End the War on Fat

March 29th, 2010  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  11 Comments

Thirty years ago, America declared war against fat. The inaugural edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in 1980 and subsequently updated every five years, advised people to steer clear of “too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol,” because of purported ties between fat intake and heart disease. The message has remained essentially the same ever since, with current guidelines recommending that Americans consume less than 10 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat.

But heart disease continues to devastate the country, and, as you may have noticed, we certainly haven’t gotten any thinner. Ultimately, that’s because fat should never have been our enemy. The big question is whether the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, due out at the end of the year, will finally announce retreat.

Full article in Slate.com

Sometimes I wonder about the idea that Americans all went low-fat. From what I can see of the US diet, very few folks do, in fact, eat low fat. I think they think they should eat low-fat… but don’t actually do so.


  1. Allie (Protein Girl) says:

    March 29th, 2010at 6:57 am(#)

    I think we should instead target the war on muffin tops and cellulite?

    I experienced first hand trying to be fat free (Susan Powter anyone?) for years. I ate fat free for weeks (or months) on end and then there would be the inevitable flip side of bingeing on fatty foods. Oh, and the endless cravings… I think Americans struggle with the constant guilt of “I shouldn’t be eating this” so figure that if you’re gonna eat fat, it might as well be the donut.

    Bring on the fatty Alaskan salmon, the flax, whole eggs and mixed nuts baby!

  2. batty says:

    March 29th, 2010at 7:36 am(#)

    THANK YOU for pointing out this article. i get a lot of flack for cutting out grains in my diet, and this article is my defense in one neat little package.

  3. felipe says:

    March 29th, 2010at 10:17 am(#)

    Speaking only for myself, as I drizzle olive oil over my lamb sausage, squash, and peppers, I can say that I haven’t gone low fat.

  4. Simma says:

    March 29th, 2010at 10:33 am(#)


    I don’t know how much data there is on the past 10 years or so, but 1998 data from the USDA show that overall fat consumption has increased, but percentage fat consumption has decreased since 1965.


    If you look at this fact sheet that shows differences in agricultural production between 1970 and 1994 (once again, data was published in 1998):

    Note the decline in red meat and egg consumption and the increase in cereals and, especially, sugars/sweeteners. I’m probably not wrong in guessing that a lot of that sweetener increase is from corn-based sweeteners.

    Also note the increase in “added fats and oils”. I would bet that most of that is probably oil from corn and soy, not fat from animals or more expensive plant-based fats, such as from avocados, nuts, etc.

    That’s all could find with a cursory google search, but I’m sure you have easier access to more scholarly data or at least will be more adept than I am at finding it.

    I tend to agree with Gary Taubes and see the overall increase in caloric consumption and increased tendency to be sedentary as symptoms of some underlying problem, not just the cause. I’m a layperson when it comes to nutrition, but it seems to me that there’s quite a bit of scientific support for the idea that we are suffering the consequences of cutting out the fats which we have evolved to consume and require for health and replacing them with industrial byproducts (in both carbohydrate and fat form) of corn and soy. Some would argue that this is more a proxy for replacing whole foods with processed foods, and I agree that this seems true to a great extent, but I also think there is a lot of evidence that specifically removing animal fats from our collective diet has been disastrous.

    I’m not trying to say that removing meat from the diet for ethical reasons makes it impossible to be healthy. I think it’s a question of which vegetable fats to use as replacements (i.e., coconut or palm rather than corn oil, keep olive oil in balance with a good omega 3 sources, etc.). But that’s a different topic.

  5. 5 Ways to Reduce Fat in Meat Dishes says:

    March 29th, 2010at 1:17 pm(#)

    […] End the War on Fat :: stumptuous.com […]

  6. Kristen says:

    March 29th, 2010at 4:43 pm(#)

    “I think they think they should eat low-fat… but don’t actually do so.”

    Help me here. I *hope* that you mean people should eat so their *bodies* are low in fat – that is, they should cut out sugar and carbs so they won’t store fat! And get enough fat and protein in their meals!

    Not “low-fat”, as in broiled chicken breast and rice…

    oh, please say you’re not perpetuating the low-fat myths!

  7. Mistress Krista says:

    March 29th, 2010at 4:58 pm(#)

    Kristen: No, I mean that we’re told we should eat low fat but people actually don’t… except their version of high fat is not wild salmon or avocado but high crap fat and high carb, e.g. chicken nuggets and fries.

  8. Chris says:

    March 30th, 2010at 7:51 am(#)

    It’s not really the fat that kills us, it’s the combination of fat and simple carbs in one meal that does. The net effect is usually a really high calorie meal which spikes insulin and stores all that fat as…uh, fat.

  9. Mistress Krista says:

    March 30th, 2010at 11:47 am(#)

    And the type of fat. We’ve replaced saturated and omega-3s with omega-6s and trans fats. And “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” (Your body can’t either, and boy is it pissed about the bait-and-switch.)

  10. Simma says:

    March 30th, 2010at 12:31 pm(#)

    Not to say that people who don’t give a crap about eating crap don’t exist (they do in every society where processed foods are readily available, and there probably are more of them in the US than elsewhere). And no argument against the idea that way too Americans eat crap. And not to say that personal agency is beside the point.

    But the media, both in the US and abroad, loves to portray Americans as greedy pigs who eat revolting junk out of sheer perversity.

    But for a population to decrease its % of fat consumption by 10% or more over a generation and replace a good amount of the saturated fats they did eat with fats they were told to eat instead means that there are significant numbers of people who are sincerely trying to follow the crappy public health recommendations and wrong medial advice they are given about diet.

    Yes, Americans are eating more overall, but that’s likely at least partially and significantly caused by their attempts to follow the aforementioned crappy recommendations. Take out the natural fats we have evolved to consume, and appetite controls fail, often spectacularly.

    There may be regional differences–there are definitely differences by income bracket–but I do think the stats indicate that most Americans have been trying to eat lower fat diets for the past few decades. To their detriment. And since I’m an American living in the US and most of the people I know are American, and most of them have, at some point, sincerely tried to eat lower fat diets (they DO know me, so I’ve managed to get many of them to come around on that), my personal experience is that, in general, Americans try to do what their doctors and their public health officials tell them to do. Which is why it’s very important for government recommendations to get it right.

  11. Gale says:

    April 13th, 2010at 11:48 pm(#)

    I just read “Good Calories Bad Calories”, by Gary Taubes and was thoroughly convinced by his hypotheses. You can find a summary of his findings within this article: http://www.gold-speculator.com/appenzell-daily-bell/15752-gary-taubes-cold-fusion-good-nutrition-what-makes-bad-good-science.html

    I converted to a very low carb diet (not exactly Atkins but close) late last year and haven’t looked back, I have lost two dress sizes and feel better than ever, and don’t crave for carbs anymore. The only things that worried me about my new lifestyle were the amount of fat (from meat, cream and eggs) and salt I was eating and I thought I probably wasn’t eating enough veg. Now I feel vindicated: viva la low-carb lifestyle!!

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