Trimming the fat in government is great, but you may want to think twice before cutting it out of your diet. For an increasing body of research indicates that a more traditional menu — replete with foods such as butter and whole milk — is more healthful than the lean fare prescribed during the last few decades.
The latest study concerns one particular disease, cystic fibrosis (CF), and finds that Canadians suffering from it live on average 10 years longer than their American counterparts. Among the reasons for this difference, say researchers, is the “high fat diet, emphasizing cheeses, fish and nuts, recommended for Canadians with cystic fibrosis since the 1970s,” writes CBC News. The United States didn’t prescribe the higher fat diet for CS patients until the 1980s.
CF is a serious disease, the result of a defective gene causing “a thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs,” informs the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. CF is progressive and leads to “persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time,” the site also tells us.
A quarter century ago, life expectancy for sufferers was only 17; now it’s 40.6 years in the United States and 50.9 in Canada — partially because of the change in diet.
Yet some researchers say that eating more traditional, higher fat foods is beneficial for everyone, contrary to the last few decades’ diet dogma. This is no surprise. As American Thinker’s Dr. Thomas Lifson writes, “The advice of the ‘experts’ has been so frequently wrong that the federal government's dietary guidelines have repeatedly been revised. The ‘food pyramid’ that recommended lots of grains is long gone, replaced by something called MyPlate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pushed by Michelle Obama, of course — formerly our national food scold, and more an impetus for thrown away school cafeteria food than anyone else in the nation's history.”
Lifson also points out that as a result of the anti-fat diet dogma, “‘fat-free’ and ‘low-fat’ foods have crowded supermarket shelves for decades, even as we get fatter and fatter. I have learned to skip them, not only because they don't satisfy the palate or the sense of hunger, but because I worry about the health effects of whatever is used to substitute for fat. Does it make sense that something the body craves, that nature supplies in abundance, and that traditional cuisines from around the world use is totally bad?”
In fact, it may largely be good. The BMJ’s Open Heart journal published research suggesting that “official warnings against the consumption of saturated fats like those found in butter and full-fat milk are based on flawed evidence and should not have been introduced,” reported the Telegraph in 2015.
The same year, a book co-authored by a scientist, a nutritionist, and a chef explained “how we can load up on butter, cheese and cream, while staying healthy and — miraculously — losing weight,” the Telegraph also informed. It quotes the chef as saying that “you have to get comfortable with the idea that everything you thought was unhealthy, is not.”
This may sound much like the futuristic 1973 comedy film Sleeper (video below), in which incredulous scientists say that the 1970s notion that deep fat, steak, cream pies, and hot fudge are unhealthful is “precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.” But this was art (almost) imitating life.
In 2004’s “The Inuit Paradox,” Discover magazine noted how the Eskimos traditionally had the ultimate “unbalanced” diet; they had a high-fat, high protein menu consisting of things such as seal, walrus, moose, caribou, and whale blubber and, well, rest assured they don’t have 22 different words for “vegetable” (they hardly ever saw one). Yet their rates of hearts disease and other “comfort” diseases were extremely low.
Now that they’re living a modern lifestyle and eating fast food, however, “type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other diseases of Western civilization are becoming causes for concern,” wrote Discover.
Yet these problems didn’t always plague Western civilization, even though, as the Atlantic pointed out in 2014, it’s a myth that our ancestors lived mainly on fruits, vegetables, and grains. As the site wrote in “How Americans Got Red Meat Wrong,” “For the first 250 years of American history, even the poor in the United States could afford meat or fish for every meal.”
Moreover, not only were fresh fruits and vegetables simply not available outside the growing season, but even “in the warmer months, fruit and salad were avoided, for fear of cholera,” informed the Atlantic.
In reality, the 19th- and early 20th-century American diet was relatively high in fat, with butter and lard common ingredients. Yet the “rate of deaths from heart disease in 1910 was 158.9 per 100,000 persons per year; by 1998 it had risen to 268.2,” despite declining saturated fat consumption, wrote The New American’s Ed Hiserodt in the 2012 essay “Food Fallacies.”
Hiserodt then quoted researcher Dr. Mary Enig, who pointed out in The Oiling of America that myocardial infarction (MI — heart attack) “was almost nonexistent in 1910 and caused no more than three thousand deaths per year in 1930. By 1960 there were at least 500,000 MI deaths per year in the US.”
He also cites Tim Boyd of the Weston A. Price Foundation, who reminded us, “Most people probably don’t remember that back in 1962 the American Medical Association declared that the anti-fat, anti-cholesterol fad was not only foolish and futile but also carried some risk. In 1965 the American Heart Association accepted as fact that high vegetable oil intake led to high risk of heart disease.”
In this vein, Real Clear Science reported in 2014 that the “vegetarian diet is associated with higher rates of allergies, cancer, and mental illness, as well as a poorer quality of life compared to carnivorous diets, according to a new study.”
If this is true, however, how did notions to the contrary become food “fact”? Critics implicate pseudo-science, in particular the “Seven Countries Study,” initiated in 1956 by University of Minnesota physiologist Ancel Keys. It purported to show a direct relationship between a nation’s fat intake and its rate of heart disease. Yet, says Hiserodt and others, Keys cherry-picked his data to support his hypothesis: While he’d actually studied 22 countries, he presented only seven because the data from the rest contradicted his thesis.
Having said this, some perspective is needed. The Eskimos and 19th-century Americans didn’t eat processed foods; their fats and protein came from free-range animals, which Discover magazine claims are lower in saturated fats.
Moreover, one obvious question is: If the “experts” have so often been wrong, why should we listen to the pro-fat “experts” now?
While “experts” (a blanket term) have brought us some good things, the reality is that on any issue, there are experts on all sides. Our Supreme Court Justices are all supposedly legal experts, but how many opinions are 5-4?
Thus, while I’m not a doctor or nutritionist (I just play one in print), I believe it’s best to embrace the old adage “Everything in moderation.” After all, a principle in toxicology tells us, “The dose makes the poison.” This is why arsenic is allowed in our water in small amounts, and large amounts of water ingested during short periods can kill us (a woman died in 2007 of water intoxication).
The point is that we can all metabolize a certain amount of a given substance, and every single healthful thing (e.g., vitamins) can kill us at a certain dosage. The key is to ingest a food at levels where we can metabolize it and remain healthy over the long term.
Also, this level may be very low for certain processed fare. After all, laboratory formulations aren’t found in nature and thus can be unusual concoctions to which the human body is unaccustomed.
So with all due respect to the paleo diet, a caveman’s menu probably isn’t realistic. But eating like an 1880s high-plains cowboy may not be a bad idea.