The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
A month has passed since the publication of the null findings from the Women's Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial and the media continues, in earnest, to try to convince you to stick with a carbohydrate-rich, low-fat diet. The repeated myths continue with a strong emphasis on eating less total fat but more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in liquid vegetable oils instead of saturated fats in butter or meat. Emphasis is also placed on eating less animal foods and more plant foods with grains highlighted.
A few individuals are pointing out the flaws in the reasoning used to convince us that we should ignore the WHI null findings and continue to believe instead a low-fat diet is better for us in the long-term - the fatal flaws include things like trends are not useful, obesity remained an issue in both groups, risks increased in some women in the intervention group, etc. But this isn't stopping the "old guard" from basically telling us to ignore the evidence, just dismiss the fact that the study found no differences between the groups!
That very fact - that there was no difference - should be setting off alarm bells!
Basically, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is no worse than a low-fat diet - or conversely - a low-fat diet is no better than the SAD.
So, the one thing I totally agree with in all the media reports is this - the findings aren't a license to go out and eat whatever thinking it doesn't matter in the long-term. It does - and I'll tell you why...what few are willing to state is the obvious - neither diet is good for you or your long-term health.
And that is what you should care about!
We know, without a doubt, that the standard American diet, as it is today, is unhealthy for long-term health. Just look around you - two out of three adults are overweight, one of the two is obese. An estimated 25% of all adults have features of Metabolic Syndrome. Millions have Type II Diabetes. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is a close second. And now our children are out-pacing adults in diseases once thought to be only effecting the aged.
We also know, without a doubt, that a carbohydrate-rich, low-fat diet reduces intake of essential nutrients - especially fat soluable vitamins D and E, preformed vitamin A and often vitamin K; limited intake of animal foods limits our intake of complete protein (the best source for our essential amino acids) and vitamin B-12; and that switching to liquid vegetable oils significantly increases our intake of omega-6 and may disrupt the balance of our intake of omega-3 fatty acids negatively. Add to this our knowledge that a carbohydrate-rich, low-fat diet lowers HDL and increases triglycerides while also, often, increasing glucose and insulin and you start to understand the growing prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome, obesity and diabetes in this country.
Whether you eat the SAD or the recommended and highly touted carbohydrate-rich, low-fat diet, your chances of optimizing your health in the long-term are just not happening. Period. The proof is in the pudding - and the pudding is the WHI Dietary Modification Trial and numerous other studies - including, but not limited to the Nurses' Health Study, the Framingham Heart Study, MRFIT, the MRC trial, the Malmo Diet and Cancer Study, the Puerto Rico Heart Health Program, and the Caerphilly Study among others.
Taken together - the high number of studies that find a low-fat diet is not protective and/or does not reduce the risk of disease in the long-term and the known health related problems that crop up repeatedly if you eat the Standard American Diet - the findings should be making us dig deeper to find the answers to what type of diet really does give us a better chance to optimize our health in the long-term!
It's not like we're clueless - there are thousands of studies out there (yes, thousands) that keep telling us the same thing again and again:
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's) are critical, especially omega-3 fatty acids
- Intake of the full spectrum of Essential Amino Acids (EAA's) is critical
- Meeting nutrient requirements for vitamins, minerals and trace elements daily is critical and some, like vitamin B-12, are best met with quality animal food sources
- Non-starchy vegetables are rich in nutrients and fiber
- Body weight is important but not the end all be all of long-term health - interestingly, when we meet our basic nutritional requirements, weight often takes care of itself
- Stress is damaging both to our mental health and our endocrine system, increasing our nutrient requirements
- Low-level, chronic inflammation is deadly
- Failing to get adequate sleep and rest is damaging to our body
- Physical activity in our daily life keeps our body "tuned" and "toned"
To start to answer that, let's step back for one moment and ask a better question first - what type of dietary approach reduces the risk of overeating with the highest odds of meeting critical nutrients that provide long-term health benefits?
This question, instead of the first one, addresses two issues - weight and meeting nutritional requirements.The answer to that question is easy - a controlled-carb dietary approach.
A controlled-carb approach offers an opportunity for nutrient-density that is superior to a low-fat diet along with a high level of satiety that is missing in a low-fat diet. Tomorrow we'll go step-by-step with a definition and comprehensive look at what a controlled-carb nutritional approach looks like and tap the evidence to see just how strong the data is and why the evidence supports it as the one dietary approach that can optimize health in the long-term!