Innovation of Dietary Recommendations

In some arenas, we happily embrace innovation. In 1989 Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for what would eventually become the World Wide Web.[1]  By the late 1990s Yahoo! was a household name and by August 2001 Google had changed the way we found information forever.[2]  Likewise, we have adopted digital cameras, cell phones, and flat screen TVs without missing a beat. Screaming we LOVE innovation!!!

Unfortunately we are not this flexible in all arenas. Last month I went to Las Vegas and got to experience the new 3D TVs at the Sony store. Super cool. Amazing. However, it is easier for us to embrace innovation of this kind. In order to enjoy the benefits of the advancements that created the 3D TV, I do not need to understand how it was created. I do not need to have faith it works, because I can see the proof of it working immediately. Advancements in our understanding of dietary best practices do not have this advantage. There is nothing a person can buy and instantly have an increase in health. I cannot sit down in a store and demo a new health product and know for certain that it will increase my health if I purchase it. Thus, innovation in health plays in a whole different ballpark.

In order to prove the efficacy of a health advancement, huge clinical trials are designed and conducted over long periods of time. All of which is expensive and often inconclusive. Needless to say, innovation of health practices is slowed by this reality. Plus the food industry, government agencies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and fitness companies are all built on the existing understanding of how to create excellent health.

The world wants to see the level of wellness  to be raised. The world celebrates learning new things about health. The world wants to find better approaches to how to manage our health. However, as new things are learned, the acceptance is slow and the adoption is even slower.

There are two established dietary recommendations for creating and maintaining a healthy weight. The first dietary recommendation is to control the amount of calories consumed, the second dietary recommendation is to eat a low-fat diet. Much of the $58.6 billion dollar U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market[1] is based on these concepts. These are recommendations that have been made for decades[2]:

“Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet” has been the mantra for healthful eating for decades. Touted as a way to lose weight and prevent or control heart disease and other chronic conditions, millions of people have followed (or, more likely, have tried to follow) this advice. Seeing a tremendous marketing opportunity, food companies re-engineered thousands of foods to be lower in fat or fat free. 

In the United States, we have been seeing low-fat products on the shelves. We have been hearing advertisements for products that are low-fat. Our physicians have been recommending low-fat diets for a very long time.

Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota is considered the Father of Low-Fat Diets.  Keys’ studies and recommendations have had a substantial impact on changes in the U.S. diet. Keys had concluded that saturated fats as found in milk and meat have adverse effects opposite to the beneficial effects of the unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils. Starting around 1985 all dietary fats were considered unhealthy. This was driven largely by the hypothesis that all dietary fats cause obesity .[3]

Since that time, Americans have lowered their fat intake, however, this has failed to lower the incidence of obesity[4]:

In the 1960s, fats and oils supplied Americans with about 45 percent of their calories; about 13 percent of us were obese and under 1 percent had type 2 diabetes, a serious weight-related condition. Today, Americans take in less fat, getting about 33 percent of calories from fats and oils; yet 34 percent of us are obese and 8 percent have diabetes, most with type 2 diabetes. 

A study whose results were published in 2006 further demonstrated the failure of low-fat diet recommendations[5]:

The low-fat, high-starch diet that was the focus of dietary advice during the 1990s-as reflected by the USDA food guide pyramid-is dying out… The final nail in the coffin comes from an eight-year trial that included almost 49,000 women. After eight years, the researchers looked at how many (and what percentage) of women in each group had developed breast cancer or colorectal cancer. They tallied up heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of heart disease. They also looked at things like weight gain or loss, cholesterol levels, and other measures of health. The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed no benefits for a low-fat diet.

Check out this video: Ancel Keys, “Father of the Low-Fat Diet”

Likewise the strategy of calorie counting for maintaining a healthy weight has been less than spectacular. The concept of calorie control is the following[6]:

Eating too much or not being physically active enough will make you overweight. To maintain your weight, the calories you eat must equal the energy you burn. To lose weight, you must use  more calories than you eat.

Traditional weight loss methods include low-calorie diets that allow between 800 to 1,500 calories a day and encourage regular exercise[7]. The first problem with counting calories is the impracticality of it. It is very difficult to keep track of how many calories you have eaten. The second problem is that restricting calories literally drives us crazy and eventually makes us more fat.

In 1944, Ancel Keys, the Father of Low-Fat Diets as mentioned above, and his colleagues conducted one of the few studies done with human subject concerning calorie restriction. The investigation was designed to determine the physiological and psychological effects of severe and prolonged dietary restriction and the effectiveness of dietary rehabilitation strategies. The result…starving our bodies makes us crazy, crazy, crazy[8]:

 Among the many conclusions from the study was the confirmation that prolonged semi-starvation produces significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis as measured using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a standardized test administered during the experimental period. Indeed, most of the subjects experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression… The participants reported a decline in concentration, comprehension and judgment capabilities, although the standardized tests administered showed no actual signs of diminished capacity. There were marked declines in physiological processes indicative of decreases in each subject’s basal metabolic rate (the energy required by the body in a state of rest) and reflected in reduced body temperature, respiration and heart rate.

Plus, to make matters worse, if a person toughs out the crazies and successfully loses weight; when they go back to eating normal, they get even fatter than they were prior to restricting their caloric intake. During the end phase of this study when the subject where able to eat as much as they would like, they gained back all of the weight they lost and more. On average the subjects of this starvation study were 5% more heavy at the conclusion of the study then they were at the beginning of the study.[9]  

Eating a Low-Fat Diet and controlling your calorie might be the most common methods recommended in the United States for losing weight, but look around. Being average sucks. I want to be healthier than average. I want to be a Happy Deviant. Thus, I challenge myself and I challenge you to think for yourself and move past the common dietary recommendations.

Checkout this Video: Why Low-Fat, Low Calorie Diets are Stupid!


[1] :http://www.the-infoshop.com/report/md81748-us-diet-control.html

[2] http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-full-story/index.html

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancel_Keys

[4] http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-full-story/index.html

[5] http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-news/low-fat/

[6] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/weightcontrol.html

[7] http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/low-calorie-diets

[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment

[9] Good Calories, Bad Calories; Taubes, page 255


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet

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~ by happydeviant on October 4, 2010.

One Response to “Innovation of Dietary Recommendations”

  1. […] the blog Innovation of Dietary Recommendations, I wrote about the Ancel Key’s calorie restriction study.  What is comes down to is that our […]

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