Keys of Nutrition
October 22, 2002 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Keys of Nutrition You may not be familiar with Ancel Keys, but his discoveries about nutrition and health are behind much of the dietary advice people now receive. Have you ever wondered who proved that the amount of cholesterol in food did not influence the amount of cholesterol in the blood? Do you know what causes high cholesterol? Do you like olive oil but need a good rationalization to keep using it? (hint: there is one) What dietary advice has most fascinated you, or helped you the most?
posted by Tystnaden (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Fascinating piece. Too bad the U.S. government and most medical authorities were - are - so slow to catch on to Keys' ideas about different kinds of fat (as far as I know, the "food pyramid" is still being promoted.) The fact that Keys did this research so long ago makes me even angrier that the conventional wisdom still favors low-overall-fat, high-starch diets. The pounding Gray Taubes took for his New York Times Magazine article "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie" shows that this is far from over.

My local paper just ran a story about the problem of obesity that blamed "inconsistent messages" from diet gimmick ads as one of the factors. As if the problem would have been solved a long time ago if we had all just listened to the consistent, sensible advice of the government and the medical establishment.
posted by transona5 at 11:16 AM on October 22, 2002

Interesting read. This guy has obviously led a very fulfilling and influential life. I wonder if his seven countries study were to be re-run today in the same way, same areas, with a new generation (or maybe two later) if the results would be consistent or if the U.S. would take over Finland as having the highest heart attack rate. Wish somebody would do it.

Oh and..."In Finland -- where a popular logger's lunch was a slab of cheese covered with butter and buried in a hollowed-out loaf of bread -- it was virtually all saturated fat."

Good God, man!
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:33 AM on October 22, 2002

Here's another quote I read recently in a cook book, but I don't know the author's sources. The cook book cites Mary G. Enig, PhD: Know Your Fats as the source of the quote.

"In fact, Ancel Keys had originally claimed that the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with their trans fatty acids were the culprits in heart disease. This was in 1958, and the edible oil industry was very swift in their squelching of that information; they shifted the emphasis to "saturated" fat and started the unwarranted attack on meat and dairy fats. It has taken 30 years for research to get back on track."

The cookbook is called "Nourishing Traditions." It has great recipes for making breads, yoghurts, kefir, kvas and on and on. It's in favor of animal fats but it's very against homogenization and pasteurization of dairy products, refined sugars, flours, chemically created table salt, etc.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:42 AM on October 22, 2002

One thing that Keys missed out on with regard to the Japanese respondents & low rates of heart disease - despite high rates of smoking - in the Seven Countries Study is the inclusion of miso in their diet. Miso is a highly nutritious food that has been linked with a reduction in cholesterol and even as a preventative for the effects of nicotine & radiation.

Lest we forget, Japan has the highest life expectancy rates on the planet.
posted by i_cola at 11:42 AM on October 22, 2002

Ufez Jones: Never had a cheese steak?!?
posted by i_cola at 11:43 AM on October 22, 2002

Not in many years i_cola, but that wouldn't be considered a cheese-steak stateside one pop-up've been warned. And I haven't had one of those in many years, if ever.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:51 AM on October 22, 2002

i love keys II side II. wakeman rules.
posted by quonsar at 12:26 PM on October 22, 2002

Miso is incredible and I sip it just about every day, but I still can't handle the flavor of seaweed.

Thanks for the historical article. Five years ago I decided to stop eating evil foods, but if I had to pick just one food that a person should eliminate to feel better it would be sugar .
posted by oh posey at 12:57 PM on October 22, 2002

Conventional wisdom isn't for low-fat, per se, transonsa5 -- just about everyone but Dean Ornish recommends getting 30% of your calories from fat. But certainly the Food Pyramid's misleading in that regard, lumping in fats with sweets as something to 'use sparingly' (far from the only way it sucks.)

I'll note that trans-fatty acids (margarine, shortening, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) are present in just about all junk food and seemingly most packaged prepared food, and in fried food in general: the heat converts the oil. And you'd be doing yourself a favor to cut them out altogether (though I have to agree with oh posey... cutting out sugar would make a much more obvious difference much faster for most people.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2002

The pounding Gray Taubes took for his New York Times Magazine article "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie" shows that this is far from over.

Um, maybe Taubes's "pounding" was partly due to his denial of the tons of research proving the success of low-fat diets, or maybe it was because his own experts on dietary fat are now saying they were profoundly misrepresented.

Taubes clearly wanted to stir up controversy, and he succeeded - but certainly he has only muddied, not clarified, most Americans' understanding of nutrition. Go back and read the article: The positive attributes of fats (which mainstream health authorities have never ignored) have to do with non-saturated fats, while the foods Taubes and Atkins recommend are almost always animal-fat faves (which have their own incidental health liabilities he never finds room to mention). Likewise, to slam carbs, he concentrates on the simplest, so he can make his big glucose/insulin case; but people who are actually eating low-fat diets (e.g. most people in the non-Western world) concentrate on complex carbs, and are thinner than we are.

No one disputes that Atkins will take weight off; long-term (and by that I mean more than six months) health is, and has always been, the issue. Gary Taubes may think eating lard out of a can is the best way to reduce your heart disease risk, but another low-fat study out today showed remarkable results in just three weeks: The participants lost weight, while tremendously improving their health. And as for the carbs, "they could eat all the whole-meal bread, pasta, fruit and vegetables they wanted." Pasta? That one surprised even me.
posted by soyjoy at 2:01 PM on October 22, 2002

Taubes never recommended the Atkins diet. He implied that Atkins was closer to being right than the government experts were, and that its relative success turned conventional wisdom on its head. A lot of people he quoted suggested a modified version of the Atkins diet.

And in the CNN link, those doctors absolutely did not say they were misrepresented by Taubes. They said they didn't support the Atkins diet wholesale, which Taubes never claimed they did.
posted by transona5 at 3:34 PM on October 22, 2002

By the time you care enough about moderating your fat intake, it's too late. The game will have already shifted to stabilization of the fatty plaques.
posted by paleocon at 5:41 PM on October 22, 2002

My mother-in-law claims it all ties into "Coral Calcium" and that recent peer-reviewed JAMA published studies suggest that body PH is very important - as an underlying cause of disease and, specifically, as a cause of high blood cholestosterol levels. - any (informed) opinions?
posted by troutfishing at 9:28 PM on October 22, 2002

Tystnaden, thanks for introducing Mr Ancel Keys. You're right that many of us are not hitherto aware of his great contributions.

What dietary advice has most fascinated you, or helped you the most?

My own philosophy on diet is knowing that "not all fats are equal" (mayo clinic has useful pointers on this), eating in moderation and not having to ponder or worry excessively over the health value of every food item that I ingest . And I don't think I want to hear any more advice on what food type is good for my bloodtype.
posted by taratan at 9:35 PM on October 22, 2002

Soyjoy - maybe there are severall different viable ways to run a human metabolism/body - high fat/low carb (Atkins' way) or high (unrefined) card/low fat (McDougall's Way).
posted by troutfishing at 9:41 PM on October 22, 2002

By the way (depending on your sex) - soy is estrogenic (it's been recomended - and used - to shrink the libido of male Buddhist monks) and has been shown to cause the shrinkage of the brain in elderly Hawaiin males. I still do eat Tofu, though.
posted by troutfishing at 9:45 PM on October 22, 2002

troutfishing - Yes, there probably are different approaches which will have varying degrees of success with different body types. Fine. And despite my moniker, I'm no soy partisan (although the brain-shrinking study does have some peculiarities). The point is, however, that Taubes was representing a temporary weight-loss diet as a long-term plan for everyone's bodily health, while ignoring most of its risks and distorting the data on its competition.

transona5 - No "recommendation?" Taubes's whole article is an apologia for Atkins, a recasting of a fad diet as something that scientists are supposedly now seeing as a healthy overall routine. Cohen says, " can you not buy a book that tells you to eat cheeseburgers, pork chops, butter and bacon [as Taubes specifies]? How can you say no to that? But the folks who I talked to said: 'You know what? We don't like that kind of fat. We don't think that's good for people.'"

And in the Washington Post article: "I have gone over this [concentrating on healthy fats instead of saturated fats] a number of times with Gary, but he barely mentioned it in the article," and "I reviewed all the evidence suggesting that low-fat diets are the best documented diets and was extremely surprised to see that he didn't use any of that information in his article."

Since these points are central to Taubes's entire piece, I'd call this a pretty significant "misrepresentation" of these scientists' views. What would you call it instead?
posted by soyjoy at 9:28 AM on October 23, 2002

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