What we’re hearing these days about carbohydrates – that we should blame them for the increase in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – makes sense, but why did it take so long for this wisdom to prevail?
Part of the answer is political. The US Department of Agriculture has a big influence on what Americans eat. But where were the scientists? Unfortunately, much scientific research is funded by the government. If you want your grant renewed, you don’t threaten to bite the hand that feeds you.
So fat wasn’t the problem after all
The new wisdom about carbs is discussed in an LA Times story, “A reversal on carbs.” I was pleased to see clear acknowledgment that the advice to reduce fats in our diet resulted in increased carbohydrate consumption.
[T]he nation’s levels of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease have risen. “The country’s big low-fat message backfired,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.”
The chairman of Hu’s department says: “The good news … is that based on what we know, almost everyone can avoid Type 2 diabetes. Avoiding unhealthy carbohydrates is an important part of that solution.”
Unfortunately, while we were loading up on carbs, neuroscience discovered that they’re addictive. Avoiding them is not that easy, especially when they’re ubiquitous and cheap.
Let’s not jump on another bandwagon here
I was also glad to see that not everyone is jumping on the “no/low carbs” bandwagon. Perhaps researchers burned by the low fat episode have learned something. One medical doctor says that “while he fundamentally agrees with those advocating fewer dietary carbs, he doesn’t like to demonize one food group.” How reasonable.
[T]hose who eat too many calories tend to overconsume carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates and sugars. “It can be extremely valuable to limit carbohydrate intake and substitute protein and fat. I am glad to see so many people in the medical community getting on board. But in general I don’t recommend extreme dietary measures for promoting health.”
A professor of nutrition is also reticent about simply jumping from fats to carbs.
The committee [for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans] … “looked at carbohydrates and health outcomes and did not find a relationship between carbohydrate intake and increased disease risk.” … Cutting down on carbs as a calorie source is a good strategy, “but making a hit list of carbohydrate-containing foods is shortsighted and doomed to fail, similar to the low-fat rules that started in the 1980s.”
To see doctors and nutritionists give voice to so much common sense is truly encouraging. Actually, most of them have been saying something like this all along. Their message to eat a balanced diet just wasn’t titillating enough to get the press coverage it deserved.
Image: Meri Fitness
Marni Jameson, A reversal on carbs, Los Angeles Times, December 20, 2010