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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Defense, cont.

So I wrote yesterday about how the 1973 FDA ruling that foods can be changed without being labeled "imitation" opened the floodgates for food producers to add all sorts of "healthy" ingredients to our food. 

One of the most prevalent was the perpetuation of the fear about fat--that it causes heart disease, stroke, etc.  Recent studies, however, have shown that for the most part, this is not the case.  Michael Pollan writes:
Only one study has ever found "a significant inverse association between poly-unsaturated fat intake and CHD [coronary heart disease]."  Let me translate:  The amount of saturated fat in the diet may have little if any bearing on the risk of heart disease, and evidence that increasing polyunsaturated fats [such as margarine] in the diet will reduce risk is slim to nil.
In addition, there's little proof that dietary cholesterol leads to CHD risk.  Some say that reducing fat in the diet leads to weight loss, but again, there's little to support this claim as well.

If that theory were correct, when we're all trying to reduce our fat intake, why the rampant spread of heart disease in this country?  According to Pollan, you need to look back in time.
...during the decades of the 20th Century when rates of heart disease were rising in America, Americans were actually reducing their intake of animal fats (in the form or lard and tallow).  In place of those fats, they consumed substantially more vegetable oils, especially in the form of margarine, sales of which outpaced butter for the first time in 1957. 
Between the end of World War II and 1976, animal fat consumption in the US dropped greatly, while fats from seed oils almost doubled.  Yet, there were more people having heart attacks.  Hmm.

Heart disease dropped greatly during WWII and Pollan hypothesizes that it's because of the war's affect on the availability of meat, butter and eggs--not to mention sugar and gasoline being rationed.  Americans were eating less of everything--except fish, interestingly.  And they got more exercise because of the gas rationing.  A theory, but an interesting theory nevertheless.

Probably the thing I agree with the most in Pollan's book is the fact that industrial food production has been the downfall of our health in this country--with thanks to the government's nutrition guidelines.  Again, he writes:
The whole of the industrial food supply was reformulated to reflect the new nutritional wisdom, giving us low-fat pork, low-fat Snackwell's and all the low-fat pasta and high-fructose (yet low-fat!) corn syrup we could consume....Oddly, Americans got really fat on their new low-fat diet....

All this helped to change the way Americans ate--focusing on the components of the things they were eating rather than the experience of eating--the taste, the pleasure, the healthful whole food.  We want to eat antioxidants and beta-carotene instead of fruit and fish.   

I'll talk about that a little more next time.

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