“A big fat surprise for dietary dogma”? Fat chance

Grrrr – can you hear me seething? I have been since reading the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente’s column entitled, “A big fat surprise for dietary dogma”. It’s amazing how easily swayed someone who is supposed to be a knowledgeable columnist in a national newspaper  can be. Maybe she really believes what she writes or it could be that she’s just looking to get tongues wagging.

Either way, I’m not impressed.

Her article is all about how “the entire health and medical establishment, in fact, have been perpetuating a big fat fraud” by suggesting that the theories about cholesterol and fat have been all wrong.

She has become an expert on the topic as she has read Nina Teicholz’s book, The Big Fat Surprise. I’ve already provided my views on the nonsense she’s written but have since learned that it has been said Ms. Teicholz  “excessively and shamelessly lifts other people’s material”.

But now to Ms. Wente. She talks of her once a week bacon and eggs “guilty pleasure” and her six day a week breakfast of bran buds and skimmed milk. Where did she get the idea that her standard breakfast menu was the way to reduce her risk for heart disease?

No wonder she’s so angry at the nutrition community. I would be too if that’s what I ate almost every morning.

Yes, eggs had been vilified years ago when scientists first thought that the dietary cholesterol in eggs sent blood cholesterol soaring.  For those with diabetes, though, limits on eggs are still recommended.  But it’s been years since the nutrition community has recognized nutrition-packed eggs, especially for breakfast, are a boon to those practicing girth control.  True, it has taken the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advice Committee years to  drop its recommendation to restrict cholesterol but we all know the pace at which  governments work. And yes, there has been an occasional scientist to dispute this ( I wrote about one in my post  Sensationalism at its finest: the egg-smoking study over 2 ½ years ago).

Where has Ms. Wente been?

But she should be cautious about her thinking eating bacon is a boon to her nutritional status.  Her father, apparently diagnosed with  heart disease in his 50s, lived for another 30 years.  True, it didn’t sound as though after eating a diet of egg whites, lean meat and Mrs. Dash, that he enjoyed a lot of palate pleasing meals. But he could have and still reaped  heart healthy perks.

She laments that we should have learned to eat like her  great-aunt Finney. “She was a jolly, broad farm wife who consumed mountains of meat and whole milk and eggs, stayed away from processed and fast food (there wasn’t any) and never saw fresh fruit or vegetables for months on end. She got a lot of exercise … she was healthy as a horse and lived to a ripe old age.”

Again Ms. Wente seems to have missed a major point here. Yes, her aunt didn’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter but as a farm wife, you can bet that during the summer, she was busy canning her produce to enjoy through the winter. I’m also sure she had a packed root vegetable cellar to bridge the gap until the next growing season.  She also probably ate large quantities of food to support the   physical activity of a farmer.

Ms. Wente, in claiming we’ve perpetuated a big fat fraud, lumps together starchy vegetables and all grains with sugary foods and blames them, along with lean meat, for an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease and for making us fatter. Whole grains and starchy vegetables simply don’t belong in the same category as refined grains and sugar.

Contrary to Ms. Wente’s understanding, saturated fat is not in the clear. Just because one study showed it not to be as bad as refined carbs and sugar doesn’t mean it provides benefit.  Far from it.  But nutritional science, which does evolve,  moved on more than a decade ago from low fat to  healthy fats such as those found in olive oil, and nuts and seeds.

Before using the word fraud,  rather than depending on the word of  one author whose reputation is not so squeaky clean, Ms. Wente  might have looked at  a variety of valid scientific investigations.    But then maybe she wouldn’t get so much attention.

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What’s your take on Margaret Wente’s column? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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