Nutrition Action Debunks Low-Carb Diets???

Well, no – but it is interesting to watch them try. Before I start something that could become a rant, I want to point out that I am about to review a single article in a publication that, overall, is a positive advocate for health. The publisher for Nutrition Action is the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and this organization does much good. However, I am disappointed in the way they evoked emotional responses and toned their article to ridicule a way of eating that does not fit current mainstream dietary guidelines. Also, their logic was weak. One lousy article would not be a big deal, except that this lousy article, and similar articles and other media sources promoting high-carb low-fat dietary guidelines, have contributed to the metabolic syndrome epidemic. This is too important to let go of and CSPI deserves criticism.

The cover story of the January/February 2015 Nutrition Action Health Letter is titled: “Behind the Headlines – The science may surprise you”. This story is written by the Director of Nutrition for Nutrition Action. How I interpret her headline is: You are getting incorrect information in the popular media and here is the truth. A headline from a Good Morning America show is displayed with the article: “Low-Carb May Trump Low-Fat in Diet Wars”. You know this cannot be true, since you have already been told the science may surprise you. Then there is the article’s subtitle: “Low-carb diets peal away the pounds???” With three question marks, you know right away this low-carb diet thing is very questionable. If it were not for my personal experience and research, I would already think a low-carb diet is just plain stupid by the time I got to this point in the article. Next to the title is a subtitle to the Good Morning America spot stating, “You’re better off cutting carbs and fat to lose weight”. There you go. If you don’t want to be so fat, just stop your gluttony. This is basically good advice, though it is not very helpful.

The author starts by pointing out a study that showed low-carb dieters lost more weight than low-fat dieters [Ann. Intern. Med. 161:309, 2014]. That certainly matches my experience. However, then she quoted someone who thought that was a bad study, indicating that low-carb participants also cut fat. This person also stated that asking whether low-carb or low-fat is better for weight loss is a lousy question because there are different kinds of carbohydrates and different kinds of fats. If you find that logic compelling enough to stop macronutrient ratio research, then so be it.

The author quotes Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Bradley Johnston to say, “This idea about low-carb versus low-fat needs to stop”. This scientist did a meta-analysis of studies of branded diets, including “low-carb” diets such as Atkins, South Beach, and Zone. Low-carb? Well yes, Atkins is low-carb, but the South Beach and Zone diets are fairly high-carb at 28 and 30 percent carbohydrates. So, I went behind this article and found that the science surprised me. I looked at a study that the article cited: JAMA 297:969, 2007. The study concluded that low-carb dieters lost slightly more weight than high-carb dieters. However, there was no control of the study participant’s macronutrient ratios. That’s right, this little detail was not controlled. Unfortunately, this is kind of a big deal because commonly, when people strive to follow the Atkins diet, their carbohydrate percentage is much higher that what is prescribed by the diet.

Let’s get to the bottom line of the article. You know it is the bottom line because the author labels it “Bottom Line”. It says, “To lose weight, try cutting carbs or fat or both”. So take your pick and do whatever you want, just do not eat so much. This direction is especially ridiculous, considering the n=one-billion experiment that has been going on the last 40 years where fat has been severely restricted. Again, this is not very helpful.

Next to the bottom line is an insert titled “What to Eat”. In other words, now that the author feels she has successfully debunked the low-carb silly fad diet idea, you are about to get authoritative direction. The insert states, if you are concerned about carbs, sugar, and grains, do not worry, because “What to Eat” is low in these things. Also, feel comfortable because the recommendations are based on Omni-Heart and DASH studies published in 2009. So what is it we should eat on a daily basis? Well, based on a 2,100 calorie diet, Nutrition Action says to eat primarily vegetables and fruit. In fact, eat 11 pieces of fruit every day, presumably without regard to its glycemic index. Top that off with grains, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, lean meat, and no more than two tablespoons of oils and fats. Finally, be sure to include two tablespoons of sugar and 2 small cookies. There is room for a “wild card” so enjoy one more serving of dessert if you want to. So that is it. That is what to eat. In my opinion, this is what to eat to maintain the current average American health profile.

I mentioned that it was “interesting” to see Nutrition Action try to debunk LCHF for weight loss. Actually, it is exasperating for me read this kind of article, which flippantly ignores the root cause of the obesity epidemic and other aspects of metabolic syndrome. This is important and is why I am making the effort to bring attention to this. Articles, such as the one published in Nutrition Action, are ultimately harmful. After at least 2.5 million years, scientists and governments began extolling benefits of an extreme high-carb and extreme low-fat diet. At that point, the Metabolic Syndrome Era began. To this day, the high-carb low-fat consensus of experts is still blindly promoted by institutions, dietitians, and publications such as Nutrition Action. There is a tremendous amount of advertising and other public media that push the high-carb diet consensus of opinion. From a health standpoint, this way of eating has failed so I suggest treating the high-carb messages critically.

There is also more than science to consider. For me, I went from a size 36 waist to 32 within six months of starting a low-carb diet. It had been 40 years since I had a size 32 waist. This is high-value credible information from my perspective. But what about millions of others who are discovering LCHF? LCHF testimonials are dominate in social media. For one example, you can read thousands of them on cardiologist Dr. William Davis’ Facebook page. This is not all about weight loss either. People are discovering how to reverse symptoms of diabetes and heart disease through LCHF diets. It is all too much for it to be the placebo effect and, in any case, there is hard science to back this up. It is frustrating that many people who read articles in publications such as Nutrition Action, will only do a quick cursory reading that will reinforce an incorrect consensus of opinion.

Nutrition Action is supported by a scientific advisory board that is loaded with PhD’s that provide much credibility. However, much of the scientific community has failed the public regarding dietary recommendations. For instance, many people will not think twice about reaching for another donut after reading this authoritative sounding “Low-carb diets peel away the pounds???” article.

I invite Nutrition Action to comment on this post and I will alert them to it via their Twitter account (@cspi).

It is not helpful to state that the bottom line is: “To lose weight, try cutting carbs or fat or both”, especially after attempting to demote the effects of carbs. Here is my bottom line: The root cause of the metabolic syndrome epidemic is excessive consumption of carbohydrates along with avoidance of quality fats. To avoid participating in the metabolic syndrome epidemic, limit carbohydrates to a maximum of 20 percent by calories (at least most of the time) and consume quality fats. To do this, you will have to avoid almost all processed foods and drinks. Read health information critically and do not assume that a consensus of experts is credible, even if it has been promoted for 40 years.

Sadly, it will take many years for high-carb low-fat dietary recommendations to be corrected. Even if they changed immediately, metabolic syndrome will continue to be an epidemic for many years. Consider the fact that many babies are now obese. However, there is much happening to change this and I do not think the public will be bombarded with high-carb low fat recommendations as much in the coming years. An example of change is the first international LCHF summit, which is ongoing now in South Africa. Here is a great article about it:

How Banting began – Tim Noakes on history, hope, high-fat summit

I am not there and I am not affiliated with this, but I expect a lot of good material will come from the LCHF summit. This excerpt from the linked article states the purpose:

“What then do we wish to achieve with this LCHF summit? Simple. We wish to make a statement that will be heard around the world. That statement is this:

The mainstream dietary advice that we are currently giving to the world has simply not worked. Instead, it is the opinion of the speakers at this summit that this incorrect nutritional advice is the immediate cause of the global obesity and diabetes epidemics. This advice has failed because it completely ignores the history of why and how human nutrition has developed over the past 3 million years.

More importantly, it refuses to acknowledge the presence of insulin resistance (carbohydrate intolerance) as the single most prevalent biological state in modern humans. Persons with insulin resistance are at increased risk for developing a wide range of chronic medical conditions if they ingest a high carbohydrate diet for any length of time (decades).

Armed with this knowledge we have two choices. Either we can continue to ignore the evidence presented at this summit, and go on blaming the obese and diabetic for their sloth and gluttony (that is supposedly the sole cause of their obesity and diabetes). Or, if we are ever to reverse this epidemic that has become the greatest modern threat to human health, we need to admit that we have been wrong for the past 40 years, and must now change.”


2 thoughts on “Nutrition Action Debunks Low-Carb Diets???

  1. Pingback: What Carbs Do | Jeff's Health Notes

  2. Pingback: People and Carbs in the Metabolic Syndrome Era | Jeff's Health Notes

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