoided.
And all of them recommended an immediate review of the Canada Food Guide.