I was fortunate to start my journalistic career in sports and to move on to small business and now to write about health, specifically diabetes. So I avoided the cynicism that seems to come with the territory. Until now.
The unfolding scandals that several pharmaceutical companies deep-sixed
The first of these books to open my eyes was Good Calories, Bad Calories by science writer Gary Taubes. He totally demolished the demonizing of fat, and I reviewed aspects of his work in four previous articles here, most recently in “The Fat Paradox.”
Then, I just finished reading In Defense of Food by journalism professor Michael Pollan. Penguin Press published it a few days ago for $21.95, but it is already available for the Amazon Kindle, which my favorite Certified Diabetes Educator gave me. So I was able to get In Defense of Food’s electrons for just $9.99.
Pollan’s book is an eater’s manifesto, and in fact carries that sub-title. What he means is that his book is for people, not the corporations that profit from our bad food choices or the nutritionists and journalists (ahem) who have led us astray.
I have read with great pleasure and enlightenment all five of his books — on topics as varied as food, botany, gardening, and construction — as well as many of his most important articles. Still, I faced his new book with a little trepidation.
Pollan’s often-repeated mantra is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s a great slogan, but my concern focused on what I thought might be his bias against animal protein and fat. On a low-carb diet it is just about impossible to avoid eating meat.
So I was delighted to find that Pollan and Taubes are on the same wave length. The person who exposed the whole fat paradigm as a historical disaster “is a science journalist named Gary Taubes, who for the last decade has been blowing the whistle on the science behind the low-fat campaign,” Pollan writes. “In a devastating series of articles and an important new book called Good Calories, Bad Calories, Taubes has all but demolished the whole lipid hypothesis, demonstrating just how little scientific backing it had from the very beginning.”
Now, “a great many scientists are beating a quiet retreat from the main tenets of the lipid hypothesis,” Pollan writes. “The whole nutritional orthodoxy around dietary fat appears to be crumbling,” says Pollan, citing in particular an influential article by a group of prominent nutrition scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health. In this analysis of the relevant research called “Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review,” the authors “proceed to calmly remove, one by one, just about every strut supporting the theory that dietary fat causes heart disease.”
The total levels of fat in our diet apparently has little bearing on the risk of heart disease, Pollan summarizes. But the ratio between types of fat does, specifically between the omega-3 fatty acids, of which we get too little, and omega-6, of which we get too much.
The other inescapable conclusion that the Harvard experts draw is that, contrary to all the advertising, we generally just don’t lose weight on a low-fat diet. “A major purported benefit of a low-fat diet is weight loss. But long-term clinical trials have not provided convincing evidence that reducing dietary fat can lead to substantial weight loss. On the contrary, there is some evidence that a diet containing a high amount of refined carbohydrates may increase hunger and promote overeating, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.”
True, Pollan prefers plants to animal protein. He likes his meat as a side dish to veggies and not vice versa and encourages us to avoid “industrial meat” in favor of meat fed a natural diet.
I do share his ethical and environmental concerns with our heavy reliance on livestock. One article that he cites, “Livestock’s long shadow: Environmental issues and options,” is well worth reading.
In fact, we have long had excellent evidence that we don’t need to eat any plants or any carbohydrate. Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson
“There is no such thing an an essential carbohydrate for normal development, despite what the popular press might have you believe,” writes Richard K. Bernstein in his book, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution (third edition, Little, Brown, 2007), page 169. “The main reason I don’t suggest that you avoid all carbohydrate is that there are many constituents of vegetables — such as vitamins and minerals, but also many other nonvitamin chemicals (phytochemicals) — that are only recently becoming understood but that are nonetheless crucial to diet and cannot be obtained through conventional vitamin supplements.”
Always remember that we are the real experts on controlling our diabetes. Whatever works for us is the correct science.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.