Are the Rules On Nutrition Wrong?

Zachary B.

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Many of you may have seen the famous movie Supersize Me. It’s the one where filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is stuffed with a mouth full of french-fries on the cover, but how many of you have seen the comedic throwback response, Fat Head? In Fat Head, comedian Tom Naughton poses an alternative question to the obvious outcome of Supersize Me, Is everything we are taught about healthy eating wrong? Then he sets out on a mission: eat greasy hamburgers and other high calorie fast food for the next 30 days. The end result, unlike Spurlock, is improved health. Yes, Naughton somehow comes out skinnier! This sounds good, but how is it possible? Well, the answer may come down to saturated fats and if all we know about them is in fact correct. For instance, according to Popular Science magazine, a whopping 34% of CT scans done on 137 ancient mummies revealed signs of a modern day health concern, atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis? Yes, a disease of the arteries where fat and cholesterol harden possibly leading to stroke or a heart attack. Yet McDonalds, Wendy’s, and other similar fast food restaurants didn’t exist during the times of the ancient Egyptians or the early American Anasazi, making the implications here significant. It implies that “atherosclerosis today may have less to do with modern excesses such as overeating and more with underlying genetic factors,” states Roxanne Khamsi, author of the article “Mummy Medicine” in Popular Science. In fact, there are many other medical professionals questioning our beliefs about fats. Associate professor of medicine, Dariush Mozaffarian, at Harvard medical school and Renata Micha from the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, also studied saturated fats and associated risk factors like heart disease. Their published study titled, “Saturated Fat and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors, Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes,” available at the US National Library of Medicine, similarly cautions of saturated fat bias and states that simply removing it from our diet may not help at all. Instead, it will depend on the nutrient we choose to replace saturated fat with. For example, the most popular choice, replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates, warns the article, will likely offer no benefit. In other words, simply having a refined carbohydrate, like white bread, can be equally bad. The rationale is that while saturated fats can raise the bad cholesterol, LDL, they are also mysteriously and simultaneously raising the good cholesterol, HDL, and lowering your triglycerides. So if your desperate for a substitute, then the study recommends that you consider replacing saturated fats with the polyunsaturated fats found in vegetables and vegetable oils. Now, back to Fat Head. I believe the movie is worth watching since it encourages us to ask more thought provoking questions and shake out some of those biases that even the professors at Harvard medical school caution against. Other fascinating claims in Naughton’s movie include that there has never really been a single study proving saturated fat causes heart disease and that half of all heart-attack victims have normal or low cholesterol. So I guess the big question now is, who is right? The good news, I think is that the old rules, fat is bad, is not necessarily true. Apparently, there is still way more for us to study and understand about fats. But while that jury is out, I think I’ll do what most of the other clever Americans did in Naughton’s Fat Head, and try for some “common sense.”

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