Then there was just, like, this gigantic snowball effect. Well, the USDA adopted it in 1978, that was the first-ever dietary guidelines. And it was kind of like the same group. That’s Keys on the left in the front, and his colleague, Jerry Stamler, and there was kind of this same group of people who were on all the expert panels, and they all reviewed each other’s papers, and these groups controlled all of the funding, so if you didn’t get on this ‘cholesterol bandwagon,’ it was called, you couldn’t get funding, you couldn’t do research, you couldn’t be a scientist.
And over the course of 25 years, this Diet-Heart Hypothesis, it became ingrained in institutions, there was an institutional bias; the media, there was a kind of bias that fell into the media; and everybody kind of lined up behind this hypothesis. You really couldn’t be a scientist if you did not get on board.
And by 1986, the critics had basically been silenced. There were a lot of critics along the way but you don’t hear about them anymore because they were gone by 1986. So I want to make it clear, I’m not- There’s two parts to this diet – there’s the low-fat diet, which is to reduce fat, so the original idea had been that you should reduce saturated fat. And then, because there was kind of a bias all along about just fat in general, because that had been Keys’ original idea, that all fats raised cholesterol, so he just was kind of biased against fat. And the idea was fat had more calories per gram than carbohydrates or proteins, so it was just probably better to lower fat overall, it was just sort of thought that was a good idea.
And for any of you who kind of keep on top of nutrition news, that diet was kind of on its way out, the low-fat part of it, but we still really believe that saturated fat is bad for us. But all the early studies were really done on saturated fat, they were really done based on the original hypothesis that it was saturated fat that was bad for you.
So there were a lot of studies that were done looking at- not a lot, there were five or six really important studies that were done looking at people on a saturated fat diet and comparing them to people on an unsaturated fat diet. And they were generally done on prison populations or people in hospitals because you can control them. You can’t do those kinds of studies any more.
So these studies were all extremely influential, and I’m just going to mention one of them, a very influential study, cited a million times, it’s called the LA Veterans Association Study, and it was done in the LA Veterans Hospital, and they followed people for a couple of years.
They had- They put- The experimental group was on a high unsaturated-fat diet, and they had soybean oil, they tried to replace the milk with what was called ‘filled milk,’ a soybean-based milk. It’s not really unlike the soy infant formula that people give their kids today, that kind of replacement of animal fats with soy fats. And they found- and this is why- This is what kind of helped propel along the Diet-Heart Hypothesis, they found that heart attacks- they did see a reduction in heart attacks, but they saw something else, which is that you can see the experimental group is on the top – those people had much higher rates of cancer, and in the end, there was no difference in overall death rates.
So you could be- And all these early studies had the same results, which is that heart attacks may have gone down but your overall risk of dying didn’t go down, and in the end, that’s what you want to know, like, what’s my risk of dying?
So, sure, you can spare me a heart attack, but if I die of cancer, what good is that to me? And it was a really serious issue in the time. The National Institute of Health had a series of expert panels in the late ’80s, where people got together and said, “What are we going to do about these findings? They’re very worrisome.” They couldn’t figure it out, they basically couldn’t figure it out.
Years later, I talked to the rapporteur of those NIH meetings, and I said, you know, “What went on? Like, why you never figured it out?” And he said to me, this is, like, 19- this is maybe 2008, and he said, “Gee, have we still not figured that out? That’s really worrisome.” And it’s just been forgotten. They don’t know if it was the more vegetable oil, or it was the fact that in these trials they all did successfully lower their cholesterol, and maybe the lower cholesterol- I mean, one of the populations that nutrition researchers have obsessed about are the Japanese, because they have that, you know, lots of fruits and vegetables, or at least vegetables and rice diet, and they have lower rates of cholesterol, at least in kind of rural areas of Japan, and they do have lower rates of heart disease, but they have astronomically much higher rates of stroke and other kinds of cardiovascular problems. So it’s just not clear what we’re trading off here.
And all those studies – the caveats with those studies, it’s like a game of telephone over the years, where you’re like, “Oh, well, we had this success, but we have all these caveats that go along with that study.” But down the line, it’s just like, “Oh, we have this success.” And all the other kind of information attached to it gets lost.