Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The wrong surprise

Undoubtedly by now you have been exposed to the screaming headlines in the newspapers and on the TV fake news shows (that's ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, etc.) about the astonishing new study that finds that, as the NYWT headline has it, "Low-Fat Diet Won't Stop Cancer or Heart Disease." Oh no! Now we're totally confused! This is the opposite of what they've been telling us all these years! Nobody knows anything!

Actually, no. The only thing that's surprising about this study is that they managed to get ahold of $40 million of your money to conduct such a pointless project.

In the first place, we have known for years -- for at least a decade officially, and longer than that if we were paying attention -- that the issue is not how much fat you eat, it's what kind of fat. Most kinds of vegetable oil are just fine, and olive oil is actually good for you. Ditto fish oil. (Stay away from palm oil.) If a tasty dressing encourages you to eat salad, so much the better. Pour it on! Avoid saturated fats -- mostly animal fats from meat and dairy -- and especially trans-fats, a synthetic form of fat used in mass-produced baked goods and other processed foods.

In fact, the women in this study who started out eating high amounts of saturated fat, and managed to cut down, did experience the expected health benefits. It's just that the study wasn't designed to test that. (The women on the low-fat diet only marginally increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables, by the way.)

Second, cancer and heart disease develop over decades. All of the subjects in this study were at least 50 years old when they started, and the study only ran for 8 years. Most of the women who were diagnosed with cancer or heart disease during the eight years already had it before the study even began.

So get a grip folks. Nothing has changed. There is no new information here. We are not more confused than before, or rather we wouldn't be if the journalists who cover health issues knew what the heck they were talking about. The same advice still stands. Please ignore this.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

1 comment:

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