Rethinking U.S. Dietary Guidelines

For a while now, many different organizations and independent health experts have been pushing for a shift in the U.S. dietary guidelines. And for good reason: Obesity and all of it’s associated conditions – including heart disease and diabetes – are still steadily increasing despite all sorts of health initiatives. In fact, according to the CDC, obesity rates in American doubled for adults and tripled for children between 1980 and 2008. Those dates are particularly fascinating because it was during the 1980s that we really saw a push to adopt a low fat dietary approach. Obviously, something needs to change.

Beyond statistical evidence, though, there is an ever-growing collection of scientific information that runs counter to everything we thought we knew about nutrition. One particularly fascinating editorial, published in 2014 in the journal Open Heart focused it’s attention on the 1977 dietary guidelines. It was in that year that Americans were told to decrease their intake of saturated fats and cholesterol while increasing their daily allotment of carbohydrates. The author, Dr James DiNicolantonio, points out that those initial recommendations were based on the incredibly flawed findings of the Seven Countries Study – the authors of which had access to information from 22 countries but chose to only use the data from seven. Later review of the complete information contradicted the recommendations, but was largely ignored since the damage had been done.

The current evidence actually suggests exactly the opposite: That saturated fat does not increase your risk of heart disease but refined carbohydrates do.

Building on this idea, DiNicolantonio worked with a team of researchers to publish a study in a more recent edition of Open Heart that looked more carefully at the historical research that took place before the low-fat craze really got started.



Looking Back

To further build the case against the above-mentioned dietary guidelines, the team went back and performed a meta-analysis of six studies including information from 2467 adult men. The studies used were all took place before 1983 and focused on the relationship between dietary saturated fat, cholesterol and the development of heart disease.

In all of the studies, a reduced-fat diet was not shown to reduce mortality rates any more than the control groups. Basically, decreasing saturated fat intake did very little for the health of the subjects in these studies.

And yet, the recommendations were made anyway.

The team concluded that the available research leading up to the release of the dietary guidelines “did not support the introduction of dietary fat recommendations in order to reduce” the risk of heart disease. They even went so far as to say “Dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced.”


A Word of Caution

So, as we learn more and more it seems like the dietary guidelines we were all raised with are not only wrong but potentially dangerous. It should be plainly stated, though, that that does not mean that saturated fat is not without it’s dangers.

First, obesity and heart disease are complex conditions and should not even be blamed on one factor. The increased knowledge of epigentics have even lead some experts to suggest that the culture of the 1950s – which included plenty of tobacco and alcohol, while encouraging women to gain very little weight during pregnancy – may still be effecting our genetic expression.

Second, dietary fat is very calorie-dense. While it may not be as bad for your heart as we once thought, in excess it is most certainly not great for your waistline if its leading you into caloric excess.






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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.