The 'science' and nutrition guidelines that came out of the 1970s-1990s led to radical changes in the western diet and with that has seen catastrophic rises in modern disease of obesity, cancer, alzeimers, diabetes and heart disease.
The narrative has been that we must reduce and eliminate all sorts of foods that have been a part of the human diet for millenia, and instead begin eating all these low fat, low salt alternatives such as margerine, vegetable oils, 'heart healthy whole grains' and low fat dairy has done some serious damage to the health of the west and everywhere else that we have managed to spread our dietary practices and franken-foods to.
All we have are surveys, case studies and short term metabolic ward studies.
Industry pressure has turned into government guidelines that aren't grounded in good science and the results have been terrible (unless your interests are in selling drugs or processed foods for a living).
But then, of course this advise would cause harm. As a famous nutrition writer once wrote "we are the only species clever enough to make our own food, and the only species stupid enough to eat it".
If only we listened to Thomas Latimer Cleave back in the day when he said: "For a modern disease to be related to an old fashioned food is one of the most ludicrous things I have ever heard". He's heard them blaming the diseases of civilisation on the foods of our ancestors, and he's calling bullshit. Sadly, he wasn't listened to.
Here's the main things that became entrenched knowledge in our society over the last 50 years that needs to be reversed:
They told us to eat low fat
They claimed that eating high fat foods blocked our arteries. They were fueled by the criminal reseacher Ancel Keys who manipulated data and decided to use only the data for 6 countries that supported his hypothesis instead of the 20 countries he collected data for. That was latched onto by the processed food companies and became the way. Despite lots of (long since forgotten) voices to the contrary.
As we got fatter, this notion was encouraged by the convenient fact it's very easy to establish a link in people's minds from fat in food to fat on body. But just because it's the same word, it doesn't mean that it's as simple as we are led to believe.
THE PARTY LINE: Fat makes us fat and causes heart disease.
THE TRUTH: It doesn’t. Not more than carbohydrates do (probably less so). It's more complicated.
THEY TOLD US TO LOWER OUR CHOLESTEROL
They told us to eat less cholesterol, and that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.
Closely linked to the low-fat trap, is the great Cholesterol Myth: If we eat too much fat and cholesterol filled foods, then the cholesterol will clog our arteries and cause heart disease. This theory was then latched onto by the pharmaceutical companies and processed food companies alike. We must take statins and switch out animal fats for vegetable oils in order to reduce our cholesterol we were told. This advice has persisted despite the fact that heart disease rates have continued to sky-rocket.
In reality, science doesn't demonstrate that high cholesterol is any more dangerous than low cholesterol. Cholesterol has a purpose, your body isn't stupid and it produces it for a reason. Despite decades of research, we still don't understand it fully. We know that it is intertwined in many complex systems in the body. That cholesterol is essential in transportation of fats and nutrients around the body, is essential in the making of the sex hormones and is instrumental in repair of damaged tissues.
Often, they say: that cholesterol is present at the scene of the crime, and therefore it is clearly a bad thing -- causal. But, as we are learning, it may be the case that the cholesterol is like the fire trucks, simply there to fight the fire -- the damage and inflammation already there. It's at the scene of the fire, because it's trying to put it out.
Many of the top researchers are now pointing out that heart disease is extremely complex, but like most of our diseases, is not caused simply by having too much fat -- it's too much insulin, and it's too much sugar, causing inflammation, oxidative stress and damage.
The story is infinitely complex. Of those on Statins, it is only the highest risk people that should be on them. Most people suffer this drug when it's unwarranted. Lowering cholesterol at the expense of poorer results of the many other and stronger risk factors is crazy: blood sugar, inflammatory markers, blood pressure, triglyceride levels -- these things matter and should all be used in combination when assessing risk and before poisonous chemicals like statins are used.
THE PARTY LINE: Cholesterol causes heart disease. Strive to keep it low.
THE TRUTH: Heart disease is far more complicated. It’s probably caused by arterial damage and inflammation. Cholesterol isn’t the cause. High cholesterol is a very poor predictor of heart disease. Other metrics matter more.
They told us to eat low salt
We have been told to eat a low salt diet. That it contributes to high blood pressure and should be avoided as much as possible.
Unfortunately, there's little evidence to support that claim. As brilliantly explained by Dr James Nicolantonio in his excellent book The Salt Fix -- only about 10% of people have the blood pressure increase we are warned about. 10% are hyper-responders. For everybody else, for most people: salt is an essential nutrient. Low salt is harmful. Salt is essential for .... and being too low can contribute to insulin resistance, __________, ___________, ___________ and ___________ the very things we are told to avoid it for.
Of course, the 'watch out for processed food' thing applies. Modern table salt is a man-made horror -- stripped of the many natural minerals it is supposed to be accompanied with. You want salt occurring naturally in your foods, or you want unrefined Sea Salt, Pink Himalayan Salt or Redman Real Salt.
THE PARTY LINE: Salt causes high blood pressure and heart disease.
THE TRUTH: you’re more likely to be too low in salt intake than too high. Lack of salt often contributes to the very health concerns that are attributed to too much salt.
They told us vegetable oils are healthy
That they’re a better fat because they lower our cholesterol. But they're not really vegetable oils, they are seed oils. Sesame seed, sunflower seed, canola. Safflower.
How much oil can you get out of a vegetable anyway? Or a seed for that matter, without a ridiculous process to extract the stuff anyway (link).
The fact that we believe they are healthy for us is entirely down to marketing. It all started with Krisco when Proctor and Gamble realised they could turn this waste product into something they could pass off as food. Their marketing machine kicked in and turned us against animal fats and the toxic industrial seed oil industry was born.
Unfortunately these oils are highly inflammatory and so high in omega 6 fats that they completely unbalance our bodies in a way that can lead to many health problems. The work of Tucker Goodrich is an excellent starting point if you want to learn more about this stuff.
Put simply: The rise in consumption of these oils correlates very closely with the decline of our health.
THE PARTY LINE: WE SHOULD REPLACE ANIMAL FATS WITH VEGETABLE OILS AS THEY ARE MORE HEALTHY AND LOWER CHOLESTEROL.
THE TRUTH: VEGETABLE OILS ARE TOXIC, LESS STABLE, TOO HIGH IN OMEGA 6 FATS, AND ARE PROBABKY ONE OF THE MAIN CAUSES OF WESTERN SOCIETIES ILL-HEALTH. YOU SHOULD ELIMINATE THEM.
They told us to eat lots of fruit and veg
They tell us that vegetables are essential for human health; yet most modern vegetables are only a few thousand years old and all bread from a single plant in the mustard seed.
But if they are so essential, how on earth did we survive for millions of years before that? When these are things that we wouldn't have had much access to in paleolithic times which make up 90% of our evolution. The vegetables you find in the supermarket are all modern inventions, selectively bread for our consumption. Maybe they are great for us, maybe they aren't. We don't know.
The fruits we eat, and ‘need’ to eat frequently to be healthy, so we are told, are higher sugar, less fibrous modern conveniences that would have only been available seasonally before the last 30 years or so.
Whether they are good for you or bad for you, depends on the context of your diet and how well suited to them you are.
There are less popularised harmful aspects of fruits and vegetables too, such as anti-nutrients and issues with too much sugar and fiber.
Most of the 'evidence' that we need fruits and vegetables to be healthy, is simply heavily confounded epidemiology that compares people eating fruit and vegetables to people eating junk food.
But what about those people who don't eat junk food, do they need lots of vegetables? Or just a few? Or none at all? We don't know that. Anyone that pretends they do is lying to you.
As an aside, when listening to experts argue the pros and cons of including fruits and vegetables in your diet, I find it funny that one of the main arguments that fruits and vegetables are good for us is that they are bad for us: They call it hormesis.
Apparantly, the phytochemicals (recently re-branded as phyto-nutrients) in fruits and vegetables are good for us because they have substances that could cause us harm. Poisons. Our body has to defend itself against them and then (hopefully) becomes stronger. It's a stress -- a bit like exercise.
The truth as ever, is that we just don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, and in which people and in what dose.
They say vegetables are nutrient dense, but they aren't. Not per gram. Not for how hard your nobody has to work to digest the bits of them that are digestible, especially when considering the anti-nutrients they contain means we can't absorb a lot of the nutrients in them.
They say that fruits are nutrient dense, but they aren't really, not per calorie.
It would be nice if it were as simple as we are led to believe, but it ain’t.
THE PARTY LINE: GET YOUR 5-DAY TO KEEP THE DOCTOR AWAY.
THE TRUTH: NOBODY KNOWS WHAT WE NEED. YOU MAY BE BETTER WITH LOTS OF VEG. YOU MAY BE BETTER WITH A LITTLE. YOU MAY BE BETTER WITH NONE WHAT.SO.EVER.
They told us to eat LOTS of fiber.
As long as I remember, we've had the benefits of fiber pushed down our throats and into our intestines where that 'truth' ferments and causes us to fart a lot.
Fiber is wonderful they say:
—> It slows the release of sugar into the blood stream.
—> It makes us feel full.
—> It keeps us regular.
—> And recently we are told it helps us excrete toxins from our body.
A lot of this fiber, should come in the form of fruits and vegetables, we are told. But then we are also estolled the benefits of high fiber cereals and whole grains, and for some, even fiber supplements as well.
But if we examine these points, and 'the evidence' with a skeptics view, we can see that, actually, as ever, we really don't know whether fiber is good for us, or harmful. To take it point by point:
The conventional wisdom estates that we must try and take in a high fiber diet, otherwise how on earth will we manage to go to the bathroom? It keeps us regular.
Yet science doesn't support that.
Most of us attempt to take this advice, and yet we are living in a society with a huge amounts of digestive issues.
The worst are suffering with diseases of Chromes, Collitis, Diverticulitis and Irritable Bowel Disease. But with many millions more living lives with symptoms of IBS — some diagnosed, some not. Many of these would be better if they eliminated large amounts of fiber from their diets. If your digestion isn't smooth, if you're living with a lot of discomfot or gas, you too may benefit from removing fiber from your diet, or at least experimenting with lower levels.
There’s a lot more too it than just fiber levels, but it’s a significant factor.
Here is a great discussion by Doctor Ede, where she wittily points out that we are told that we need the fibrous, indigestible fiber to slow down our digestion, and that we need the less fibrous, water-soluble fiber to speed it up. Before going onto look at the arguments before and against.
If you’re really serious about understanding the issue, the book Fiber Menace, explains in great detail the damage that fiber can do to the body.
There’s a theory that suggests that if we eat only species appropriate foods we've evolved the machinery to digest, and eliminate man-made stuff or heavily fiberous stuff we haven’t, you likely won't have any digestive issues. Eat the wrong stuff and trouble is inevitable.
Our digestive system is not that of a ruminant. Most of of machinery is in the small intestine; not the colon. We have only one stomach. With one of the highest PHs of any animal. This is all not suitable for the digestion or fermentation of large amounts of plant matter.
We know that thousands of people report relief when eliminating or dramatically reducing fiber in their diets. Why would you want a mass of water-attracting, cardboard-like, indigestible mass tearing up your insides and allowing all sorts of bacteria to ferment in your colon? they ask.
The truth is that we don't know what's optimal and in my opinion, the best way is for you to experiment, listen to your body and not be brainwashed into thinking fiber is a good thing/necessary for healthy digestion.
BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL
In my opinion, this is one of the more stupid arguments for the importance of fiber -- or at least when it is directed at people who eat a low sugar diet.
The argument goes that it slows he digestion of sugar from our digestive system to our blood stream, and therefor lessens the damage from sugar spikes and gives a slower release of energy.
Now that may well be a valid benefit if you eat too much sugar.
But what if you don’t? What if you’re not so metabolically damaged that you don’t need to eat every few hours for energy?
Do you need the fiber then?
Once again most of the evidence that fiber is good for us comes from heavily confounded epidemiology. They compare 'healthy people' to people who don't follow health advice, people who eat junk food / don’t exercise etc and they conclude that fiber is healthy.
We cannot though, separate low fiber and high fiber from those that eat junk and those that don’t. So the epidemiology supporting fiber is of limited value at most.
We are told we need fiber to make us feel full. Satisfied.
But the body isn't stupid.
If you eat a large amount of vegetables, you may activate the stretch receptors in the stomach and feel full temporarily, but it's fake -- If you don't have enough of the essential proteins, fats and nutrients your body needs, it won't be long before you feel hungry again. Satiety and satiation are not the same thing.
One of my favourite doctors and educators in this space (Dr James Nicolantonio) explains that fiber is shown to bind and expel many of the toxins we cannot avoid in our modern world. To me, that’s the most persuasive argument that we need fiber, but whether it actually benefits our health long term, we still don’t know.
My current opinion is that if you don't have any significant health or digestive issues, it's probably wise to keep your fiber levels as they are. If you do, fiber must be one of your suspects and the hope that it’s removing toxins for long term health is a pretty weak argument compared to short term issues that may be dramatically improved by reducing or eliminating it.
The party line: WE MUST EAT A HIGH FIBER DIET
The truth: we don't know how much fiber we need, but it is likely that too much will cause us a lot of health issues. Thousands of people and a number of direct medical trials will attest to this.
They told us to use carbohydrates for energy
Since about 1950-1960 there has been a huge shift to where we get our energy from. Less protein and fat from natural foods, more carbohydrate and sugar from plant-based, human-cultivated foods such as bread, pasta, cereal and rice.
Great for convenience and calories. Not necessarily great for any individual persons health.
They say that we need carbohydrates for energy, and yet we can get plenty of energy from fat and protein.
With fat we get 9 calories per gram. With protein, we get 4 (or a little less 'net energy' as it's harder to digest. That's almost the same as carbs, where we get 4 per gram.
But, we generally get more essential nutrients and minerals with our protein and fat supplies — with less potentially harmful chemicals and anti-nutrients. Most of our carbohydrates provide us little else but energy.
If we are trying to limit our energy, it makes very little sense to primarily consume carbohydrate based foods when we need to use those calories to take in vitamins, minerals and other valuable stuff.
Maybe we should limit our carbs more than the mainstream suggests.
In fact, maybe we can even we can do completely without them. Evolution suggests that, in fact, maybe many of us did without them for generations, or months at least before we developed the ability to farm.
There are no essential carbohydrates.
When we don't consume carbohydrate, our liver produces what we need through a process known as gluconeogenesis.
Our brain and metabolism switches to using fats and ketones as it's primary fuel source, instead of relying on sugar (glycogen).
Many keto diet proponents suggest it is our natural, less-inflammatory optimal state. Many more traditional folks suggest we can survive but not thrive without carbohydrate. More on this later.
THE PARTY LINE: WE SHOULD BASE OUR DIETS AROUND BREAD, PASTA, RICE AND CEREAL. WE NEED THEM FOR ENERGY. THEY DON'T HARM US.
THE TRUTH: Carbs are optional, potentially harmful, less nutrient-dense food options that we tend to overconsume as a society.
They told us that too much protein is harmful
... because it’s bad for our kidneys and we know that we shouldn’t eat too much meat.
But the only evidence that too much protein can be harmful to us comes from humans with kidney disease. It was crudely applied to everyone, without any evidence that it applies -- and it doesn't. Not in sensible amounts. There is no evidence in healthy people that too much protein is a thing, or not in amounts we could realistically consume from natural food sources.
It’s far more likely you’ll be protein deficient or at least consuming significantly sub-optimal levels than consuming too much.
As a result of this poor information, we've been wrongly pressured towards eating too little protein and moved towards cheaper foods, but (conveniently) foods where the profit margin is literally hundreds of times that of animal foods.
If you’re over-fat and under-muscled, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re under-consuming protein.
As you'll read below, if you want to be healthy, you’d be wise to prioitise protein.
THE PARTY LINE: TOO MUCH PROTEIN IS BAD FOR OUR KIDNEYS.
THE TRUTH: THERE’S NO EVIDENCE OF THAT WHATSOEVER IN HEALTHY PEOPLE
They told us that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
That we ought to “breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper”. That it's unhealthy to skip breakfast and we must fuel ourselves consistently. That we need a healthy breakfast to ‘kick-start’ our metabolism for the day.
The trouble with this of course, is that most people eat junk for breakfast.
As I keep saying, over the last 50 years, real foods fell by the wayside and breakfast cereals grew and grew. Grains and sugar. Very little protein or essential fats and nutrients.
The party line: BREAKFAST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY.
The truth: Going long periods of time without food is natural and should be something we can handle comfortably. Most people eat junk for breakfast and therefore, would probably be better off if they skipped it. The timing of meals has no major clear physiological benefit. It's more important how it suits the individual.
They told us to eat little and often
Similarly to the breakfast discussion above, but even more extreme, when I was first getting into fitness, I was taught that it's best to eat little and often. That if you take the same amount of calories and spread them out over 6 meals instead of three, you’d 'stoke the metabolic furness' and keep your metabolic rate sky high. I was taught that anyone who wants to drop fat must eat little and often. Missing a meal is a one-way ticket to starvation mode and a rapidly slowing metabolic rate, which in turn causes your body to horde it's fat stores like it's in the middle of a paleolithic winter where there's no fruit for 6 months and all the animals are really good at hiding.
But then we learned that it was all bullshit.
We learned that -- miracle among miracles -- the human body didn't evolve to need feeding every few hours, and that you don't need to live out of Tupperware boxes and on protein shakes if you want a healthy body composition.
We leaned that, in fact, going long periods of time may well be what we evolved to do, and may well have huge benefits on our hormones and body fat burning abilities.
If you don't want to be fat, maybe stop eating for a while now and again.
THE PARTY LINE: WE MUST EAT TO A CONSISTENT SCHEDULE TO PREVENT STARVATION MODE
THE TRUTH: WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO EFFORTLESSLY GO LONG PERIODS OF TIME WITHOUT EATING, OR THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH OUR METABOLISM.
They tell us that meat is bad.
For years we've been told that we eat too much meat and that it causes heart disease and cancer. For years and years, we've been told to eat less meat, avoid animal fats and especially not to have too much red meat.
But there is no evidence that meat causes any disease. ANY.
For decades we’ve had bad epidemiology shoved down our throats and presented as fact, when in fact, any link between meat and cancer cannot be separated from junk food or people with other unhealthy habits — the healthy user bias as it’s known.
This makes most of the epidemiology completely worthless because the whole time the authorities have been advising us to lower meat consumption. Those who ignore this, tend to ignore most of the health advice that comes along with it.
Epidemiology at best, is supposed to tell the proper scientists where to look when they form their hypothesis and experiments trying to find out the mechanisms behind the things that happen.
And yet, in nutrition, this epidemiology is often presented as fact: Meat associated with cancer = meat causes cancer.
Despite repeated efforts and much funding indeed, scientists have never managed to demonstrate a mechanistic role of how on earth eating these foods are supposed to cause these diseases with proper scientific experiments.
While the official party line may still be that we must be careful with our meat consumption, expert after expert are lining up to explain that there is simply no evidence that this is the case.
This is a great article by Doctor Georgia Ede looking at all the science used by The World Health Organisation trying to point the finger at meat as a carcinogen.
This is a great article by Zoe Harcombe looking at the lack of link between meat and cancer.
If you're curious or still harboring doubts about increasing your meat consumption, I urge you to start your research here.
The only scientific evidence to show that meat is linked with health problems is that most people don't get enough.
This brings me to my next point, the real problem with this myth: if you don't eat meat and animal products, then where on earth are you getting your nutrition from??
I've included a full section on this below as it’s so important for you to understand.
THE PARTY LINE: Eat less meat. Especially red meat. It causes heart disease and cancer.
THE TRUTH: There is no evidence that meat causes any disease. It is one of our best sources of nutrition. The less you eat, the less healthy you are likely to be.
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