Americans make countless decisions about their diets every day. Many, concerned about weight gain and poor health, diligently inspect nutritional content labels. They are aware of an obesity epidemic in this country, attributed by some to our nation’s wealth and ample access to food. But this epidemic also includes an alarming increase in diabetes, and an even more alarming knowledge that fatal heart disease fells one in four Americans.
Heart disease is considered to be strongly related to diet. It is a rational decision based on evidence at hand for us to eat foods that are advertised as “heart friendly” and to be amenable to taking prescription drugs that we believe will lower our risk factors for fatal or debilitating heart disease.
Until recently, your correspondent was among the vast majority of Americans who accepted this way of life. Opting for bacon, sausage, and eggs instead of cereal, skim milk, and artificial sweetener cloaked me with guilt. Trimming all fat from steaks was a must. Veggie burger eaters held a type of moral high ground. But exposure to the research underlying these ideas has caused me to question my acceptance of the lipid hypothesis.
The Lipid Hypothesis
The lipid hypothesis proposes a direct link between dietary fat consumption and heart disease. Specifically, it warns that saturated fats raise serum cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol levels cause the most common form of coronary heart disease — atherosclerosis — the formation of obstructive plaques on the inner lining of arteries.
This diet orthodoxy is reaffirmed each time we watch television commercials or walk down a grocery store aisle where products compete for top rank in heart health. For decades the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has indoctrinated Americans with the nutritional dogma that saturated fats and cholesterol are dangerous luxuries to be consumed sparingly. USDA’s famous food guide pyramid, redesigned in 2005 as MyPyramid and more recently in 2011 as MyPlate, preaches the importance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the diet, while lean meats, beans, and dairy are also given approving nods. MyPyramid allows fats only a cautious sliver while they are entirely absent from MyPlate.
Currently, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Medical Association affirm and promote these dietary guidelines. So do many physicians who prescribe cholesterol-lowering statin drugs in such quantities as to make Pfizer’s Lipitor the “best selling drug” in history. But it was not always so. Tim Boyd of the Weston A. Price Foundation points out:
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