The big fat study that didn't pan out

Interesting the reaction to the 8-year, federally-funded study comparing women on low-fat diets with a control population of women eating “normal” diets. The disappointment is palpable: study results, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association yesterday, didn’t meet expectations! The low-fat dieters didn’t have any lower incidence than the control population did of breast cancer, colon cancer, or cardiovascular problems including heart attacks & strokes!

From what I’ve read, there were some problems with study design: no distinguishing, for example, between good vs. bad fats (their definition), a study period that was may be too short for the conditions studied, the diet cheating by some of the low-fat group. But what really stands out for me is how obvious it is that researchers, as well as critics of the study, have preconceived biases about what the results of the study were supposed to be — biases that fly in the face of what numerous people, women & men both, have experienced as a result of going on low fat diets, especially low fat/high carbohydrate diets.

I think I agree with Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, who wrote:

…I conducted a thorough search of the medical literature and discovered that there was not a single long-term study that proved that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet was beneficial to our health. However, I did find thirty years’ worth of basic science studies that proved that high insulin levels were linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, excessive increase in body fat, and many other problems. This is when I concluded that the population studies were not as important in determining how to be healthy as basic science was. Population studies take a segment of the population, follow it for a few years, and try to come up with conclusions. The variability involved in population studies makes this an almost impossible task. On the contrary, basic science is the study of how the body actually works in physiological terms. Basic science does not change greatly. However, every time you turn around the population studies are telling you how to eat differently. If we just stick to science everyone would stay on a balanced eating program consisting of healthy, nutritious foods. (“We must reverse the common thinking that a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is the key to health and weight loss,” n.d.)

Okay, so I’m a Schwarzbein cheerleader now. But it’s the only thing that makes sense. I’m not a scientist or any kind of doctor, but I’m not stupid. It’s not dietary fats that cause the problems, because dietary fats are necessary for making new hormones, neurotransmitters, cell walls, & other substances & structures needed inside our body. What causes the problems are styles of eating that cause improper build-ups of body fat: excess storage fats, triglycerides in the blood, & high LDL/low HDL in the blood. Those aren’t cause by eating dietary fats (or at least not the good ones), but by eating & living in unbalanced ways, including eating too many carbohydrates, refined foods, etc.

And if the scientists would back away from their biases, maybe they’d notice that the results of this study can be interpreted this way.

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