US Ends War on Cholesterol

Time-Magazine-Cholesterol So the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is on the eve of releasing their 2015 guideline. This is the final white flag for the agency that started the war against cholesterol in the 1970s. Many of your may be surprised by this, but the evidence for the original stance was not supported by any strong data. That’s right. Since the early 1900’s we’ve known that there was some association between cholesterol and cardiovascular disease in animals.  Starting in the 1950’s, the diet of men from different parts of the world were studied and we found an association between high cholesterol diets and cardiovascular disease. This was then further studied in the Framingham Heart Study, where high cholesterol levels in the blood (along with hypertension and smoking) was found to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. During the late 50’s and early 60’s we found that we could reverse some of the negative effects of cholesterol if we eliminated dietary saturated fats and replaced them with unsaturated fats. So at this point the AHA takes a stance on high cholesterol diets. Now we enter the giants of cholesterol research: lipoprotein researcher Donald Fredrickson, and nobel prize winners Joe Goldstein and Micheal Brown. Together Goldstein and Brown discovered the receptor for LDL (low density lipoprotein aka “bad cholesterol”). They showed that mutations in this receptor cause Familial Hypercholesterolemia, a disorder that leads to premature heart attacks. Now the first big randomized control trial using medication to lower blood cholesterol levels (cholestryamine) actually lowers the number of heart attacks. But how does this relate to cholesterol in our diets. There is the myth that all the cholesterol we eats ends up in our blood. Only 25% of the cholesterol we put in our mouths enters our blood. The other 75% comes from our liver. Much of the cholesterol that’s found in food can’t be absorbed by our bodies, and most of the cholesterol in our gut was first synthesized in body cells and ended up in the gut via the liver and gall bladder. The body tightly regulates the amount of cholesterol in the blood by controlling internal production; when cholesterol intake in the diet goes down, the body makes more. When cholesterol intake in the diet goes up, the body makes less. Studies have proven that in about 75% of the population nothing happens if they increase their cholesterol intake. Saturated fats…Still probably bad, as far a raising cholesterol goes.   That brings me to the carbohydrate or carb phenomenon that started as a substitution for fats and cholesterol rich food. The agricultural industry somehow got the USDA to post 6-11 servings of bread, rice, pasta, and overall carb goodness to our daily diet. According to Luise Light, one of the people who worked for the USDA during the time the pyramid was being developed:

When our version of the Food Guide came back to us revised, we were shocked to find that it was vastly different from the one we had developed. As I later discovered, the wholesale changes made to the guide by the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture were calculated to win the acceptance of the food industry. For instance, the Ag Secretary’s office altered wording to emphasize processed foods over fresh and whole foods, to downplay lean meats and low-fat dairy choices because the meat and milk lobbies believed it’d hurt sales of full-fat products; it also hugely increased the servings of wheat and other grains to make the wheat growers happy. The meat lobby got the final word on the color of the saturated fat/cholesterol guideline which was changed from red to purple because meat producers worried that using red to signify “bad” fat would be linked to red meat in consumers’ minds. Where we, the USDA nutritionists, called for a base of 5-9 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, it was replaced with a paltry 2-3 servings (changed to 5-7 servings a couple of years later because an anti-cancer campaign by another government agency, the National Cancer Institute, forced the USDA to adopt the higher standard). Our recommendation of 3-4 daily servings of whole-grain breads and cereals was changed to a whopping 6-11 servings forming the base of the Food Pyramid as a concession to the processed wheat and corn industries. Moreover, my nutritionist group had placed baked goods made with white flour — including crackers, sweets and other low-nutrient foods laden with sugars and fats — at the peak of the pyramid, recommending that they be eaten sparingly. To our alarm, in the “revised” Food Guide, they were now made part of the Pyramid’s base. And, in yet one more assault on dietary logic, changes were made to the wording of the dietary guidelines from “eat less” to “avoid too much,” giving a nod to the processed-food industry interests by not limiting highly profitable “fun foods” (junk foods by any other name) that might affect the bottom line of food companies.

It is no coincidence that the obesity epidemic corresponds with the start of this carbohydrate craze. History repeats itself and we are now seeing a return to lower carbs and a resurgence of cholesterol in our diet. What’s even more interesting is that given 40 or 50 years of brainwashing most people will still fall back to what they learned as children and still remain leery of cholesterol.