Keys was the original big data guy (a contemporary remarked: “Every time you question this man Keys, he says, ‘I’ve got 5,000 cases. How many do you have?’”). Despite its monumental stature, however, the Seven Countries Study, which was the basis for a cascade of subsequent papers by its original authors, was a rickety construction. There was no objective basis for the countries chosen by Keys, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he picked only those he suspected would support his hypothesis. After all, it is quite something to choose seven nations in Europe and leave out France and what was then West Germany, but then, Keys already knew that the French and Germans had relatively low rates of heart disease, despite living on a diet rich in saturated fats....

    Although Keys had shown a correlation between heart disease and saturated fat, he had not excluded the possibility that heart disease was being caused by something else. Years later, the Seven Countries study’s lead Italian researcher, Alessandro Menotti, went back to the data, and found that the food that correlated most closely with deaths from heart disease was not saturated fat, but sugar....

    Gary Taubes is a physicist by background. “In physics,” he told me, “You look for the anomalous result. Then you have something to explain. In nutrition, the game is to confirm what you and your predecessors have always believed.”


I have to breathe a heavy sigh reading this story. I am not a nutritionist, but I work with the American Heart Association very often as part of my work. They are one of the power brokers of nutrition policy in the US, and, frankly, they dispense bad advice. (For the record, I love AHA and am grateful to them for their support of my work.) I got into a heated argument a year ago with some of their leadership about salt. All the best evidence seems to indicate that healthy people can eat almost limitless amounts of salt (of course by "limitless" I mean as much as would ever taste good on food) without threat of injury. AHA, by contrast, recommends that one eat a maximum of 2,000mg/day, which is about 40% of what the best epidemiological evidence says you should eat (at minimum). Anyway, I guess as a way to protect themselves of accusations of not being credible on other issues, they continue to advance this ridiculous advice on salt.

I brought this up to a buddy of mine who is a hypertension researcher. Specifically, he is interested in the way salt sensitivity is induced by eating fructose (of course, as most people know, fructose is the main player in sugar enriched foods). According to his fascinating work, while harmless for healthy animals (as in humans), salt does cause actually cause hypertension in rats that have been placed on a high fructose diet, because the fructose damages their kidneys in a very specific way. He wrote a grant about it to AHA, which was rejected. No big deal, because grants get rejected far more often than not. So he brought the idea up to them in a leadership meeting, and apparently was completely shut up. Doing some further research, he found that Pepsi is a huge donor of theirs. They claim that this doesn't affect their science decisions, but it's difficult to see how. According to this buddy, he can't get anyone in AHA leadership to talk about it, and all the other scientists he knows who work with fructose are treated equally.

Money talks, I guess. Here is the list of healthy living recommendations from AHA's website:

    Eat a variety of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars. Replace high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables.

    Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.

    Choose poultry and fish without skin and prepare them in healthy ways without added saturated and trans fat. If you choose to eat meat, look for the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy and delicious ways.

    Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring).

    Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.

    Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.

    Limit saturated fat and trans fat and replace them with the better fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. If you need to lower your blood cholesterol, reduce saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat.

    Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.

    Choose foods with less sodium and prepare foods with little or no salt. To lower blood pressure, aim to eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Reducing daily intake to 1,500 mg is desirable because it can lower blood pressure even further. If you can’t meet these goals right now, even reducing sodium intake by 1,000 mg per day can benefit blood pressure.

    If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks per day if you’re a man.

    Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.

You'll notice the theme of portion control and avoiding saturated fat and salt. It's disheartening (sorry). They do mention drinking less sugary drinks, but it's not emphasized in any way. And I stand corrected that they actually recommend 1500mg of sodium, which, you know, can kill you. Science need not apply.

posted by wasoxygen: 1010 days ago