Oops, sorry ‘bout that – 5 Big Things Nutrition science got horribly wrong

Australia is in the midst of a chronic disease epidemic.  Kidney cancer, Melanoma, Prostate cancer and Anal cancer have all doubled since 1982, as has Chronic Kidney Disease since 1991. Type II Diabetes has tripled since 1989.  Multiple Sclerosis has done the same since 1961. Thyroid and Liver cancer has almost quadrupled since 1982.  And life threatening childhood allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) have almost quintupled since 1994.

In the same timeframe, we have become more health conscious than ever.  The science of Nutrition has moved from a back-room study of malnutrition to daily media coverage of what to eat.

The problem is most of what the nutrition profession has told us about food and its effect on disease has been horribly wrong.  So horribly wrong that, in many cases, we’d have been better off if we had done the opposite of what they said.

Here are 5 Big Things they’ve stuffed up.

  1. Fibre prevents bowel cancer

In 2002 the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed all high quality controlled trials (involving almost 5,000 patients).  They concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that increased dietary fibre would reduce Bowel Cancer.

That review was followed up in 2005 by a major evidence review by the Harvard School of Public Health.  The paper covered 13 studies which involved 725,628 people.  And again fibre drew a blank.  The authors concluded that high dietary fibre intake did not reduce the risk of Bowel Cancer.

Other recent research has also demolished many of the other claims around fibre.  It doesn’t prevent heart disease.  It doesn’t improve constipation (in fact it may be part of the cause).  And it likely increases our chances of getting diverticular disease.

  1. Cutting salt is good for the heart

When we consume salt, we retain more water.  More water means higher blood pressure.  A large Cochrane review conducted in 2004 showed that reducing salt intake does reduce blood pressure – but only slightly.

And while that’s nice, the real question is, does it prevent heart disease.  Unfortunately for the low salt brigade the answer (revealed in a 2011 Cochrane review) is a definite no.

There is no evidence that reducing salt reduces heart disease outcomes.  And worryingly one of the reviewed trials showed that reducing salt increase the risk of death in heart failure patients.

  1. Animal fat and Cholesterol are bad for the heart

Over the last five years a series of major reviews have all arrived at the same conclusion – Saturated Fat (the type which dominates fats from animals) does not cause heart disease.  The most recent review, published in August 2015, also adds that those fats are not associated with stroke, type II Diabetes or death from any other cause.

We’ve also been told for decades to avoid cholesterol.  It has been a major part of dietary warnings in the US (and eventually Australia) since 1961.  But this year the US government’s top nutrition advisory body released a review of the evidence which concludes dietary cholesterol is no longer a ‘nutrient of concern’.

No, we didn’t suddenly become immune to its evilness, the advice had been wrong all along.  And that dreadfully wrong advice stopped us consuming one of the most nutritionally perfect foods available – eggs (also vilified for their saturated fat content) – and had us falling victim to every marketer who wanted to plaster ‘low cholesterol’ on the front of a pack.

  1. ‘Vegetable Oil’ is good for the heart

One of the more recent demolitions of the ‘saturated fat’ is bad for the heart, myth also looked at whether vegetable is good for the heart.  We have, after all been told to replace butter with margarine for exactly that reason.

The study, sponsored by the British Heart Foundation, looked at trials involving over half a million people and concluded “Current evidence does not clearly support [heart health] guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated [fats – the ones found in vegetable oils].”

But these vegetable fats are not benign additions to the diet.  Increasingly the science is demonstrating  that the fats contained in vegetable oils (like Canola, Sunflower, Soybean, Cottonseed, Grapeseed, Rice Bran and Safflower oil) are a significant part of the disease process for Motor Neuron DiseaseParkinson’s DiseaseMacular DegenerationMultiple Sclerosis (and other auto-immune diseases) all cancers and lethal allergic reactions.

  1. Sugar doesn’t cause Type II Diabetes

Most nutrition authorities still maintain that nothing about sugar (other than the calories) is associated with Type II Diabetes.  And perhaps that is why the Heart Foundation is happy to endorse high sugar foods like Milo and a low-fat Mayo that lists sugar as its primary ingredient.

In June 2015, the latest in a long line of research once again concluded that sugary drink consumption (yes, even juice) was associated with Type II Diabetes even after adjusting for the weight of the people involved.  In other words the calories weren’t the problem.  Something else about the sugar was causing the diabetes.

It turns out that ‘something else’ is the fructose half of sugar and it is not merely responsible for Type II Diabetes but for many of the other chronic diseases that now plague us, including Fatty Liver Disease and Chronic Kidney Disease.

When nutrition science was in its infancy (in the 1960s and 1970s) it made some bad guesses about what makes us sick.  It guessed that eggs and animal fat gave us heart disease.  It guessed that salt caused heart disease and stroke.  It guessed that sugar was harmless.  And it guessed fibre was good.

These guesses were not illogical.  They were just naïve.  And, as it turns out, wrong.  But science has moved a long way since then and guessing is no longer required.

We now know that Heart Disease is caused by chronic inflammation and cancer risk is significantly elevated by oxidative stress.  And we know that loading our diets with man-made fats (labelled vegetable oil) and sugar will ensure we have both.

We no longer need to speculate.  Science has provided the answers.  The sooner those in charge of our dietary recommendations put their pride behind them and admit that, the healthier we will all be. 

But don’t wait for the apology.  Take control of your own health and (at the very least) ignore the nonsense they tell you about Fibre, Animal Fat, Salt and Sugar.  Good Health.

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Lisa Turner says:

    Thank you so much for such a great, well written and informative article. This year I have realised that mine and my families health is not as good as it should be and so I set out to make changes. At the same time I encountered your books, Damon Gameau’s new film/book, as well as other like minded community members who are living a better lifestyle due to the food choices they make. I feel that I have found that jigsaw piece that I didn’t realise was missing but was definitely needed to complete mine and my family’s wellness picture. So I’m going to share this article far and wide hoping that it will help those that realise that our current ‘diets’ are harming them rather than keeping them healthy and well but aren’t quite sure how to improve it. I do realise though that it will be a long road to change for some.

  • Anna McCormack says:

    Hi David, great conversation you have started here, there is so much misinformation out there in the science/nutrition industry. It seems we human beings keep searching outside to lay the responsibility and blame on someone or something rather then take full responsibility for our health, from our dietary choices and exercise habits, to our sleeping routine, how we think, speak and act. Imagine if we stopped looking to blame and started to all look within for what needs to change. Maybe then we wouldn’t need the so called experts to get it right or not.

  • Simon Thompson says:

    I never thought I would have a favourite lawyer, but there you go David- clearly spelling out the case to counter CSIRO/ DAA/ Heart disease peddlars of disease.

  • Ali says:

    is it really the fructose in juices that is the problem, or something else? I was always afraid of fruit, first due to weight gain issues, then eventually because of diabetes, although I did drink (very diluted) carton fruit juice. Apart from an odd apple here and there, I rarely have eaten fruit.

    Recently though I came across a woman who is type 1 diabetic and who eats a lot of fruit without it affecting her blood sugar too much so I decided to experiment. Within 4 days of eating fruit and some green veg, my fasting blood sugar had gone from its normal 10mmol or more to just over 6mmol. How can that happen if fructose is the ‘demon’?

    Definitely fruit juices can be problematic because they not only are not whole fruit, but they are very concentrated. There is also a huge difference between freshly squeezed juice with its plethora of enzymes and nutritional elements, and long-stored concentrate which is no longer ‘live’ and ‘complete’ with all its nutritional benefits. So it certainly could be a contributory factor, not necessarily to the diabetes, but to whatever is causing it. As there are many people out there who have always eaten sugar, fruit, and carbs without getting diabetes,

    I suspect the real trigger has yet to be discovered. Personally, I have discovered that I have parasites and suspect they may well be behind my diabetes. They are very adept at disrupting digestion/enzymes/hormones for their own benefit. As this is an area which is just not on the Medical radar, and there are some experts who believe most of us are ‘inhabited’ whether we know it or not, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find they are the missing link……

  • Dear David, thanks for your constant reminders of how wrongly the community is advised, and I must confess you’ve been a big source of inspiration to me since I bought Sweet Poison during a presentation of yours in Brisbane a few years back. I have now published my own book titled ‘Doctor of Health’ that is available from Amazon Kindle, with a reference to SP.
    My best thoughts to you and your family.

  • SL says:

    Great article, David, but the hyperlink for Senator Nash seems to be broken. SL

  • SL says:

    Hi Anna,

    I agree Anna that we humans are wont to blame someone else.

    However, there are things we can control and take responsibility for, and other things we have little or no control over.

    Regarding health and fitness, personal responsibility and action is a part of it, but not all of it.

    Consider for example that the genetic component of body mass index is variously estimated to be 50-80% (Volek et al). So genes are a factor. That is not an excuse for shirking responsibility, but it suggests that is much harder for some than others.

    Consider also that some have very low incomes, and may live in areas where real, whole food is hard to come buy and very expensive. Their staples (high in sugar and other undesirables) are cheap and accessible.

    Also, a good predictor of health, wealth and education is the family you were born into.

    Again, none of these are excuses for relinquishing personal responsibility. But, many from the ‘get go’, have a bigger battle than others.


  • Howard Davies says:

    Nathan Pritkin would have had a lot to answer for had not died in his 70s like a heap of other people who did not loathe themselves with carrots and egg whites beforehand.
    Sugar and flour combined with trans fats and white sugar continues to have a lot to answer for.
    And any program that denies death as the final result is profit generating myth.

  • Debbie says:

    As far as I can tell the issue at least with type 2 diabetes is fat in our cells. It prevents insulin from doing its job with glucose so glucose ends up accumulating in our blood.

  • Jan says:

    It’s not the fruit that are the problem. I eat fruit myself and a low-moderat carb high fat diet – I just rarely eat something with flour and I avoid as much added sugar as much as I possibly can. The problem is that in glass of orange juice, that contains five oranges. You cannot eat five oranges in one sitting, but you can drink them without any problem and in fact it’s even possible to drink 15-20 oranges in one sitting if you are thirsty enought. That’s when we do this over and over again, we get problems, and why fruit is good and juice is bad 🙂

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