MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

More Evidence That Everything the Government Teaches Us About Eating Is Wrong

Global study goes against the grain on fats, fruits, and dietary dogma

Retales Botijero Westend61/NewscomRetales Botijero Westend61/NewscomAn international nutrition study spanning more than a decade has turned up unexpected findings that researchers say should cause health experts to reconsider global dietary guidelines.

The ongoing Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) project has found both saturated and unsaturated fat intake linked to better heart health, that a high-carb diet is a better predictor of health risks than fat consumption, and that the health benefits of fruit, vegetables, and legumes like beans and chickpeas may plateau at three to four servings per day.

The new analysis, presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting this week in Barcelona, included 135,000 adult participants between ages 35-70 living in Africa, Europe, North America, South America, south Asia, southeast Asia, China, and the Middle East.

These participants responded to food-intake and lifestyle surveys between between January 2003 and March 2013, with an average follow-through of 7.4 years. Researchers considered health outcomes for participants through March 31, 2017, recording 5,796 deaths in total and 4,784 "major cardiovascular events" such as strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure.

Overall, carbohydrate intake in the highest versus lowest consumption groups was associated with 28 percent higher risk of death.

"Our findings do not support the current recommendation to limit total fat intake to less than 30 percent of energy and saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of energy," said Mahshid Dehghan, a nutritionist from Canada's Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University. Dehghan is the author of one of several papers on the latest PURE-study findings.

Dehghan recommends "a total fat intake of about 35 percent of energy" in conjunction with lowering carbohydrate intake.

Looking Again at Legumes, Fruits, and Vegetables

Perhaps most notably, while higher fruit, vegetable, and legume consumption was associated with lower total mortality risk and less risk of death from non-cardiovascular causes, this benefit appears to max out at three to four servings, or around 375-500 grams, per day.

"Previous research, and many dietary guidelines in North America and Europe recommended daily intake of these foods ranging from 400 to 800 grams per day," said Andrew Mente, lead researcher on the fruits and veggies study published this week in The Lancet. "Our findings indicate that optimal health benefits can be achieved with a more modest level of consumption."

Fruit intake was linked to lower risk of death from heart disease and from other causes; frequent consumers of legumes had lower rates of death from all causes and from non-cardiovascular causes; and raw vegetable intake "was strongly associated with a lower risk of total mortality," while "cooked vegetable intake showed a modest benefit against mortality," Mente and his team found. (See more data from the study here and Mente's presentation to the European Society of Cardiology here.)

Cut Some Carbs, Keep the Fat

Looking at the link between macronutrients and heart disease, researchers found high carbohydrate consumption—defined as diets where more than 60 percent of calories come from carbs—increased the risk of overall death (though not the risk of heart disease or death from heart-related causes specifically).

Meanwhile, eating saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty-acids was associated with lower death risk.

"Each type of fat was associated with significantly reduced mortality risk: 14 percent lower for saturated fat, 19 percent for mono-unsaturated fat, and 20 percent for polyunsaturated fat," according to the study. Higher saturated fat intake was also linked to a 21 percent decrease in stroke risk. (See more data from the study here, and Dehghan's conference presentation here.)

The same group of researchers also looked at the effect of fats and carbohydrates on blood lipids like cholesterol, triglycerides, and apolipoprotein. They found that LDL cholesterol, a measure that informs many government dietary guidelines, "is not reliable in predicting effects of saturated fat on future cardiovascular events." A better predictor, they found, is apolipoproteins A and B levels—something no one is talking about.

"For decades, dietary guidelines have focused on reducing total fat and saturated fatty acid intake based on the presumption that replacing [saturated fats] with carbohydrate and unsaturated fats will lower LDL [cholesterol] and should therefore reduce" heart and metabolic problems, noted Dehghan. But these recommendations rely largely on North American and European populations. "PURE provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of diet on total mortality and [heart disease] in diverse settings, some settings where over-nutrition is common and others where under nutrition is of greater concern," she said.

Not surprising, then, that their conclusions challenge common assumptions about nutrition.

But don't ditch grains entirely just yet. As Mente reminds us, the research supports the idea that high-carb diets are bad, but not necessarily that low- or no-carb diets are optimal. "It's [the high-carb eating] population that needs to reduce carb intake to more moderate levels," he said. "Our data doesn't support low carb but certainly it supports a moderate carb intake of 55 percent."

Mente also cautions against confusing population-level effects with individual risk reduction. "The effects are modest effects, in the neighborhood of a 20 percent reduction in relative risk," he said. "So if the annual [absolute] risk of mortality is 1 percent, it would be reduced to 0.8 percent. At the individual level, it is tiny.... Having said all that, at a population level, if these small effects are true and not due to confounding, they would translate into thousands or even millions of fewer deaths annually, depending on the size of the population, if the exposure is common which is certainly true for diet."

At any public health level—with the aim of better government dietary advice—"the findings are important," he said.

Photo Credit: Retales Botijero Westend61/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    "Against the grain"! Already I'm laughing!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    BEST J*KE EVAH!

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Anal Van Man always goes against the grain, whether it's petting cats or sitting on baseball bats.

  • Rich M||

    Against the Grain is actually a gluten-free bakery in Vermont. Their slogan, "gluten free yourself", is sometimes abbreviated "gfy".

  • chemjeff||

    Time to go bacon shopping!

  • Hugh Akston||

    That's your answer to everything

  • Longtobefree||

    Well? It's a GOOD answer.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    "Honey, we got a leak."

  • Tionico||

    well, then, get yer sorry self off to the greengrocer and pick up some garlic and onion, too.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    "Honey, I need some new lingerie."

  • TJM||

    Why anyone takes nutritional advice from the government, or why the government thinks it has any business in providing such advice, is beyond me.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Then what would the health department do?

  • some guy||

    Disappear, hopefully?

  • Cy||

    Continue funneling public funds into private accounts in exchange for political favors or dependent voters. You know? Like the vast majority of the rest of government.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    why the government thinks it has any business in providing such advice, is beyond me.

    This guy.

    Have you ever looked at a poor person? Have you ever seen how they eat*? Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are killers. They drain our economy, and as you all know we are all in the world of health insurance together. Someone needs to tell the poors what to put into their bodies. I mean, they actually think McDonald's is healthy! They are so stupid, but it's not their fault, it's the decades of racism and capitalism** that have drained each poor, disgusting slob of the knowledge necessary to eat the right, proper way, and they need someone from the government - probably a nice, white lady with a good heart - to tell them what to do.

    *And how they dress! Those leggings aren't doing you - or anyone else - any favors, honey. Looking at the dimples on your ass through leggings is like looking at the craters on the moon through a high def telescope. Someone should tell you how to dress, too.
    **One in the same, am I right?

  • some guy||

    Sorry. We're all out of nice, white ladies with good hearts. How about an angry, jackbooted thug with a truncheon?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    We are never out of nice white ladies, who are especially useful when a thug with a truncheon is standing behind them.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Slav's aren't white, Crusty.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Crusty is training for the Philosophical Turing Test Olympics.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Mayor Kenney? Is that you?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    This would be a damn sight funnier if the Democrats hadn't nominated a leather-lunged bitch who pretty much embodies those attitudes.

    *shigh*

    I mean, Jesus Christ on a flaming pogo stick, people. She lost to TRUMP! That's like running for office in Dublin and losing against an Orange candidate tea-totaler.

  • Tionico||

    to sort of make a charade of an excuse for the existence and outrageous pay/benefits for some more federal employees. What ELSE makes nost gummit outfits wor.... er, I mean, function, sort of. NONE of them work.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    A true libertarian only consumes cigars, rainwater, and grain alcohol.

  • chemjeff||

    Don't forget the still-beating hearts of ritually sacrificed orphans.

  • chemjeff||

    And the bacon.

  • Cynical Asshole||

  • Don't look at me.||

    Wrapped in bacon.

  • Anomalous||

    And orphan tears for seasoning.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    The rarest treat considering how dehydrated I keep my orphans.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    That's not a bad idea for a novelty salt shaker.

  • Hugh Akston||

    What about unpasteurized camel's milk?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    If by 'camel's milk', you mean sweet, sweet smoke from unfiltered cigarettes, then yeah, that too.

  • sarcasmic||

    I thought 'camel's milk' came from their toes.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    If you're getting milk from camel toes, you're doing it wrong.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Check out Mr. Vanilla over here.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    It's called felching, fella.

  • some guy||

    The rainwater is in the grain alcohol right?

  • Voros McCracken||

    You forgot colloidal silver

  • Johnimo||

    Well ...."only" that's a little extreme, but CERTAINLY it's the fundamental basis of a healthy, libertarian diet!

  • Duke of url||

    I agree, but not necessarily in that order, and I'm fairly certain you misspelled 'bong water'.

  • IceTrey||

    I don't drink water. Fish fuck in it.

  • You're Kidding||

    And pee in it too!

  • Ron||

    in other words like they used to teach us in school before all the healthy diets became a thing. Eat anything you want in moderation.

  • some guy||

    And maybe get a little exercise.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'll fucking kill you for saying that.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Yeah, don't piss off mister 7 cubic feet. His punches pack a lot of wallop.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    My body-type defies logic, and my powers defy all explanation. Don't fuck with me, son.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    "Eat anything you want in moderation."

    Worst advice ever. Remember what Goldwater said: moderation in pursuit of good health is no virtue.

  • Shirley Knott||

    But, but -- the science was settled! If it weren't for those meddlesome PUREists revisiting a settled issue, and thus, by definition, getting it wrong by reaching a different result, the settled science would have worked!!

  • Longtobefree||

    When the feds put out the food pyramid, they tell you then that it will be revised every five years.
    Do you think that is because humans evolve so rapidly that nutritional needs change in half a decade, or because the feds are full of it?

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    I've read that the original study that demonized fats all those decades ago was performed in Greece during Greek Orthodox Lent. Gee I wonder why all these healthy people aren't eating meat or cheese right now

  • Don't look at me.||

    How can our betters be wrong?
    Mind blown.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Am I the only one who can't believe they haven't come up with some kind of sustenance brick or nutrient paste that has everything we need to survive and maybe even thrive? Something that could be dispensed at the touch of a button inside your flying car or personal jetpack, something that won't cause you to get overweight so you will no longer fit inside the silver jumpsuit with the V-shaped tunic that we all wear?

  • Dan S.||

    Purina People Chow? Most people would not want to live on such stuff, but a few people might. I am thinking about that woman who lived for years eating nothing but chicken nuggets, until the health effects finally caught up with her. She then wanted to find something else that she could use as her single basic foodstuff, but there really wasn't such a thing. Perhaps there should be. The number of people who would want to live that way would be a tiny segment of the population, but perhaps still enough to make it profitable to produce.

  • Longtobefree||

    Pizza comes real close if you choose the toppings correctly.
    Grains, protein, milk product, veggies; sounds like she would be there.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    Make it a Hawaiian pizza and enjoy some fruit

  • ||

    The number of people who would want to live that way would be a tiny segment of the population, but perhaps still enough to make it profitable to produce.

    Live that way perpetually would probably be tiny. That still leaves a market of like 3 'food bricks' per person per day depending on how perishable the food bricks are. Every fallout shelter and panic room in the country is going to need a stockpile anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand.

    Also, NASA recently introduced a program to develop the cuisine required to get astronauts to Mars (and back). I understand food prep/storage for years through space to be an issue but I can't fathom someone becoming an astronaut and not having the discipline to drink the same ass-flavored nutrient shake for the years-long journey. That tofu-bacon and instant pancakes is somehow a value added proposition.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Hey, dummies, this isn't a free market situation. This is a nutritional program that will be mandated by the federal government under Congressional taxing authority to make us all eat healthy.

  • Dan S.||

    Careful with your hyphenation. I don't think you really meant "ass-flavored" nutrient shake. Presumably it was meant to say "same-ass flavored". But does that really say anything that simply saying "same flavored" doesn't?

  • Johnimo||

    Thank you, Dan, for a really nice, little lesson in grammar and succinctness. A great weight is lifted from my soul, just knowing that you're out there keeping us all on track to make an "A" in English Comp.

  • Ecoli||

    I thought he meant ass-flavored. That was a nice use of language in my opinion.

  • ||

    I meant "ass-flavored". You're an astronaut, if you have to filter your meals through your own sweaty gym socks for the next 16 mos., you get used to the taste of sweaty gym socks. Filet mignon or brisket would be nice, but you didn't travel to Mars for the filet mignon.

    Also, I thought I was far more sloppy in my butchering of grammar elsewhere.

  • You're Kidding||

    Soylent Green.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Soylent?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Well, obviously nothing that will give you the space runs.

  • ||

    Am I the only one who can't believe they haven't come up with some kind of sustenance brick or nutrient paste that has everything we need to survive and maybe even thrive?

    I assumed this guy, the total-hygeine shower guy, and the purse/wallet/keychain/phone guy all got tied to the same cinder block and thrown in the river.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    If you're lucky and not in Arapaho's jail. Then you get baloney and dog food.

  • sarcasmic||

    I saw that episode of Star Trek.

  • Dan S.||

    Most people have no reason to be concerned about "population-level effects". If the effect of this on any individual is "tiny", that individual should rationally ignore it.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    B-b-but... What about TEH SOSHUL KONRAKT!!!1!111!1!!!!!!!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Calm down with all your Russian spellings.

  • Longtobefree||

    Pay no attention to the bureaucrat behind the curtain.
    Turns out grandma was right all along.
    (Probably because she lived before the public school unions)

  • Lester224||

    Trans fats still bad. The latest fad is that the enemy is simple carbs (sugar). That's not from the gov, though.

  • CE||

    If sugar were bad for you it wouldn't taste so good.

  • Johnimo||

    Yes! My granddaughter and I are NOT giving up our daily tapioca pudding. We do make the long recipe, the one where you separate the egg whites and add six more TBSPs of sugar.

  • You're Kidding||

    Surely you're mistaken. Certainly you meant "sex' and not "sugar"?

  • albo||

    Awesome. My cholesterol level is naturally low, and I cook rib-eye steaks and pot roast and boston butts just so that I can eat delicious chunks of fat. Fat makes the meat.

  • sarcasmic||

    No fat, no flavor.

  • You're Kidding||

    Please make my wife understand this.

    I BBQ a mean ribeye from COSTCO. And prime graded rib roast too.

    She complains about the "fat" and wants either a prime rib that has little fat (but honey, it wouldn't be prime grade if that were true) or filet, the most overrated steak cut out there. There's a reason that it is usually wrapped in bacon!

  • BYODB||

    So what they're essentially saying is they have no idea how the human body works, or they do know that it's highly individual but that doesn't get the fat study bucks that the researchers are looking for.

  • Tony||

    I want reparations for growing up eating margarine.

  • Ecoli||

    Finally, a reasonable request. I grant you a double helping of poutine.

  • You're Kidding||

    Yeah. I too grew up eating margarine because butter was bad for us with it's fat and all.

    Now, I only eat butter because transfats and all.

    Would somebody please make up their minds!

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Any chance everyone is wrong about the effects of copious fast food and other trashy indigestibles? Asking for a friend.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    By trashy indigestibles do you mean Lady Gaga?

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    You know who else have bad nutrition advice?

  • gaoxiaen||

    Michael Moore?

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Gandhi?

  • Fk_Censorship||

    The British to the Irish in the mid 19th century?

  • Anomalous||

    Aerosmith, for telling us to eat the rich?

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Jasmuheen?

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: More Evidence That Everything the Government Teaches Us About Eating Is Wrong

    The government is right, as usual.
    The government has also determined that breathing is wrong as well.
    So let's all stop eating and breathing because the government always knows what's best for us.

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, I have heard that CO2 is a horrible greenhouse gas, and must be reduced to save the world.
    I also heard that CO2 is a component of humans exhaling.
    Rather than jumping in with both feet, how about we start with a ten year experiment where liberals, politicians, and lawyers stop exhaling, and judge the impact on global warming/climate change/whatever?
    Just to be safe, we probably should also judge the impact on plants, who evidently need CO2 to live.

  • Ecoli||

    It was all just a food pyramid scheme.

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Brilliant comment! (And a fitting screen name)

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    *chugs coconut oil*

    Wait, I can start eating rice again? And lovely taters!?

  • Eric Bana||

    I was taught 6-12 servings of grains a day. Even when I was young I remember thinking that 12 servings of grains seemed excessive.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    It's almost like the farm vote might have had too much influence on the "science"

  • rxc||

    What is even more problematic is the fact that the healther benefits of these various dietary recommendations depends on the physiology of the individual. Some people will benefit from more fat, while others will benefit from more carbs. Unfortunately I do not think that we know enough to tell the difference, except in the most obvious, serious situations (e.g., diabetics, vitamin deficiencies, demonstrated high blood pressure). The imposition of dietary constraints on an entire population because some will have bad outcomes from some types of foods is a grand experiment on the entire population. These sorts of experiments are generally condemned and forbidden, because it is impossible for each person to understand the type and amount of risk that they personally bear from them.

    This is all done in the name of trying to help people. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  • You're Kidding||

    You blaspheme!

    One size fits all. Screw individualism.

    Good for the goose and all of that.

  • Longtobefree||

    "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"

    And a large federal subsidy - - - -

  • patskelley||

    Government food guides benefit the economy not the consumer http://www.foodpolitics.com/tag/food-guide/

  • will2017||

    True that perspective need a change. The government needs to focus on the consumers health status while delivering food guidelines

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Demonstrating once again; Don't like the dietary advice you're getting? Wait five years!

  • 47blackelks||

    The gov't guidelines may well be wrong, but a single nutritional study - even one as strong as this one - does not prove that.

    The reason that you hear conflicting information about nutrition seemingly every five minutes is that it is really weak science. The hypotheses are not directly mechanistic (that field is called biochemistry), and so the results never have very much weight attached to them. This science is potentially a rough approximation of the truth at best, and you should not be treating it as though it is infallible.

    The text of the article does a good job at walking this fine balance, but the headline is far too strongly worded.

  • Merl3noir||

    I propose a labeling law for all these dietary studies, that shows how much relevance they actually contain. After all if my restaurant has to spend millions of dollars to put calorie counts next to every item, or every possible combination of items, why shouldn't the studies that produce all these laws label how much we should really pay attention to their results, and it will give law makes guidance in making decisions... just like calorie labels give guidance to costumers. in other words none.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online