These days, we’re inundated with information on virtually every subject, and not all of it agrees. So who should you listen to in the face of contradictory information? How do you decide what’s right and what’s wrong?
Since it’s not possible to become an expert in everything, we have to pick our battles. In a perfect world, we could simply listen to recognized authorities in a given field. These experts would formulate hypotheses based on known scientific principles. Then they would design impartially funded, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with large cohorts (numbers of people in the study) to test these hypotheses. From these studies, they would draw sound conclusions, which they would then distill into recommendations for the rest of us to live by. From these recommendations, we would reap positive, healthful results.
I wish it were that simple.
I believe in evidence-based medicine. But unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between the claims of mainstream health authorities and what the studies actually say.
For instance: it’s “common knowledge” that saturated fat causes heart disease. But does it?
Physiology says no. You need a certain amount of saturated fat in your diet to be healthy.
As it turns out, the studies back this up. This massive study demonstrates that there is no significant evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. Meanwhile, this large study actually demonstrates that patients consuming 20% of their diet as saturated fat maintained comparable cardiovascular risk factors to controls.
(If you’re thinking, “But what about the China Study?”, I address that here.)
What Doesn’t Work?
Many nutritional authorities make claims that just don’t work.
Let’s look at the USDA food pyramid, for example. According to the food pyramid, we should eat a low fat, high carb diet, and the bulk of our carbs should come from grains.
The Physiology: It is true that some cultures consume primarily whole grains and veggies with a modicum of protein and fat, and they are very healthy. It is also true that some cultures consume primarily fat and protein with very few carbs, and they are very healthy. According to the research of Dr Weston Price, both of these dietary approaches work — provided the food consumed is real, nutritionally dense, and untampered with.
Unfortunately, the food pyramid makes no distinction between types of grains (i.e. processed versus unprocessed), and eating a diet comprised primarily of processed carbs is a biochemical disaster. Here’s why.
- The huge Women’s Health Initiative study, spanning 7.5 years, showed that strict adherence to the low-fat dietary approach did not improve cardiovascular risk factors over the typical SAD in a statistically significant way. (Reason: neither paid attention to the real culprit. Sugar.)
- Neither did a low-fat, high-carb decrease the risk of colon cancer or breast cancer.
- The low-fat, high-carb diet did not result in weight loss.
So basically, it doesn’t work.
What Does Work?
Disclaimer: I do not advocate a one-size-fits-all dietary approach. As mentioned previously, cultures with vastly different dietary compositions remain free of Western diseases, provided they steer clear of processed foods and sugar.
That said, it turns out that an inverted food pyramid (i.e. low carb) yields far better outcomes than did the original food pyramid.
The Physiology: This makes sense, because in an inverted food pyramid, white carbs (which rapidly turn into sugar) are the biggest restriction. Again, sugar and white carbs are biochemically linked with the majority of major Western diseases.
- This study, funded by the American Heart Association, found that subjects eating a low-carb diet lost significantly more weight than did control subjects.
- This study found that a low carb diet normalizes blood pressure.
- This study demonstrates that a low carb diet minimizes metabolic syndrome and lowers triglycerides.
- This study shows that it lowers blood sugar.
- This study shows that it raises “good” cholesterol (HDL).
- This study shows that it lowers VLDL (bad cholesterol).
Despite the evidence, though, and despite the fact that heart disease is still the #1 killer in America, the USDA Food Pyramid persists.
The Conclusion: Who Do You Listen To?
My recommendation is this: do not blindly listen to authority, especially when it comes to your health. Do what makes logical sense, and what has been proven to work.