Food Police

Next Time Government Gives You Dietary Advice, Consider Doing the Opposite

From scares over skipping breakfast to too much salt, the government's been wrong a lot.

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In Sleeper, Woody Allen plays Miles Monroe, a cryogenically frozen owner of a Greenwich Village health food store who, when defrosted in the year 2173, finds himself in an authoritarian state filled with giant vegetables, android butlers and Diane Keaton. When an unnerved Miles is first unfrozen, Space Age doctors try to calm him down:

       Doctor: "He's ranting. We'd better tranquilize him."

       Miles: "I knew it was too good to be true. I parked right near the hospital."

       Doctor: "Now here, you smoke this, and be sure you get the smoke deep down into your lungs."

       Miles: "I don't smoke."

       Doctor: "It's tobacco. It's one of the healthiest things for your body. Now go ahead. You need all the strength you can get."

Pointing out the always-changing guidelines of salubrious living is a long-running joke in America. It's worth remembering, though, that any self-corrections we make,  and we make them all the time in real life using common sense, are far more difficult when government puts its imprimatur on pseudoscience, which it also does all the time.

In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal government's advice manual for citizens, we are warned that "not eating breakfast has been associated with excess body weight." But when researchers from Columbia University decided to test this notion, they found nothing of the sort: "In overweight individuals, skipping breakfast daily for 4 weeks leads to a reduction in body weight," the study's authors note. Other researchers did the same and came to similar conclusions. How many parents and overweight Americans took this advice as gospel when they could have been losing weight by skipping buttermilk pancake breakfasts?

We already know that government recommendations regarding health are often driven by a bunch of Chicken Littles. The leading organ of American scaremongering, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has gotten so much wrong over the years. There was the outrageous contention that 400,000 Americans were dropping dead from obesity every year. (They weren't.) And then there were all the over-the-top warnings about the alleged risks of secondhand smoke. (They don't really exist.)

Earlier this year, the bureaucrats behind the government's dietary guidelines finally admitted there was "no appreciable relationship" between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. After years of warning Americans that high-cholesterol foods would kill them—eggs, shrimp and so on—the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will no longer list cholesterol among its "nutrients of concern" for overconsumption. Now some scientists argue that the state's obsession with scaring citizens about fat may actually have made our health worse.

The popularity of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which government absurdly banned earlier this year, was driven in large part by government scaremongering about the evils of cooking with lard. But when contemporary researchers looked at the 1970s-era data underlying the dietary fat guidelines, they came to the conclusion that the data did not support the idea that eating less fat would translate to fewer cases of heart disease or that it would save lives. And studies show it hasn't.

Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote this in The New York Times earlier this year: "How did experts get it so wrong? Certainly, the food industry has muddied the waters through its lobbying. But the primary problem is that nutrition policy has long relied on a very weak kind of science: epidemiological, or 'observational,' studies in which researchers follow large groups of people over many years. But even the most rigorous epidemiological studies suffer from a fundamental limitation. At best they can show only association, not causation. Epidemiological data can be used to suggest hypotheses but not to prove them."

For instance, the government has been telling us we've been eating too much salt for years. The Food and Drug Administration claimed that lowering salt intake would save tens of thousands of us every year. Overbearing nanny-state groups lobbied the government to regulate salt as they now do trans fats, and Americans turned to low-sodium diets in huge numbers.

One of America's leading advocates of spurious science, New York's Michael Bloomberg, persuaded more than 20 companies to drop salt levels voluntarily. Yet according to studies published in recent years, our salt intake wasn't dangerous at all. Even the CDC has been forced to admit that it was wrong. And the low levels of salt recommended by the government not only were unnecessary but also have been dangerous for our health.

"There is no longer any valid basis for the current salt guidelines," said Andrew Mente, one of the authors of a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. "So why are we still scaring people about salt?"

Well, because that's what government does best.

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56 responses to “Next Time Government Gives You Dietary Advice, Consider Doing the Opposite

  1. I was born using the food pyramid, and I’ll die using the food pyramid.

    1. You’re probably right.

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    2. I love the pyramid of basic food groups.

    3. And people say that the Government doesn’t create pyramid schemes!

  2. WE. DONT. UNDERSTAND. HOW. OUR. BODIES. WORK.

  3. The only time I’ll listen to gov’t health/food policies is if it involves drinking more beer to lose weight. Easy one to follow, I already do it

  4. “””skipping breakfast daily for 4 weeks leads to a reduction in body weight””

    I have heard that for people who don’t want to skip breakfast, instead have an early Supper and no other food until you go to sleep, its all about having the body run out of food to process and instead has to work off fat reserves at some time during the day.

  5. Another thing that never made sense to me is the governments war on eating fatty foods. Everything you eat gets turned mostly into sugars, its not like the fat in the food goes directly to fat in the body. If you eat more food then the body needs the extra sugar gets stored as fat, that’s whether the food you eat is fatty or not.

    1. Indeed. If you eat more calories than you need regardless of the makeup you get fat. If you eat less than you need you get thinner. It isn’t hard to understand.

      I’ve been gradually altering my diet to include a lot more protein and more fat, and less simple and complex carbs. I definitely feel better and crave crappy food less.

      1. I eat a small steak, chicken breast, pork chop, etc along with a small amount of vegetables and this will satisfy my hunger for hours, I eat it for early supper, go the evening eating nothing else, go to sleep and still in the morning I am not very hungry.

        Salads on the other hand are appetizers for me, they make be hungrier.

      2. The twist is that “calories you need” changes depending on your protein/fat/carb ratios, rates of intake, quantities, etc. The simplest carbs — fructose especially — have significant metabolic signalling roles. An interesting hypothesis is that we have some of the mammalian hibernation infrastructure lying around and gorging on fruit is the energy source for fat stores as well as the signal to start taking it easy.

        Also, emphasis on protein is not wise imo. Excess nitrogen is an expensive way to load the kidneys (viz. cats and their kidney failure rates), and the rest simply decomposes to sugar. The body needs no more than necessary to replace that which is lost. And biological nitrogen recycling is extremely efficient since nitrogen is an expensive commodity all the way up the food chain.

    2. You’ve just stumbled onto something cattle have known for years. You can even eat too much salad.

      1. And if you were a ruminant, that would be very good to know.

    3. Fat is actually one of the few exceptions to the rule about everything becoming sugars. But it does get broken down and it certainly does not go directly into fat stores. Fatty acids are preferential fuel for the heart, and ketone bodies are essential for the brain.

      The irony of the anti-fat message is that eating only proteins and carbs doesn’t merely leave you hungry — with no fat, you will starve to death. Yet there are *no* essential dietary carbohydrates. You can live without the entire food group right at the bottom of the pyramid.

  6. There is much better evidence behind sodium than there is behind global warming. The exact numbers are always a source of debate and are circumstance dependent but hypertension is still a bad thing.

    1. Salt can cause transient hypertension, but if you have healthy kidneys your body corrects that pretty quick.

    2. Hypertension is neither necessary nor sufficient for heart failure.

      1. And sodium afaik is neither necessary nor sufficient for hypertension…

        1. It can be for some people.

          But that’s the funny thing: rather than have doctors say “Oh, you have hypertension. Why don’t you cut back on salt and see if it will help? It works for about 50% of the population,” the Government has been screaming, “EVERYONE STOP EATING SALT NOW!!! IT CAUSES HYPERTENSION!!! EVERYONE IS GOING TO DIE!!!!!!11!!1!!!!11!” regardless of whether or not a given person has hypertension, regular tension, or even hypotension (there are such people, and doctors recommend lots of salt.)

  7. Class action lawsuit: The People vs. Michael Bloomberg.

    All that money, he doesn’t need it.

  8. The federal mafia has been lying to us for years about everything. It lied about AIDs being a disease everyone could get. It lies about AIDs and other diseases being epidemics. It lied that all our unconstitutional wars and military police actions were “to protect our freedom”. It lies about unemployment and regulation, debt, the cost of government, climate change, trade agreements, Benghazi, the mass murder of Branch Davidians and their children in Waco, TX, the innocence of murderous, criminal cops, and on, and on, and on. It lies about everything. That is what it does.

    Anyone who believes anything the government says is a fool.

    1. But… but… ‘Gubmint gives us roadz’

    2. Ah, come now, it’s just as foolish to disbelieve Government as it is to believe it. We’d all be better off just ignoring Government, or if the sudden urge comes to listen to their ravings, to look into them ourselves, using independent sources for verification. “Distrust, but verify” should be the motto for anything that Government might say!

  9. “One of America’s leading advocates of spurious science, New York’s Michael Bloomberg, persuaded more than 20 companies to drop salt levels voluntarily. Yet according to studies published in recent years, our salt intake wasn’t dangerous at all. Even the CDC has been forced to admit that it was wrong. And the low levels of salt recommended by the government not only were unnecessary but also have been dangerous for our health.”

    Somebody hasn’t heard of the Precautionary principle. Thank goodness Bloomberg has/d the good sense to not ignore it and the double good sense to ignore you!

    Salt makes you thirsty. And when people are thirsty they don’t drink water like they ought to. They drink Mountain Dew and that’s the wrong choice. Bloomberg is merely nudging people like a stern papa into the making the right choices.

    1. Tons of salt in my diet. I’ve never once felt the urge to drink Mountain Dew.

      Now how to get this 50 year study peer reviewed?

    2. They drink Mountain Dew and that’s the wrong choice

      I’m so glad the government is there to make my choices for me

  10. Not sure why anyone would listen to what the government says about how and what to eat.

  11. What s it with that 400,000 figure? I hadn’t seen it in connection with obesity, but it keeps cropping up in the anti-smoking hysteria, and from what I can tell has no basis in reality OR research. Did they start at half a million, and backed off by a hundred thou’ because they though the unwashed wouldn’t buy it?

    1. They took off the hunnert thou they’d included as the ones who go run over, since they were fat enough that they couldn’t out-run the car.

      1. Seems legit.

  12. I had to leave a reddit board for health because it turned into a circle jerk of what the government should do to stop the obesity crisis.

    Now obesity is a problem, but as soon as you start telling restaurants they have to publish calories (which doesn’t cause people to eat less), then you lost me. Most people don’t even know how many calories they should eat in a day.

    1. Oh, well 99% of reddit is a hive of anti-capitalist whining. I’m not even going to call it “socialist” because that would imply that these people have somewhat of a coherent philosophy or maybe a shred of some principle, but that’s clearly not the case. Maybe there’s a libertarian section of reddit that I don’t know about, but overall, that site is just the lamentations of the “free shit” generation.

      I remember going there back in 2008 after someone told me it was a cool site, and it was nothing but Obama dick-sucking and venting hatred at anyone who opposes the great chocolate Jesus who was going to give us all free healthcare, repeal the PATRIOT Act, close Gitmo, and get us out of Middle Eastern conflicts for good.

  13. I knew that government advice was backwards from reality by 1975.

  14. Spot on. The government coined the dietary lipid hypothesis and recommended Americans cut back on fatty foods and replace them with empty carbs such as potatoes, grains, pastas, and breads. Americans complied in record numbers. A couple of decades later rates of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are higher than they ever were. Their experiment on the American people failed miserably and if anything the opposite is true.

    But without diet fascists there’d less taxes to charge for violating their faulty ideas, less stupid laws to pass, and less penalties for violating them. Without such an influx the government would lose weight and we can’t have that happening.

  15. Our ancestors fought off famine and disease so that we can sit here and fear our food and allow our bodies to break down because of disuse. If they could see us now, I think they would punch us in the throat.

    1. Work hard everyday and the kinds of calories seem to matter very little, as long as calorie intake is high enough, the hard worked body stays healthy.

      1. That’s the key – move all the time in all sorts of ways, and eat as much as you need. When you actually use food as fuel instead of fun your body gets really good at self-regulating. Also, I hate this ‘you shouldnt work out too much, only a couple times a week’ horseshit. Exercise everyday if you want to, we have this awesome thing to tell us if we’re hurting ourselves… its called pain. Move and eat!

  16. I used to have at least a dozen around me who ate very carefully and took every dietary warning from the government very seriously. It’s kind of funny when I think about it; I basically have always just ate what’s there, or what I feel like eating. I’m still here. And with the exception of one miserable case barely clinging to life, they’re all dead.

    1. So there is justice in the world?

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  18. The breakfast thing is a case of correlation not causation. Many healthy people tend to eat most of their calories earlier in the day. I’m willing to bet the low testosterone epidemic among American ‘men’ is partly from avoiding cholesterol, a necessary building block of testosterone, combined with most ‘men’ no longer participating in strenuous physical activity.

  19. You can lose weight eating breakfast, but obviously it all depends on what you eat. I lost lots of weight eating a small breakfast. When I would occasionally treat myself by going out to breakfast for a cheese omelet, I would watch in shock/admiration as people around me would down 2 pancakes, 2 eggs, bacon, toast, fruit, coffee, and juice. Maybe they were just treating themselves, but if even half of this meal is what most people consider a normal sized breakfast, then no, weight loss is not a realistic goal.

  20. The federal government needs to be cut by 99%.

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  22. Pointing out the always-changing guidelines of salubrious living is a long-running joke in America. It’s worth remembering, though, that any self-corrections we make, and we make them all the time in real life using common sense, are far more difficult when government puts its imprimatur on pseudoscience, which it also does all the time
    see more at
    http://tieudunghay.com/threads…..o-re.2552/
    http://www.1nhap.vn/threads/11…..u-gia-dinh

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  24. Calorie counting is based on just as much evidence as the lipid theory of heart disease: slim to none.
    IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BALANCE CALORIES IN TO CALORIES OUT
    The body will regulate caloric consumption all on it’s own if you don’t continuously overdrive your body’s caloric processing system with junk sugars and fast carbohydrates. Cut out the processed breads from your diet, stop drinking liquid calories like soda, and no hydrogenated oils at all.

  25. Someday soon, our bodies will be swimming with nanotechnology that takes care of our bodies in ways our bodies cannot. These machines will need energy to do their work.

    Our current state of technology allows us to do more with less physical effort than in eras past, therefore, we are more sedentary than we have ever been. Our technology has also enabled us to have much greater food supply, so we can eat more food for less cost than in prior eras.

    Eventually, our nanotechnology will use our excess calories to operate. We are simply in the transitional phase to that eventual future.

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