The Tainted History of Low Fat Diets…

We all grew up with the butter and bacon demon that would kill us all. What if all of that was based on really flawed science and there was no research that showed that eating strict Vegan was any better than downing gallons of bacon grease? Now, decades-old research has been rediscovered showing that the saturated fat demons were due to cooked research data and not the reality of research findings.

The Genesis of the Low Fat Movement

To understand the newly discovered decades-old research, we first have to go back to the 1950s and the catalyst of the low-fat movement–Ansel Keys. Dr. Keys was a University of Minnesota physiologist known for his “Seven Countries Study” that he claimed showed saturated fat caused heart disease. His research has since been discovered to be seriously flawed at best and flat-out fraudulent at worst due to Keys choosing to keep the data that proved his hypothesis and throw out the rest. So of the 21 countries he studied, he only used data from the 7 that best supported a link between heart disease and saturated fat consumption.

Adding fuel to the grease fire, on the coattails of the study, in 1956 representatives of the American Heart Association announced on national television that a diet including butter, lard, eggs, and beef would cause heart disease. This was followed in 1961 with Keys gracing the cover of Time Magazine, and the low-fat diet spread like wild fire. The conflagration eventually influenced the US government, who then set these flawed research studies in stone.

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Research Data Found in 2011

In 1968, a massive randomized controlled trial (9,423 subjects) was in process, studying the hypothesis that replacing saturated animal fats with polyunsaturated fats, vegetable oils, reduced the risk of heart disease. The study’s lead investigator was the University of Minnesota’s Dr. Ivan Frantz, an avid pro-low-fat advocate who wasn’t just studying it, he was living low fat at home. The study’s colead was his fellow University of Minnesota scientist and the “Seven Countries Study” author mentioned above, Ancel Keys.

The study continued through 1973; however, nothing was published at that time. In fact, with the exception of one paper, published nearly 20 years later (1989), the data just seemed to disappear. The conclusion of the study shared in the 1989 paper was that the risk of heart disease or death was not reduced by replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils, contradicting the original research by Ancel Keys. But many details of the study were still missing and questions unanswered.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, 2011 (Frantz died in 2009). Unmarked boxes stashed in Frantz’s basement are found by one of his sons. Inside the boxes? As if straight out of a high-budget Hollywood movie, all of the missing study data. Christopher Ramsden of the National Institutes of Health (the organization that funded Frantz’s study) had enlisted the help of Frantz’s sons to see if they could find the missing study, and it paid off. Ramsden published the study in the BMJ in 2016.

The Full Study Revealed

The purpose of the study was to determine if heart disease was reduced when saturated fats were replaced with vegetable oils. It was a double-blind randomized controlled trial, meaning there was a test group and a control group, and subjects did not know which group they were in, nor did the study investigators. This was a highly structured study, using only subjects in mental hospitals and nursing homes where diets could be controlled and recorded.

The study did find what other studies since have found—that replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils does lower cholesterol; however, there was no link between lower cholesterol and heart disease or death. In fact, it found the opposite: the risk of death from heart disease and other causes became progressively higher as the subjects’ cholesterol dropped. So replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils actually increased the risk of death from heart disease.

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What We Now Know About Low Fat Diets

I’ve said before that farmers don’t feed their cows lard, they feed them grain. Why? Farmers know what modern hospital dietiticans haven’t yet figured out—grain fattens us up. I’ve covered a number of studies over the years supporting that eating fat makes you thin:

The upshot? Never believe that science isn’t corrupted by politics and money. In this case, bad dietary science led to the premature deaths of millions (including my father). Even worse is when the government memorializes scientific theory as fact. The scientific process is based on the idea that it takes generations for science theory to become science fact. When government accelerates that process for its own ends, people can get hurt. So go out and find a nice, big, juicy steak and cover it with blue cheese and bacon, just skip the bread basket.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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