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Cardiologist attacks fear of fat and counting calories: Low carb diets best

Get the skinny on butter's benefits.
Get the skinny on butter's benefits.
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In recent years, several experts have attacked the USDA food pyramid, which advises consumers to fear high fat foods such as red meat and eat copious amounts of grains. Now cardiologist and epidemiologist Dariush Mozaffarian hopes to make a difference in national policy as he takes on the position of Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy dean, reported the Boston Globe on July 13.

As head of the nation's only graduate nutrition program, the former Harvard physician plans to "have a strong research presence." He is particularly concerned about the focus on obesity and weight loss because it has resulted in what he sees as inadequate research on the link between diet and overall health.

"I think the US and global obesity pandemic has been a double-edged sword for nutrition science. The benefit is that now real attention is being paid to nutrition and health. The negative has been that many of our nutrition policies now focus only on obesity," stated Mozaffarian.

He challenges the focus on the quantity of calories rather than the quality of nutrients. "Right now much of our dietary policy priorities are focused on just total calories, rather than diet quality. There is very little evidence that counting calories will reduce obesity or prevent chronic disease," added the new dean.

And his vision for change goes beyond the United States. "Currently, the World Health Organization is focused on saturated fat and sodium, and maybe added sugars, as the [main dietary] problems leading to chronic disease. It’s a really myopic set of priorities, as total fat is a useless focus," points out Mozaffarian.

Instead, he hopes to encourage organizations and consumers to eat a low-carb diet with unprocessed foods. The Standard American Diet (SAD) lacks "healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, some dairy, vegetable oils. And what’s really bad is the ultra-processing of carbohydrates and other packaged foods."

His goal: "Make it a priority to increase the good foods that are missing. We really need to bring the policies up to date with the science."

Recently, the fact that those policies, including the food pyramid, are sadly outdated was highlighted in a new book entitled "Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet." In it, the author analyzed the history of how these policies developed and pointed out the faulty logic in the studies.

Those policies have resulted, among other problems, in a cholesterol conundrum. Many consumers think that eating beef, eggs and butter, for example, causes high cholesterol, which in turn they think leads to heart disease. However, Barbara Broadwater, executive director of the Mississippi Against Obesity Foundation, said on July 14 that it's low-fat diets that earn the failing grade for health.

"Contrary to popular belief, cutting too much fat from your diet can actually raise triglycerides and decrease healthy HDL cholesterol. These are both risk factors for heart disease," she explained.

Broadwater pinpoints the problem with low-fat diets: "Low fat only translates into high carbs, which prompts a big insulin spike. This causes blood sugar to rise and then drop quickly, ultimately resulting in hunger."

Despite the evidence that low carb diets are more successful for weight loss and health than counting calories, many scientists continue to focus on calories. A new device focuses on the "calories in, calories out" theory of weight loss, reported NPR on July 15.

Cell biologist Matt Webster has designed the device to show the energy in what you eat. "We have the weight of the food and the proportion that's water and the proportion that's fat, and from that information, we can estimate calories," explained Webster.

But several recent studies indicate that high fat low carb diets trump low fat diets both for weight loss and conditions such as diabetes. In a recent blog, for example, Dr. William Lagakos reported that a pilot trial revealed that "advising an obese diabetic patient to reduce their carb intake consistently produces better results than advising them to follow a low fat, calorie restricted diet."

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