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L.A. Times Finally Says It: Carbs, not Fat, Are the Problem

December 19th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Posted in food news

The true dietary villain revealed: It's not fat

Are the mainstream media finally coming around to the idea that our national obsession with fat was a bad idea?

In a ground-breaking article, the Los Angeles Times this week embraces the growing scientific view that the chief cause of our nation’s obesity and other dietary ills isn’t fat, as we’ve been told for the last 30 years, but in fact too many carbohydrates, just as the vilified Dr. Robert Atkins maintained.

“The country’s big low-fat message backfired,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.”

The U.S. has been on a low-fat kick for decades yet has only gotten fatter and sicker. The Times does a good job of explaining how over-reliance on carbs in the diet leads to insulin resistance and a host of problems, including obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Fat–even saturated fat–has been absolved, even when it comes to the popular myth that too much animal fat clogs your arteries.

“Fat is not the problem,” says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”

The implications are huge. Wondering why we have an epidemic of childhood obesity? Start looking at all the sodas, chips and cookies kids eat, or the way schools insert fruit juice, chocolate milk and other cheap sugary products into the cafeteria menu to meet USDA calorie requirements. The recently revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which rely on carbs in the form of grains and legumes as the foundation of a “healthful” diet, now look utterly flawed. And what about the movement that would have all of us largely replace meat with plant foods on our dinner plate? In fact, humans only require two macro-nutrients for survival–protein and fat. Carbs are a bonus. As the Times correctly notes, it’s only very recently in human evolution that we’ve eaten grains and refined sugar at all.

Of course, carbs may not be a problem for everyone. My body, which doesn’t react at all well to carbohydrates, may be very different from yours. But according to the Times, one-fourth of all Americans display at least three of the major symptoms of “metabolic syndrome.”

In other words, put down that glass of orange juice. Better to eat a hamburger instead–without the bun, of course.

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  • Bethesda Locavore

    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing it. I’m curious, have you heard about the whole sprouted grains thing? I keep hearing about this Nourishing Traditions book that recommends that we sprout our grains first. (And just the thought of that exhausts me!)

  • barbara

    When you are referring to carbs do you mean both simple and complex? By complex I am referring to something like steel cut oats and quinwoa. I was unclear about this statement in your post?

  • Ed Bruske

    Barbara, I think complex carbs are the next battleground. Personally, I avoid all of them.

  • jenna Food w/ Kid Appeal

    if by “carbs” you mean grains, i think we’re on the same page. i’d like to hear more on your source that “In fact, humans only require two macro-nutrients for survival–protein and fat.” plant based foods like fruits and vegetables (carbohydrates) contain loads of micronutrients which help the brain and other organs detoxify and protect against oxidative damage. sure, people should eat vs drink their carbs, but i’m hesitant to throw vegetables out with grains.

    if we lived in an environment where we didn’t breath toxins in the air, or live around plastics and chemical coated home furnishings, or have antibiotic resistant superbugs lurking at hospitals maybe we wouldn’t need so many micronutrients.

  • Ed Bruske

    Jenna, there are three macro-nutrients in the diet: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Of the three, only protein and fat are absolutely essential. It’s commonly thought that carbs are needed to prpovide energy. In fact, the body will convert fat into energy. The vegetables you see at the farmers market were completely unknown to our evolutionary predecessors. They’ve been selectively bred from the wild by modern, agricultural man. Still, I would not stop eating a variety of vegetables. It’s the grains, starches, sugars, and fruit juices that are the biggest problems for the people who are prone to metabolic syndrome, which may not be everyone.

  • Valerie Sims

    Please do not make statements about nutrition without a background in nutritional biochemistry. What you are saying here is just as much an oversimplification and confusion of cause and effect as the idea of fat being the diet demon. Low-carbohydrate diets have been promoted for several years by others who decide that there is one dietary cause of obesity and diet-related illnesses. None of those foods that you list as culprits are high carbohydrate without also being high fat and low-nutrient and too often eaten in excess with little physical movement day after day. Leaving out grains, legumes, vegetables and other foods whose dominant macronutrient is carbohydrate leads to other deficiencies. Few foods are a total nutrition package in themselves. Be cautious in your pronouncements.