It has been taken for granted that today’s diets almost all call for low fat and low cholesterol, but not many consider why and how this concept developed. Ever since the 1950s cholesterol has been one of the most demonized nutrients and low fat meals have been ruthlessly marketed. The idea was simple: cholesterol gave us heart disease and eating fat made us get fat. Makes sense right?
The problem was that none of these new practices seemed to be working. Since Senator George McGovern’s committee created a new dietary manifesto emphasizing a low fat regimen, people adopting the dogma just seemed to get fatter and sicker.
The issue was that Ancel Keys’ 7 countries study, which was the major basis for the McGovern committee’s new dietary guidelines, was terribly flawed. The study originally included far more than 7 countries, but Ancel Keys omitted the data that didn’t support his hypothesis: that dietary fat and especially saturated fat caused heart disease. Skewing the data, he did manage to come up with a graph that seemed to support his theory, which, along with an almost fanatic promotion of the idea, lead to our low-fat dietary guidelines.
Although we’ve become fatter and sicker than ever following these plans, the problem wasn’t really that the diet was low fat or that some forms of cholesterol didn’t matter. Low fat diet plans can actually be quite healthy as proven by the Cretan people on the Mediterranean diet. The problem was the emphasis on a single factor as being responsible for health rather than looking at the complexities of dietary intake.
Cholesterol, for example, doesn’t CAUSE heart disease. The things that often raise LDL cholesterol and lower HLD also tend to promote poor health. In other words, lowering LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol is usually a good thing, but not because your cholesterol is higher or lower. It’s because the ratio of your HDL and LDL cholesterol tends to get better as other markers of health improve.
The important thing is not to worry about whether a diet is low fat or high fat, low cholesterol or high (dietary cholesterol has very little to do with a person’s cholesterol levels), or exactly how many carbs you’re taking in. People around the world have been extremely healthy on a wide variety of different diets, ranging from mostly vegetarian (with some fish, eggs and milk) to nearly carnivorous. The one thing in common is they ate nutrient-rich whole foods rather than trying to figure out the one cure-all nutrient.