“The Food Pyramid? It’s just wrong.”

“A diet based on food that turns to sugar once it’s in your body was never going to end well.” The last 35 years of dietary advice summed up in one tweet-worthy sentence, and the whole embarrassing public health nutrition fiasco explained in less than 3 minutes.

Hooboy, do I have a treat for you.

Despite the recent nobody-is-listening-so-we’d-better-yell-louder American Heart Association report that encourages everyone to chug soybean oil like it’s cheap beer, butter is baaaaack–and starring in its own video.

My friend, Jenni Calihan at EatTheButter is the mastermind behind this, but I’ll humbly take credit for some “editorial input” here.

Watch first, then we’ll talk:

First of all:  I’m still snickering over the “not based on rigorous science” frame:

Next:  Maybe you’re a newbie to the world of non-mainstream, it’s-actually-okay-to-eat-animal-fat nutrition, or maybe you are just nutrition-skeptic curious, or maybe you’ve been around all of the various dietary dogma blocks.  For whatever reason, if you get a little uncomfortable with all the hyperbole, oversimplification, and finger-pointing about who Made America Fat–the cows! the Snackwells! the stupid lazy gluttonous Americans!–this little video offers a straightforward, easy-to-understand explanation for our current nutrition quandary, without resorting to distortions, exaggerations, and the blame game.

I’m happy to take some credit for that. For me, when you’re talking physiology and biochemistry (crackers turn into sugar, fat doesn’t “make you fat”), things are pretty straightforward. But it gets trickier talking about “good” or “bad” science or what the Food Pyramid did or didn’t do, or cause.

This is one my favorite things about this video: Although the relationship between dietary guidance and outcomes is noted, cause and effect regarding the specifics of the diet is not explicitly stated (although I suspect that various parties will infer what they will).

For example, when the voice-over says “The Food Pyramid? It’s just wrong,” does that mean, “The science behind the Food Pyramid is just wrong” or that “Pyramid-shaped food advice is just wrong”? The first is an argument waiting to happen, but the second just says that the advice we gave out–whether pyramid- or plate-shaped–was, for some reason, the wrong advice for most Americans.

Was it all those starches turning to sugar after few minutes in our stomachs?  Did eating less nutrient-dense food, like red meat, mean we ended up eating more food overall in order to be adequately nourished? Did the division of food in to “good” and “bad” categories set up cycles of “good” and “bad” eating? Or, to get all academic on you, did the application of the halo of “healthy” to cheap, convenient, tasty, but nutritionally lacking industrialized food, coupled with a neoliberalist imperative to make health the responsibility of the individual and “solutions” to health a matter of the marketplace, make many Americans–particularly those caught in a widening income gap and increasing economic pressures–more susceptible to eating patterns that exacerbated all of the other toxicities of modern life?

You don’t have to answer that.

My point is that we (really) don’t know what exactly about our dietary advice is the problem, and—as far as I am concerned at this point—it doesn’t matter.

For 20th (and now 21st) century Americans, this kind of dietary advice, provided in this particular political, sociocultural, industrial, and economic context, simply did not—and still does not—“work” to keep Americans healthy. That’s it.  We can argue until the grass-fed cows come home about why it didn’t work, but it didn’t work.  Acknowledge and move on.

And in the meantime, you can share this video with friends and family and know that it got the “hyperbole-free” stamp of approval from me.




Again, in 3-part harmony–it’s not about “the science”

Let me be straight.  I don’t believe in conspiracy theories.* There’s no Bacon-gate.  No Cowspiracy.  No Salami-mafia out to suppress sandwich meat.  But, as the students in my Introduction to Science, Technology, and Society course will tell you, there are professional interests (only one of which is funding) and careerism.  There is also the human desire to simply not be wrong.  In nutrition, this desire is personal.

(If I were queen of the world, every research article published about nutrition and chronic disease would list, in addition to “author affiliations” and “conflicts of interest,” what each researcher typically eats for breakfast every day.  You’d find out a lot more about “affiliations” and “interests” from that information than from anything else.)

And so there is this:  Meat and fat intake and colorectal cancer risk: A pooled analysis of 14 prospective studies.  It’s an abstract from the Proceedings of the American Association of Cancer Research, from back in 2004.  It found:

Greater intake of either red meat (excluding processed meat) or processed meat was not related to colorectal cancer risk.

Typically, such abstracts are presented at a conference, then later published.  This one never made it publication.  We don’t know why.

Trevor Butterworth does some speculating about the “whys” here:

When contacted by STATS.org, Smith-Warner said they wanted to add a few more studies before publishing their results next year. But the fact is that their colorectal cancer study had more subjects than many of the other studies published by the Pooling Project – and the four-year delay in publication cannot but raise the question of whether their results just didn’t fit in with the nutritional beliefs of Harvard’s School of Public Health, one of whose senior figures – Dr. Walter Willett – has long recommended limiting red meat and who, coincidentally, is a board member of the World Cancer Research Fund.

It’s not the first time studies that contradict the status quo in nutrition never made it publication.  This study also never got past conference proceedings, though there was an article about it in the Harvard Gazette and Walter Willett (who certainly seems to practice what he preaches) has his name on the abstract:

Greene, P., Willett, W., Devecis, J., and Skaf, A. (2003). Pilot 12-Week Feeding Weight-Loss Comparison: Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate (Ketogenic) Diets (abstract presented at The North American Association for the Study of Obesity Annual Meeting 2003), Obesity Research, 11S, 95-OR.

Greene’s study found that a higher calorie low-carb diet resulted in more weight loss than a lower-calorie low-fat diet.  I’m not arguing about what this study might prove about diets in general, so back off, all you folks out there foaming at the mouth to pick it apart.  Truth is, you can’t really critique it, because it never got published.

Another study that almost didn’t make it out of the gate concluded that:

Our findings do not support the hypothesis that a diet consistent with the 2005 DGA benefits long-term weight maintenance in American young adults.

In a nutshell, Daisy Zamora found that black participants with a higher Diet Quality Index (according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) gained more weight over time than whites (with either a higher or lower Diet Quality Index).  More surprisingly, these black participants also gained more weight over time than blacks with a lower Diet Quality Index.

Again, I’m not arguing the strengths or shortcomings of this research. The part of the story that matters here is that Zamora worked on this study as part of her PhD research at UNC-Chapel Hill.  She found a tremendous amount of resistance to her findings, to the extent that she was counseled to “redo” her work without examining racial differences.

I’ve been hip-checked into the rails by the politics of nutrition science myself.

I guess that’s why, to some extent, I feel that all of the talk about “good” science vs. “bad” science in nutrition is misplaced.  How do we even know that the part of “the science” we get to see fairly represents the work that has been done when the whole process is so highly politicized and ideological?  How many grad students slogging away in labs or poking away at databases find things that never make it to publication because it would compromise the prevailing paradigm and their advisor’s funding (and don’t have the huevos that Zamora had to get her findings published anyway)? I feel pretty certain this doesn’t just happen in nutrition, but in nutrition it really matters to each of us, every day–and even more so to those who rely on government programs for food.

How did nutrition science become so politicized?  Dietary Guidelines, I’m looking at you.  When policy “chooses” a winner and a loser in a scientific controversy, things change. Science gets done differently. And when policy (dressed up as science) chooses a side in what we should/should not eat in order to prevent ostensibly preventable things like obesity and disease, well, all hell breaks loose. When we act like we “know” what foods cause/prevent disease, good health becomes entirely the responsibility of the individual.  If you get fat or sick–no matter what else is going in your world or in your body–it’s your own damn fault.

How do we un-politicize nutrition science? This article from Daniel Sarewitz, “Science can’t solve it,” offers some clues.  Although he’s focusing on new biotechnologies that have out-run our ethical frameworks for dealing with them, these remarks could just as well apply to diet-chronic disease science.  He calls for discussions and deliberations that:

… could address questions about what is acceptable and what isn’t, about appropriate governance frameworks for research, and about the relative priority of different lines of study given ongoing and inevitable uncertainties and disagreements about risks and benefits.

If there’s one thing we’ve got in diet-chronic disease science, it is “ongoing and inevitable uncertainties.”  It’s highly unlikely that science is going to solve those uncertainties anytime soon.  As for ethical frameworks, we have never given serious consideration to the ethical implications–not to mention the outright absurdity–of subjecting everyone in our diverse population to a single dietary prescription designed to prevent all of the major chronic diseases (none of which have ever been established as primarily nutritional in nature).

Until we get to these kinds of discussion, the creators of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines ought to listen to what Paul Marantz had to say back in 2010:

 When the evidence is murky, public health officials may best be served by exercising restraint, which is reflected by making no recommendation at all.

And when they don’t (cuz who can resist telling all those stupid Americans how to eat?), at the very least, we’ll all get a little smarter about “the science.”  As @Ted_Underwood put it on Twitter:

A stubborn love of bacon just taught Americans the diff. between p-values & effect size better than 100 stats courses could.

Works for me.


Many thanks to Dr. Sarah Hallberg, without whom it would have taken me another 5 years to stumble across some of these articles.

*Run one PTA meeting and try to get a half-dozen fairly intelligent, well-educated adults to coordinate plans for a yard sale, and you’ll see what I mean.  We can’t agree on whether used children’s books should be 50 cents or $1–figuring out whether to ruin the health of Americans by buying off the media or silencing the scientists would be beyond any possible reckoning.

Dietary Drama–an Update (but not by me)

My favorite reality show–The 21st Century Diet Wars–has been off the charts drama lately.  Since I’m not going to be writing any commentary about it anytime soon, I thought I would point my faithful readers (all both of them) in the direction of my favorite moments so far.

1) Just in time for Halloween, Georgia Ede, MD, publishes a post on the scary Dietary Guidelines Advisory Report (just why they are scary depends on your own personal food orientation:  They’re letting cholesterol off the hook!  They’ve reduced meat to a footnote!) and the crapstorm that Nina Teicholz raised in the BMJ when she “attacked” that most sacred of (pasture-raised, GM free, organic, speaks Chicken as a second language) cow.  [Word to the rhetorically wise:  If someone accuses you of “attacking” some belief system, you can be sure they think that system should be beyond question. That’s why “questioning” gets framed as “attacking.” ]

Read it and laugh, or weep:  here.

2) This would be in the read it and weep category.  Mark Anthony Neal posted some excellent points–in an article by Lawrence Ware and Rebecca Martinez–about the whole “processed meat and cancer” issue.  While #smugvegetarians and #smugvegans are making like Church Lady and doing their superior dance in response to the new WHO report …

Remember Church Lady and her “superior dance”? Smugness never goes out style.

… what is often omitted is that observed links between these two factors may be related to issues of class as much–or more so–than any biological mechanism.  Outside of foodie-sharcooderie land, processed meats tend to be poor people food (I’m pretty sure the observational studies that linked processed meat to cancer didn’t have a huge representation of house-cured sopressata, air-dried bresaola, and lamb shank terrine).  This means that processed meats cluster with a whole lot of other health-related factors not necessarily under an individual’s control:  stress, limited access to health care, environmental pollutants–you get the picture. Whether or not there is a direct link between processed meat and cancer is less to the point than the article’s closing remarks:

We have a health crisis in this country.  Obesity, diabetes and cancer are ravishing disadvantaged communities. Too often this crisis is centered in personal responsibility, but we must also look at systemic conditions lest we blame the victims of poverty without equipping them with the tools necessary for positive health outcomes.

Tell it.  I raise this challenge to anyone who regularly reads (or writes) articles on nutrition epidemiology.  Show me a situation where a food, food component, or dietary pattern is linked to an adverse health outcome and the population that consumes that dietary evil is not also a population with significant differences in health behaviors and/or socioeconomic factors relative to the healthy outcome population.  I’ll be here, waiting.

Slice up your hot dogs, add tiny pickles, and whaa-laa: charcuterie.

Slice up your hot dogs, add tiny pickles, and whaa-laa: charcuterie.

Or maybe we should just encourage those poor folks to slice their store-brand hot dogs in creative ways and serve them with fancy mustard and tiny pickles.

3) And, then–this:

You’re welcome.

I went to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Report oral comments session and all I got was this lousy video clip

I had the pleasure of sharing the condensed version of my summary of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report with the folks in Washington earlier this week.

If your idea of fun is watching paint dry, you can catch the full series of comments here.  I’m at 46.24 minutes (at the end, you can play “spot the dietitian” who doesn’t think my comments are one bit amusing).

If you sit through it all, you’ll notice that it’s pretty much an industry vs. vegans cage-match.  Which, unfortunately, leads the folks in the D.C. bubble to think that all “regular folks” (i.e. non-industry) are vegans.

Do me a favor.  Head on over to HHS.gov and provide some written comments of your own.  They can be short, sweet, to the point, but add something! Oral comments (like mine) do not have any more “weight” than written ones.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  Why bother? It’s not going to change anything.  You’re probably right.  It isn’t.  But do it anyway.  The vegatarian community has been vocal, active, present, and heavily invested in this process since the Dietary Guidelines began.  How do you think a vegan diet went from being a “dangerous fad” back in the 1970s to being part of national nutrition policy in 2010?  It’s not like it somehow got “healthier.”

If I try to make the case to policymakers that the rest of America kinda likes eating dead animals, the response is, well, why didn’t we hear from them?  Like attending a funeral “to pay respects to the dead,” it seems (and is) pretty pointless in some regards.  But it does matter.  If not for these specific Guidelines, then for the next ones.

Healthy Nation Coalition has a preliminary analysis of the DGAC Report here that you can use for inspiration.  Or take a few tips from our coalition letter here.

Better yet, tell the folks writing the Guidelines your own story about food and health.  Let them know their Guidelines don’t work for everyone.  And get any friends, neighbors, and co-workers who would rather not have a “culture of health” enforcing their right to eat lentil burgers to pitch in too.

Hey, if I can wear pantyhose for 6 hours straight in order to look presentable at this meeting, the least you can do is go fill out a form.  You can do that in your pajamas.

Written comments accepted through end of day on May 8.

What if there were no Dietary Guidelines?

I don’t get excited about much these days.  Mostly because I’m too sleep deprived from studying until 2:00 AM.  But I’m pretty excited about this.

I’ve been wanting to write this piece for a long time.  The wonderful folks at Examine.com encouraged me to go ahead and do it.

Check it out:  What if there were no Dietary Guidelines?  


Examine com pix

Changing the Dietary Guidelines

If you have been following any of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s meetings (who does that anyway? I mean, unless you are a total geek like I am), then you might have noticed that the next Guidelines seem very likely to continue to promote the same nutritional advice that has proven largely ineffective for more than 35 years.

In my other, not-quite-so-snarky, life, I am not Wonder Woman (but oh, what I wouldn’t give for a pair of bracelets of submission). However, I am director of the Healthy Nation Coalition, a loose affiliation of healthcare and public health professionals, scientists, and concerned citizens who think it is time we did nutrition a little differently. Right now, we are creating a coalition of supporters to speak out against the direction the current 2015 Dietary Guidelines are taking and to offer an alternative approach.

This letter will be delivered to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, selected policymakers, and interested media outlets. We hope to add to the momentum that has been building in the national media calling for a change in our national dietary guidance (see Nina Teicholz’ book, Big Fat Surprise, and her recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal).

The letter is copied below (or you can use this link to the pdf–the pdf is where all the citations are, because I know how you love citations).

If you wish to sign on, you can use this quick form to add your information to the letter. If you’re interested, but don’t want to read the whole boring letter, check out Mark Sisson’s blog post about it.  It’s lots more fun.

In a nutshell, we are asking for Dietary Guidelines that are geared toward the general public and focused on adequate essential nutrition.

This is not a call for low-carb, high-fat dietary recommendations, or paleo ones, and it takes no stance on the whole “calories in, calories out” versus hormonal regulation etc. etc. issue.  So if you want to criticize this approach, don’t start bitching about low-carb diets or CICO, or I’ll know that you haven’t bothered to actually read this and I won’t feel guilty about deleting your comments.  Beyond that, if you have genuine objections to this approach, suggest a better one–or go away.   What we are doing now isn’t working.  What we need is productive conversation about what to do differently.

Healthy Nation Coalition Letter – 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Dear Secretary Burwell and Secretary Vilsack,

At the conclusion of the sixth meeting of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), we write to express concern about the state of federal nutrition policy and its long history of failure in preventing the increase of chronic disease in America. The tone, tenor, and content of the DGAC’s public meetings to date suggest that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) will perpetuate the same ineffective federal nutrition guidance that has persisted for nearly four decades but has not achieved positive health outcomes for the American public.

We urge you to adhere to the initial Congressional mandate that the DGA act as “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public” and are “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge which is current at the time the report is prepared.”

Below we lay out specific objections to the DGA:
· they have contributed to the increase of chronic diseases;
· they have not provided guidance compatible with adequate essential nutrition;
· they represent a narrow approach to food and nutrition inconsistent with the nation’s diverse cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes;
· they are based on weak and inconclusive scientific data;
· and they have expanded their purpose to issues outside their original mandate.

As you prepare to consider the 2015 DGAC’s recommendations next year, we urge you to fulfill your duty to create the dietary foundation for good health for all Americans by focusing on adequate essential nutrition from whole, nourishing foods, rather than replicating guidance that is clearly failing.

The DGA have contributed to the rapid rise of chronic disease in America.

In 1977, dietary recommendations (called Dietary Goals) created by George McGovern’s Senate Select Committee advised that, in order to reduce risk of chronic disease, Americans should decrease their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products and increase their consumption of grains, cereal products, and vegetable oils. These Goals were institutionalized as the DGA in 1980, and all DGA since then have asserted this same guidance. During this time period, the prevalence of heart failure and stroke has increased dramatically. Rates of new cases of all cancers have risen. Most notably, rates of diabetes have tripled. In addition, although body weight is not itself a measure of health, rates of overweight and obesity have increased dramatically. In all cases, the health divide between black and white Americans has persisted or worsened.

While some argue that Americans have not followed the DGA, all available data show Americans have shifted their diets in the direction of the recommendations: consuming more grains, cereals, and vegetable oils, while consuming less saturated fat and cholesterol from whole foods such as meat, butter, eggs, and full-fat milk. Whether or not the public has followed all aspects of DGA guidance does not absolve the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (DHHS) from ensuring that the dietary guidance provided to Americans first and foremost does no harm.

The DGA fail to provide guidance compatible with essential nutrition needs.

The 1977 Dietary Goals marked a radical shift in federal dietary guidance. Before then, federal dietary recommendations focused on foods Americans were encouraged to eat in order to acquire adequate nutrition; the DGA focus on specific food components to limit or avoid in order to prevent chronic disease. The DGA have not only failed to prevent chronic disease, in some cases, they have failed to provide basic guidance consistent with nutritionally adequate diets.
· Maillot, Monsivais, and Drewnowski (2013) showed that the 2010 DGA for sodium were incompatible with potassium guidelines and with nutritionally adequate diets in general.
· Choline was recognized as an essential nutrient in 1998, after the DGA were first created. It is crucial for healthy prenatal brain development. Current choline intakes are far below adequate levels, and choline deficiency is thought to contribute to liver disease, atherosclerosis and neurological disorders. Eggs and meat, two foods restricted by current DGA recommendations, are important sources of choline. Guidance that limits their consumption thus restricts intake of adequate choline.
· In young children, the reduced fat diet recommend by the DGA has also been linked to lower intakes of a number of important essential nutrients, including calcium, zinc, and iron.

Following USDA and DHHS guidance should not put the most vulnerable members of the population at risk for nutritional inadequacy. DGA recommendations should be emphasizing whole foods that provide essential nutrition, rather than employing a reductionist approach based on single food components to exclude these foods from the diet.

The DGA’s narrow approach to food and health is inappropriate for a diverse population.

McGovern’s 1977 recommendations were based on research and food patterns from middle class Caucasian American populations. Since then, diversity in America has increased, while the DGA have remained unchanged. DGA recommendations based on majority-white, high socioeconomic status datasets have been especially inappropriate for minority and low-income populations. When following DGA recommendations, African American adults gain more weight than their Caucasian counterparts, and low-income individuals have increased rates of diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Long-standing differences in environmental, genetic and metabolic characteristics may mean recommendations that are merely ineffective in preventing chronic disease in white, middle class Americans are downright detrimental to the long-term health of black and low-income Americans.

The DGA plant-based diet not only ignores human biological diversity, it ignores the diversity of American foodways. DGA guidance rejects foods that are part of the cultural heritage of many Americans and indicates that traditional foods long considered to be important to a nourishing diet should be modified, restricted, or eliminated altogether: ghee (clarified butter) for Indian Americans; chorizo and eggs for Latino Americans; greens with fatback for Southern and African Americans; liver pâtés for Jewish and Eastern European Americans.

Furthermore, recommendations to prevent chronic disease that focus solely on plant-based diets is a blatant misuse of public health authority that has stymied efforts of researchers, academics, healthcare professionals, and insurance companies to pursue other dietary approaches adapted to specific individuals and diverse populations, specifically, the treatment of diabetes with reduced-carbohydrate diets that do not restrict saturated fat. In contradiction of federal law, the DGA have had the effect of limiting the scope of medical nutrition research sponsored by the federal government to protocols in line with DGA guidance.

The DGA are not based on the preponderance of current scientific and medical knowledge.

The science behind the current DGA recommendations is untested and inconsistent. Scientific disagreements over the weakness of the evidence used to create the 1977 Dietary Goals have never been settled. Recent published accounts have raised questions about whether the scientific process has been undermined by politics, bias, institutional inertia, and the influence of interested industries.

Significant scientific controversy continues to surround specific recommendations that:
1. Dietary saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease: Two recent meta-analyses concluded there is no strong scientific support for dietary recommendations that restrict saturated fat. Studies cited by the 2010 DGAC Report demonstrate that in some populations, lowering dietary saturated fat actually worsens some biomarkers related to heart disease.
2. Dietary cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease: Due to a lack of evidence, nearly all other Western nations have dropped their limits on dietary cholesterol. In 2013, a joint panel of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology did the same.
3. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils reduce the risk of heart disease and should be consumed as the primary source of dietary fat: Recent research renews concerns raised in response to the 1977 Dietary Goals that diets high in the omega-6 fatty acids present in vegetable oils may actually increase risk of chronic disease or death.
4. A diet high in carbohydrate, including whole grains, reduces risk of chronic disease: Clinical trials have demonstrated that diets with lower carbohydrate content improve risk factors related to heart disease and diabetes. Janet King, Chair of the 2005 DGAC, has stated that “evidence has begun to accumulate suggesting that a lower intake of carbohydrate may be better for cardiovascular health.”
5. A low-sodium diet reduces risk of chronic disease: A 2013 Institute of Medicine report concludes there is insufficient evidence to recommend reducing sodium intake to the very low levels set by the DGA for African-Americans of any age and adults over 50.

In all of these cases, contradictory evidence has been ignored in favor of maintaining outdated recommendations that have failed to prevent chronic disease.

More generally, “intervention studies, where diets following the Dietary Guidelines are fed long-term to human volunteers, do not exist,” and food patterns recommended by the DGA “have not been specifically tested for health benefits.” The observational research being used for much of the current DGAC activities may suggest possible associations between diet and disease, but such hypotheses must then be evaluated through rigorous testing. Applying premature findings to public health policy without adequate testing may have resulted in unintended negative health consequences for many Americans.

The DGA have overstepped their original purpose.

The DGA were created to provide nutrition information to all Americans. However, the current 112-page DGA, with 29 recommendations, are considered too complex for the general public and are directed instead at policymakers and healthcare professionals, contradicting their Congressional mandate.

Federal dietary guidance now goes far beyond nutrition information. It tells Americans how much they should weigh and how to lose weight, even recommending that each American write down everything that is eaten on a daily basis. This focus on obesity and weight loss has contributed to extensive and unrecognized “collateral damage”: fat-shaming, eating disorders, discrimination, and poor health from restrictive food habits. At the same time, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control have shown that overweight and obese people are often as healthy as their “normal” weight counterparts. Guidance related to body weight should meet individual health requirements and be given by a trained healthcare practitioner, not be dictated by federal policy.

The DGA began as an unmandated consumer information booklet. They are now a powerful political document that regulates a vast array of federal programs and services, dictates nationwide nutrition standards, influences agricultural policies and health-related research, and directs how food manufacturers target consumer demand. Despite their broad scope, the DGA are subject to no evaluation or accountability process based on health outcomes. Such an evaluation would demonstrate that they have failed to fulfill their original goal: to decrease rates of chronic disease in America.

Despite this failure, current DGAC proceedings point to an expansion of their mission into sustainable agriculture and environmental concerns. While these are important issues, they demonstrate continued “mission creep” of the DGA. The current narrow DGA focus on plant-based nutrition suggests a similarly biased approach will be taken to environmental issues, disregarding centuries of traditional farming practices in which livestock play a central role in maintaining soil quality and ecological balance. Instead of warning Americans not to eat eggs and meat due to concerns about saturated fat, cholesterol, and obesity, it is foreseeable that similar warnings will be given, but for “environmental” reasons. This calls for an immediate refocusing of the purpose of the DGA and a return to nutritional basics.

Solution: A return to essential nutrition guidance

As our nation confronts soaring medical costs and declining health, we can no longer afford to perpetuate guidelines that have failed to fulfill their purpose. Until and unless better scientific support is secured for recommendations regarding the prevention of chronic disease, the DGA should focus on food-based guidance that assists Americans in acquiring adequate essential nutrition.

Shifting the focus to food-based guidance for adequate essential nutrition will create DGA that:
· are based on universally accepted and scientifically sound nutritional principles: Although more knowledge is needed, the science of essential nutrient requirements is firmly grounded in clinical trials and healthcare practice, as well as observational studies.
· apply to all Americans: Essential nutrition requirements are appropriate for everyone. Lack of essential nutrients will lead without exception to diseases of deficiency.
· include traditionally nourishing foods: A wide variety of eating patterns can provide adequate essential nutrition; no nourishing dietary approaches or cultural food traditions would be excluded or discouraged.
· expand opportunities for research: With dietary guidance focused on adequate essential nutrition, researchers, healthcare providers, and insurance companies may pursue dietary programs and practices tailored to individual risk factors and diverse communities without running afoul of the DGA and while ensuring that basic nutrition needs are always met.
· direct attention towards health and well-being: Focus will be directed away from intermediate markers, such as weight, which may be beyond individual control, do not consistently predict health outcomes, and are best dealt with in a healthcare setting.
· are clear, concise, and useful to the public: Americans will be able to understand and apply such guidance to their own dietary patterns, minimizing the current widespread confusion and resentment resulting from federal dietary guidance that is poorly grounded in science.

It is the duty of USDA and DHHS leadership to end the use of controversial, unsuccessful and discriminatory dietary recommendations. USDA and DHHS leadership must refuse to accept any DGA that fail to establish federal nutrition policy based on the foundation of good health: adequate essential nutrition from wholesome, nourishing foods. It is time to create DGA that work for all Americans.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans: We don’t need no stinkin’ science

I know, I know. I never post. I never call. I don’t bring you flowers. It’s a wonder we’re still together. I have the usual list of excuses:


But before I disappear off the face of the interwebz once again, I thought I share with you a quickie post on the science behind our current Dietary Guidelines. Even as we speak, the USDA and DHHS are busy working on the creation of the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are shaping up to be the radically conservative documents we count on them to be.

For just this purpose, the USDA has set up a very large and impressive database called the Nutrition Evidence Libbary (NEL), where it conducts “systematic reviews to inform Federal nutrition policy and programs.” NEL staff collaborate with stakeholders and leading scientists using state-of-the-art methodology to objectively review, evaluate, and synthesize research to answer important diet-related questions in a manner that allows them to reach a conclusion that they’ve previously determined is the one they want.

It’s a handy skill to master. Here’s how it’s done.

The NEL question:

What is the effect of saturated fat intake on increased risk of cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes?

In the NEL, they break the evidence up into “cardiovascular” and “diabetes” so I’ll do the same, which means we are really asking: What is the effect of saturated fat (SFA) intake on increased risk of cardiovascular disease?

Spoiler alert–here’s the answer: “Strong evidence” indicates that we should reduce our intake of saturated fat (from whole foods like eggs, meat, whole milk, and butter) in order to reduce risk of heart disease. As Gomer Pyle would say, “SUR-PRIZE, SUR-PRIZE.”

Aaaaaaaand . . . here’s the evidence:

The 8 studies rated “positive quality” are in blue; the 4 “neutral quality” studies are in gray. The NEL ranks the studies as positive and neutral (less than positive?), but treats them all the same in the review. Fine. Whateverz.

According to the exclusion criteria for this question, any study with a dropout rate of more than 20% should be eliminated from the review. These 4 studies have dropout rates of more than 20%. They should have been excluded. They weren’t, so we’ll exclude them now.

Also, according to NEL exclusion criteria for this question, any studies that substituted fat with carbohydrate or protein, instead of comparing types of fat, should be excluded. Furtado et al 2008 does not address the question of varying levels of saturated fat in the diet. In fact, saturated fat levels were held constant–at 6% of calories–for each experimental diet group. So, let’s just exclude this study too.

One study–Azadbakht et al 2007–was conducted on teenage subjects with hypercholesterolemia. Since the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are not meant to treat medical conditions and are meant for the entire population, this study should not have been included in the analysis. Furthermore, the dietary intervention not only lowered saturated fat content of the diet but cholesterol content too. So it would be difficult to attribute any outcomes only to changes in saturated fat intake. The study should not have been included, so let’s take care of that for those NEL folks.


In one study–Buonacorso et al 2007–total cholesterol levels did not change when dietary saturated fat was increased: “Plasma TC [total cholesterol] and triacylglycerol levels were NS [not significantly] changed by the diets, by time (basal vs. final test), or period (fasting vs. post-prandial) according to repeated-measures analysis.” This directly contradicts the conclusion of the NEL. Hmmmm. So let’s toss this study and see what’s left.

In these four studies, higher levels of saturated fat in the diet made some heart disease risk factors get worse, but other risk factors got better. So the overall effect on heart disease risk was mixed or neutral. As a result, these studies do not support the NEL conclusion that saturated fat should be reduced in order to reduce risk of heart disease.


That leaves one lone study. A meta-analysis of eleven observational studies. Seeing as the whole point of a meta-analysis is to combine studies with weak effects to see if you end up with a strong one, if saturated fat was really strongly associated with heart disease, we should see that, right? Right. What this meta-analysis found was that among women over 60, there is no association between saturated fat and coronary events or deaths. Among adult men of any age, there is no association between saturated fat and coronary events or deaths. Only in women under the age of 60 is there is a small inverse association between risk of coronary events or deaths and the reduction of saturated fat in the diet. That sounds like it might be bad news—at least for women under 60—but this study also found a positive association between monounsaturated fats—you know, the “good fat,” like you would find in olive oil—and risk of heart disease. If you take the results of this study at face value–which I wouldn’t recommend–then olive oil is as bad for you as butter.

So there’s your “strong” evidence for the conclusion that saturated fat increases risk of heart disease.


Just recently, Frank Hu of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was asked what we should make of the recent media attention to the idea that saturated fat is not bad for you after all (see this video at 1:06:00). Dr. Hu reassured us that, no, saturated fat still kills. He went on to say that the evidence to prove this, provided primarily by a meta-analysis created by USDA staffers (and we all know how science-y they can be), is MUCH stronger than that used by the 2010 Committee.

Well, all I can say is:  it must be.  Because it certainly couldn’t be any weaker.



Why care about calories?

After the last blog post on calorie magic, my husband–whose intellectual response to people challenging me on the internet is to want to give them a virtual wedgie–asked me why I didn’t just engage those cute little white dude-o-scientists who are so pumped about how IT JUST MUST BE CALORIES CALORIES CALORIES CALORIES in some sort of PubMed duel to the finish.

My explanation:  I don’t do PubMed duels. PubMed is a wonderful thing, and the internet has given us tremendous access to a great deal of information, much of which is used to confirm our own preconceived notions, even if (especially if?) we don’t fully understand what those notions actually are. As I’ve said before, a pastiche of  PubMed citations frequently boils to a bunch of snapshots taken out of context of the larger literature–and out of context of a full understanding of physiological and biochemical realities, not to mention social and cultural ones–that may or may not express a physiologically significant or practically useful concept.

And this is problem: I’m not convinced that calories express a physiologically significant or practically useful concept. Here’s what I figure. If calories were so FREAKIN important, then my biochemistry books should be rife with information about them. But that does not seem to be the case.

[I took my first biochem class at age 45, weeping my way through one excruciatingly difficult exam after another. I emerged–bloodied by unbowed–to joyfully sign up for 3 more semesters. I don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch; I just feel that biochemistry is sort of the key to the universe, certainly the universe of nutrition. If something doesn’t make sense from a biochemical perspective–which would apply to about 90% of the Dietary Guidelines–it shouldn’t be part of nutrition policy.]

I did this a while back, just for my own peace of mind, and I don’t know how useful it will be to any of you, but here’s what my collection of biochem books has to say about calories. Spoiler alert: Not much. [So you can stop here if you have a life.]

My biochemistry books, in order of how much I love them, least to most:

Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (3rd Edition), 2000

James Groff & Sareen Gropper

I don’t know why I have this book.

–“Calorie” is indexed to a passage on units of energy in a discussion of thermodynamics. Calories are not mentioned again.

–“Calorimetry, direct” and “calorimetry, indirect” are indexed to passages discussing the measurements of energy expenditure. It contains this notable summary:

” Although changes in energy balance produce weight changes, the extent of these changes varies from person to person.”


Functional Biochemistry in Health and Disease, 2009

Eric Newsholme & Tony Leech

I got this book with great anticipation, as it seemed to promise a better integration of biochemistry and physiology than most biochem texts. But like some sort of weird Asian-fusion spicy wonton Alfredo dish, I guess it is just trying to do too much. There is not enough detail here for me, and the reader is left to sort of assume “magic elves in a box” in too many places, which–as far as I am concerned–defeats the whole point of learning biochemistry.

–“Calorie” is not indexed.

–“Calorimetry” is indexed. This couple of pages highlights the limitations of measuring calorie expenditure in the human body.

Biochemistry (4th Edition), Lippincott’s Illustrated Reviews, 2008

Pamela Champe, Richard Harvey, & Denise Farrier

This is the boy-toy of my biochem texts. I don’t love this book, but it is much more portable than my other biochem texts, so I can take it out in public without too much embarrassment.

–“Calorie” is not indexed.

–“Caloric consumption,” “caloric restriction, weight reduction and,” and “calorimeter” are indexed.

“Caloric consumption” addresses the fact that the source of the increase in calories consumed by Americans since 1971 is carbohydrates.

“Caloric restriction, weight reduction and” is indexed to a page includes the following helpful information:

 “Caloric restriction is ineffective over the long term for many individuals.”


Biochemistry (2nd Edition) , 1995

Donald Voet & Judith Voet

I approach the Voets with the reverence and respect due a giant doorstop of a book like this. Like that scary old professor who knows everything, it is intimidating, but, well, it knows everything.

“Calorie (cal)” and “Calorie, large (Cal)” are indexed to the same place. The indexing refers to a table that compares thermodynamic units and constants as an adjunct to a passage on the First Law of Thermodynamics. This passage contains a little nugget of joy for those of us who insist that conversations about weight management may need to consider more than just how many calories go “in” and how many calories go “out.” Unless you are a fully registered and certified geek, you may want to just skip ahead:

“Neither heat [i.e. what is measured by calories] nor work is separately a state function [i.e. quantities that depend only on the state of the system] because each is dependent on the path followed by a system in changing from one state to another . . . If [the First Law of Thermodynamics] is to be obeyed, heat must also be path dependent. It is therefore meaningless to refer to the heat or work content of a system (in the same way that it is meaningless to refer to the number of one dollar bills and ten dollar bills in a bank account containing $85.00).”

This is why when someone talks about a person storing “800 calories of energy as fat,” I hear something that makes about as much sense to me as saying a person can store “$85 dollars worth of money in his bank account as four twenties and a fiver.”

Calories are otherwise never mentioned again in the rest of the 1,310 pages of this book.


Biochemistry (6th edition), 2009

Mary Campbell & Shawn Farrell

Campbell y Farrell is my warm fuzzy teddy-bear of a biochem book. I LUV it. Cuddle up with C&F for a well-written, easy-to-understand (as these things go) romp through the wonders of biochem.

–“Calorie” is not indexed.

–“Caloric restriction” is indexed to a discussion of longevity and sirtuins, not weight loss or obesity.

Lehninger’s Principles of Biochemistry (4th Edition), 2005

David L. Nelson & Michael M. Cox

This is my favorite biochemistry book ever. If it were available and I were single, I would marry it in a hot second.

–“Calorie” is not indexed. Nor is “kilocalorie.” Nor anything else that I could think of having to do with “calories.”

There you have it.   Seems to me that all those broscientists want to talk about is something that doesn’t have a lot to do with the keys to the universe of nutrition.  I don’t mind talking biochemistry, but the basic biochemistry that I’m familiar with has virtually nothing to say about calories.

And if biochemistry isn’t too concerned with calories, why should you be?



The Magic of Calories

There have been a couple of interesting conversations on the interwebz involving calories lately. I don’t normally pay attention to these things because I am so busy napping being, well, busy, but I am paying attention to these conversations because they are both starring–ME!!!

Let’s face it, the whole “only calories matter, period” vs. “calories, shmalories” debate tends to be an oversimplification on both sides. But, the truth is, only one of these sides has been the primary focus of many decades of unsuccessful public health nutrition intervention. In that regard, the “all you have to do to lose weight is make sure your calories out exceed your calories in” stance deserves to be questioned.

To this end, Adam Kosloff has gathered a useful compendium of calories in-calories out naysayers (including yours truly):

Then, a different Adam, does some naysaying about the naysayers:

While it would be fun to naysay all the naysaying about the naysayers, rather I will just address the part starring ME!!!

In reference to my scientific-y calorie calculations about how long it would take me to “disappear altogether,” Adam the Second had this to say:

“Yes, If she were to drop her calories in by 500 a day and increase her calories out by 500, she would lose a shit load of weight after 6 months.”

Um, no I wouldn’t. I would lose about 30 pounds, then I would begin to regain. Because that’s what happened to me in my real life. Oh wait, but it probably didn’t happen to me in real life because I was a fat person then, and everybody knows that fat people lie about how much they really eat, and because everyone knows that scientific-y calculations are more real than anybody’s actual life.

Adam the Second:

“She just has to remember that metabolism will vary over that time span, so her calories will also have to. This is due to the body naturally requiring less calories [sic] as a smaller vessel, and also the body will lower non exercise energy expenditure (general fidgeting, moving around etc).”

WHAT? My metabolism is going to change over time because I’ve changed my eating patterns? That’s in direct contradiction to the whole “calories in, calories out” premise. There are no differentiated calorie labels that say “This low-fat yogurt contains 250 calories for those of you who haven’t been on a diet for 6 months, BUT it contains 5,680 calories for those of you who have.”

Yes, in more sophisticated venues, calorie calculators for “energy out” change with weight, but the overall premise stays the same and leads to the same conclusion.

So if I weigh 205 pounds, walking at a moderate pace for an hour burns 307 calories. Once I diet & exercise down to 180 pounds, I can burn only 270 pounds doing that same amount of exercise. Which means that now I have to eat EVEN less and move EVEN more to continue to lose weight (regardless of how little I was eating or how much I was moving in order to get to 180 pounds in the first place)? When does the madness stop???

Lucky for you, dear reader, I will now demonstrate, due to the magic of calories, that the whole “eat less, move more” ad infinitum ad nauseum ad starvatium ad exhaustium does stop and in fact–this is the magic part–even reverses itself.   All for the low low price of free.

Let’s take this whole calorie calculation/deficit/mumbo jumbo out for a “brisk pace” walk, shall we? One of the reasons I think that some folks are such diehard supporters of calories in-calories out, it that they’ve never actually been a fat person trying to navigate the terrain of the whole calorie-counting experience.  So let’s hold hands & try it together.

Let’s say I’m a big fat newbie. Let’s say I’m a 35-year-old, 5’10” OBESE female who weighs 240 pounds (not my current age or weight, but that’s approximately where I started in my own weight loss journey). I already know that I need to “eat less and move more” in order to lose weight, because that’s what my doctor told me. I go to a trusted source, the Mayo Clinic, for guidance (for those of you who want to play along at home, here’s the Mayo Clinic calculator).

First I need to know how many calories I actually require (so I can reduce them). I start off with a estimated energy requirement for my activity level, which I will calculate as “inactive” (“never or rarely include physical activity in your day”), because we all know that the reason that fat people are fat in the first place is because they are lazy slugs.

My calorie needs as calculated by the Mayo Clinic, by way of the Harris Benedict Equation and the Dietary Reference Intakes, are: 1850 calories/day.

The Mayo Clinic says: “Weight loss comes down to burning more calories than you take in. You can do that by reducing extra calories from food and beverages, and increasing calories burned through physical activity.”  They don’t provide any details about how to do this, but by consulting with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, I find that “A negative energy balance is the most important factor affecting weight loss amount and rate” and that I can achieve this negative energy balance by decreasing my energy intake by about 500 calories/day or increasing my activity by about 500 calories/day–or doing both. Since “adipose tissue, which is mostly fat, contains about 3500 kcals/pound,” if I create a negative energy balance of 1000 calories/day, I’m 7000 calories down–or 2 pounds worth of fat–over the course of a week.

So here goes. I’m going to subtract 500 calories from my Mayo calculation (close your eyes, it’s a mathy part) in order to figure out that I should be eating: 1350 calories/day.

Okay, let’s say I add 500 calories of activity to my day. Using the handy-dandy chart below (also from the Mayo Clinic), I find have to walk for 1 hour and 45 minutes in order to burn 533 calories.

I am now at a caloric deficit of (at least) 1000 calories/day, which according to the super-duper magical 3500 calories = 1 pound of fat formula (Zoe Harcome explores the rigorous scientifically-proven assumptions behind the formula here) means I lose about 2 pounds a week. Not that this would always happen in real life, but okay, fine. Flash forward 5 months, I’m down 40 pounds. I now weigh 200 pounds.  At 200 pounds I am no longer OBESE, I’m just OVERWEIGHT, but I still have more weight to lose. Because my body is naturally going to “require less calories [sic]” because it is a “smaller vessel,” it is time to recalculate my energy needs.  To the Mayo Clinic calculator, Boy Wonder!

(What happened in my own real life when I dieted and exercised my way from 215 pounds to about 185 is that, not only did my weight loss stall, but I started to regain lost weight. Or at least, that’s what would have been happening to me if I hadn’t been lying about it to myself and my hunger and exhaustion weren’t complete figments of my feeble imagination, while in reality I stuffed my face with HoHos and laid around on the couch watching The Young and the Restless).

According to the “smaller vessel” theory, I should require fewer calories, but if I fill out the calculator–WTF??– I end up with more?

I weigh 40 pounds less, and I get to eat 200 more calories/day? I don’t get it, but the Mayo Clinic is a trusted source and I’m just a newbie, so on we go. I subtract my 500 calories/day so I can lose weight, now I am eating:  1550 calories/day

Okay, 1550 calories/day is not a lot, but it’s more than 1350 calories/day I was eating before.* I’m not sure why this is, but I’ll take it, because–even though I am a “smaller vessel”–clearly there must be some calorie magic at work. But while I may be able to eat (a little) more, on the other hand, now I have to exercise even more because my ability to burn calories has decreased (see chart below). Now I have to walk for 2 full hours each day in order to get my 500 calories out.

Following the magic 3500 calories calculation that exists in our magical perfect world, we can flash forward another 5 months. I now weigh 160 pounds, my goal weight. I am now no longer OBESE or even OVERWEIGHT, but thankfully, NORMAL.

But, being NORMAL, I am also now an even smaller “smaller vessel,” and because “the body will lower non exercise energy expenditure (general fidgeting, moving around etc),” it’s time to recalculate. This is really scary because if I could only eat 1850 calories/day as an inactive OBESE 240-pounder, will I even be allowed to eat at all now that I weigh 160 pounds?  Will I have to exercise half the day away in order to be able to “afford” the calories in a low-fat bran muffin?

Oh, I can hardly stand the–wait! Hmmm. Now hold on just a hot second here.

I can see by the calculator that at 160 pounds, I could be inactive and eat 1800 calories/day.


Because I’ve been eating 1550 calories a day and walking for 2 hours every day, and I am FREAKIN TIRED AND HUNGRY and sick of spending 14 hours a week walking around and getting nowhere.

According to the magic of “calories in, calories out,” I can now eat (even) MORE and move (a lot) LESS and I will NOT gain weight. No matter what I eat–as long as I consume no more than 1800 calories/day, I can sit on my (now slender) ass all day long and never gain an ounce.


P.S. If you are by any chance wondering why an OBESE inactive female who weighs 240 pounds is only supposed to be eating 50 calories more a day (a 7.7 calorie/pound allotment) than a NORMAL weight inactive female who weighs 80 pounds less (an 11.3 calorie/pound allotment), that’s because NORMAL weight people are more honest and virtuous than OBESE people and therefore deserve more calories per pound body weight.

P.P.S. Dear Adam the Second should you happen by to read this. Not trying to pick a fight. Just trying to illustrate how the calories in-calories out principle–put to work in a real-life example–may be an overly simplistic (if not downright illogical) approach to weight loss for some folks. Hey, if it works for you & your buddies, great! But it doesn’t work for everyone, and the use of this paradigm as the foundation for public health nutrition practice has changed how we think about eating in ways that I would argue have done more harm than good.

P.P. P.S. For more snarkily outraged, or outrageously snarky, commentary on calories, try these calorie-free nuggets of wiseassedness:

Why Calories Count Fo’Shizzle

Calories in, calories out, Would You Please Go Now?

Calories? Again? Already?

*This is where calories in-calories out folks sometimes like to say “But you may have needed more calories.  If you cut your calories too much [whatever that means], you’ll crash your metabolism.” I don’t know. They may be right. But that’s not how the calories paradigm works. There are no “metabolism crashing” exceptions on the Mayo Clinic calculator.


Buy this book

This one. You can do it now; I’ll wait here. Oh, you need more encouragement? Read on.


This may be the one and only time I will shamelessly promote the work of any individual I didn’t give birth to.

Why? Because I think this actually matters (unlike so much of the other stuff I do).

Nina Teicholz’s book has been getting great publicity and stands a good chance of making the New York Times bestseller list. And with our help, she will. So let’s do it.

There is the obvious benefit that more people will read her book–books that are on the NYT bestseller list are frequently purchased by people who buy their books based on whether or not they are on the NYT bestseller list–and then maybe my future dissertation on the USDA/DHHS Dietary Guidelines will actually find a publisher one day.

But wait! There’s more. For the one low price of Teicholz’s book, you, my dear reader, will get free at no extra charge, an additional bonus offer of the chance to change the conversation about nutrition in America.


It’s an excellent book in many respects (see below), but its greatest contribution is to clearly outline the tangle of politics and personalities, funding streams and tenure tracks that has essentially shut down any substantial debate on this matter, a debate that by all rights should be taking place right now on campuses and in conference rooms across the country. She convincingly describes the headwinds that any researcher who questions the status quo is going to be fighting: lack of institutional funding, lack of collegial support, or just deafening silence. It’s not a level playing field out there, and as Eric Westman says to Teicholz, “this situation will not allow science to ‘self-correct.'”

This is exactly what I found in the Department of Nutrition at University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, and a situation that I’ve heard described repeatedly–usually in whispers, after I promise never to divulge details–particularly from other graduate students in nutrition. This is not how science is supposed to work.

Teicholz also–in a chapter entitled “How Women and Children Fare on a Low-Fat Diet”–shows us why it is so important that the debate not be silenced or ignored. Because this is not just about science, but about a world view that has placed the health concerns of adult (mostly white) males above those of women and children. This is about civil rights. Our current dietary recommendations are based on moldy datasets involving a particularly narrow demographic and applied to all Americans, regardless of age, race, gender, or cultural heritage. As if this is not bad enough, these same policies, which have remained virtually unchanged for 35 years, have failed–miserably–to improve the health of Americans of any demographic. This is a travesty of public health, and we should all be horrified and outraged.

But what should horrify us most is that, despite the biased data, despite the abysmal public health outcomes, despite the decades worth of controversy, there is no serious academic, scientific, or policy debate on this issue. Not at Harvard, not at UNC, not at Yale, not in Washington, DC. There is a refusal to even acknowledge that–in the face of all of these contradictions and confusion–a debate would be appropriate. Teicholz’s work has prompted the very same “the science is settled so let’s stopping talking about it” pushback that her book so deftly demonstrates is at the heart of the problem. The CEO of the American Heart Association acts as if just occurred to her to recently defend the world against the dangers of those who might suggest that saturated fat is okay to eat, and never mentions Teicholz’s name once. Yup. Shut down the debate and ignore the person who started it at the same time. Go AHA.

It is this “science is settled” perspective that the public should find most alarming. It doesn’t matter what part of the carb-fat-calories-whatever-whatever issues you agree or disagree with. Clearly, there is plenty of room for debate. Clearly, the science isn’t settled. But the absence of any serious discussion tells us that the experts think this whole nutritiony sciencey thing is too complicated for us to worry our pretty widdle heads about and that any real debate would confuse our very tiny brains. We should just chillax and let the experts tell us what to do. That way, we get fat and sick, they get grants and tenure, and everyone lives (more or less) happily ever after.

If you are not mad as hell already, you should be. If you read this book, you might be.

And this, dear reader, is where you can make a difference.

Teicholz’s book is not just a good book. It’s a message–to book publishers, to policymakers, to the media, to researchers, to students interested in pursuing a career in nutrition. It’s a message that says: we want this issue to be taken seriously, we welcome debate and discussion, and we will accept some honest confusion and doubt in place of the charade of science we’ve been given. I encourage you all to buy a copy for yourself. And then buy a copy for every friend and family member you think might read it (or use it to press daisies, I’m not picky). Get a copy for your family doctor and your nephew in medical school. A copy for that high school senior that’s about to graduate. A copy for that guy at the farmers market who is always going on about how “lean” his pasture-raised pork is.

We need to put this book on the New York Times bestsellers list and keep it there until Teicholz is on Oprah and Oz and The View and 60 minutes and Rachael Ray and Space Ghost Coast to Coast. We need to get this party started and keep it going. You certainly don’t have to agree with all she says to appreciate that the conversation needs to continue.

Buying a copy (or multiple copies) of this book says: We are not going to take this (silence) anymore. Hey Harvard, hey AHA, hey USDA and DHHS. Let’s talk.

Convinced? You can stop here, head to Amazon or your local bookstore & stock up, then pour yourself an adult beverage and kick back, knowing you’ve done your part.  Oh, you want a real book review? Glutton for punishment you are. Fine. I wrote more words. Or you can catch a fine review here or here.

Adele’s Book Review:

If you are wondering how we got into the food-health mess we are in, and you are not satisfied with the “fat piggy Americans” or “Big Evil Food Industry” answers that get tossed around the internets, you really need this book.

If you bought Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories and really, truly meant to read it all the way through, but somehow could not, this is the book to really truly read instead.

Maybe you are thinking, hell, Adele, I actually did slog through Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, and you want me to read another book on the same topic? Good grief! Can’t I just watch the FatHead movie again and call it a day?

I feel that pain. Like Taubes’ books, Teicholz’s book is thoroughly researched and well referenced. But it’s a very different book.

First of all, Teicholz writes like a dream. I get that parts of Taubes’ book tend to be as readable as an instruction manual for Windows 98 as written by David Foster Wallace. Teicholz has the facility of Michael Pollan, with a sharper intellect, more warmth, and a less condescending attitude. She assumes her audience is smart enough to follow her through the maze of science without wanting to stop to examine every risk ratio ever produced. At the same time, she brings us with her into those difficult moments in an interview when she has to ask a nice person a hard question. And she does ask some tough questions.

Second, she covers some very different territory than other books on this topic. One of the complaints leveled at the people who blame our current high rates of obesity and diabetes on carbohydrates is that this approach neglects to fully explore the possibility that a dramatic increase in consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils (particularly soybean oil) may have also been a primary contributor to the increase in obesity and chronic disease. Teicholz examines this issue, along with the science behind transfats and the Mediterranean diet, with some surprising revelations. So while the subtitle “Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” sounds like it could have been tacked onto Good Calories, Bad Calories or Death by Food Pyramid (both fine books), Teicholz’s approach reveals a much more complex cascade of assumptions and accommodations that accompanied the calls to reduce the use of animal products in our diets.

Finally, even if you don’t care much about the whole fat-carb-blah-blah debate, her look at the personalities and politics of how nutrition science gets made is absolutely fascinating. Being in a communication and rhetoric program now, I hear a lot about the “constructedness” of science, that claims of fact don’t just emerge from the ether, but from a particular social and political context (which isn’t to say that researchers just “make up” science–you can’t “construct” a pancreas that secretes maraschino cherry juice–but what “facts” are presented to the public by scientists are shaped by many other influences besides the material world). Teicholz’s perspective is sympathetic–scientists are allowed to like sunny tourists spots too–but she doesn’t pull any punches. If you can’t separate science from sunshine, you should have stayed home.

Teicholz introduces the Atkins-Ornish “diet wars” (somewhere in me is a blog post on Dean Ornish and how crusading against Atkins apparently gave him, literally, a reason to live when he was a depressed and suicidal med student) and updates us on some of the folks–Stephen Phinney, Jeff Volek, Eric Westman–doing the very real work of testing the ideas raised by Atkins. This is story that needs to be told, and Teicholz has just covered a few of the players, but she acknowledged the folks–including Gary Taubes–who have done a great deal to make sure that the debate that is so badly needed doesn’t disappear completely.

It’s a fascinating time in history. The very beginnings of righting a mighty colossal mistake. Teicholz’s book will fill you in on the major players to get you started.  Stay tuned and between the two of us, we’ll keep giving you the play by play–and we’ll keep the conversation going. You can help. Buy the book.