The USDA just released new dietary guidelines for 2011, including the expected sensible advice of “enjoy your food, but eat less.” Some of the significant points include:
- Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages
- Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oils.
- Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.
Noted nutritionist Marion Nestle makes helpful comments on these guidelines and their history here. You will find similar recommendations from the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic as well as many other responsible health organizations.
And these recommendations make sense: reduce fat, reduce calories and prevent cholesterol buildup in your arteries.
Despite the surprising unanimity of these recommendations and the solid science on which they are based, you will find some eccentric outliers recommending strange things like eating lots of butter, cream, red meat and heavy coconut oil as part of a standard healthy diet. Even our colleague, the New York Healthy Food Examiner has fallen under the spell of these bizarre recommendations.
In fact searches for butter in diets will bring up some of these preposterous claims.
These odd recommendations seem to emanate primarily from members of the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF), who attack the USDA guidelines based on outdated science and downright odd interpretations of existing data. Weston Price was a Cleveland dentist who made a whirlwind tour of primitive countries and tried to correlate dental health with long term health of his subjects, ignoring life expectancy, disease and infant mortality. His work is now pretty much discredited.
The foundation now recommends high butter and red meat diets, avoiding vegetable oils, drinking raw, unpasteurized milk and eschewing fluoridation. The foundation’s peculiar ideas have been criticized by Joel Fuhrman, MD and many others.
Much of the misinformation regarding high fat diets seems to come from Mary Enig, the foundation vice president, who has a Ph.D. in nutritional science and has written extensively about fats in our diet. Despite her claims to be a working research scientist, PubMed shows only 3 articles in her entire career, and 5 comments to other papers. Only one is later than 1993. (Her Wikipedia bio shows two more, neither in biological journals.)
Enig’s principal issue has been her view that science has not proven a connection between cholesterol and heart disease. She has written an extensive screed on her views complete with 73 references, where she uses such measured phrases as “Diet Dictocrats.” Unfortunately, many of these articles cannot be found in PubMed and many (24) of the others are in popular journals or on the WAPF web site itself.
Many of the articles she cites are quite old and have been superseded by more recent work. For example, she repeated refers to a 1964 JAMA article in which patients treated surgically for atherosclerosis had varying cholesterol levels. There are literally thousands of articles refuting this early supposition. For example a more recent rabbit feeding study showed that the arteries of the rabbits were clogged with plaque entirely related to the foods they were given.
Many of the actually scientific articles we examined draw far different conclusions than she claims. For example she cites Willet’s work on inhabitants of Crete having diets high in lamb, sausage and goat cheese, when his paper says the opposite.
Coronary heart disease was correlated with saturated fat diets as far back as 1982, was supported by Wardlaw and Snook and is one of the primary conclusions of the Framingham Heart Study, whose director is interviewed here.
You would think that pointing out the overwhelming scientific evidence refuting these beliefs would be sufficient, but those holding these bizarre views take the position that all mainstream science is slanted by corporate support and cannot be trusted. Instead, cult-like, they prefer to point to a small number of superficial and discredited studies.
So, in conclusion, butter is a delicious food and in moderation can make foods quite enjoyable. But at 100 calories per tablespoon (with 7g of saturated fat and 30 mg cholesterol), it is not part of any sensible weight-loss plan.