Time for a Food Police Force?

Incessantly the media, scientists, doctors, self-proclaimed experts of this or that pronounce they have found the answer to some burning issue. Mostly the matters involve health. What fat is best, or are carbohydrates better than saturated fats, or is fish oil really any good, or is the rampant use of statins the product of evil pharmaceutical propaganda. The list is interminable. And everyone has a voice. Actors and actresses somehow as a consequence of their on-screen fame have absorbed knowledge beyond that which is possessed by even our greatest scientists. Newscasters weigh in and authors sell their latest tomes with promises of truth. The whole dance of the experts would be quite amusing were it not so dangerous.

What seems to be missing from all those who have managed to communicate so easily with the almighty is a sense of responsibility. When people voice their opinions with such certitude, and their audience believes in their veracity with such solidarity, what is truly opinion then masquerades as fact. As a consequence, fiery battles flare among opposing sides. The vegans pound their fists shouting, “Not even a drop of oil! No fat at all!” The Wheat Belly folk eschew the grains, while the dairy exorcists discard the milk, and the Atkins aficionados chow down on meat and more meat. Get them together on TV and you have a firestorm.

Now bring in the politicians and celebrities. They take whatever “science” they find most convincing and try to turn it into law. No large sodas for the sugar busters; no trans fats for practically everyone (that one I have to admit is compelling), nothing with a face for the vegans. In short order there won’t be much left to eat at all.

I have my own take on the diet issue. In short I’m fairly certain we are all quite different, and consequently do better with different diets. As a generalization though I’d recommend moderation in all things, avoiding processed foods, eating a balanced diet, maintaining an optimal weight, and exercising daily. Perhaps that prescription would make a good law.

Fundamentally it comes down to this. We should all be permitted to eat whatever we wish as long as it doesn’t harm anyone but us. Government should not have the right to tell an individual what he or she can or cannot consume. There is a key caveat though. This holds true, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” So what do we do about the ailments that occur as a consequence of food-induced obesity – diabetes for one? Do we penalize the consumers of sugar who as a consequence of their dietary predilections become obese and diabetic? Do they pay higher health insurance premiums? Probably not a popular notion. How about the smokers, should everyone foot the bill for his or her heart disease, COPD, and lung cancer treatments? Clearly these issues are slippery slopes, ones upon which I have no desire to tread.

I will emphasize one point however, and of this I am sure. No one knows what diet is best for all mankind. And until such a discovery is made, creating a food police force is probably not a good idea at all.

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One Comment

  1. Brian Edwards MD June 3, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    Until we know which genome should eat which diet, I think Dr. Baum’s quote should be at the beginning of every diet guideline.

    ” In short I’m fairly certain we are all quite different, and consequently do better with different diets.” Dr. Baum

    Instead the lifestyle guidelines bury this uncertainty in this statement:

    “It also recognized that RCTs examining the effects on hard outcomes (myocardial infarction, stroke, HF, and CVD related death)are difficult if not impossible for a number of reasons (e.g., long-term adherence to dietary changes).”

    This history of the McGovern guidelines is very educational

    Most interesting is this statement in the report above:
    “The Departments made relatively few changes from the first edition,
    but this second edition was issued with much less debate from either industry or the scientific community.
    The 1985 Dietary Guidelines were widely accepted and were used as the framework for consumer nutrition education messages. They also were used as a guide for healthy diets by scientific, consumer, and industry groups.”

    McGoverns guidelines were very controversial when they came out in 1977. What happened in 1985 that there was little controversy. Documentaries such as FED UP 2014 and The Men Who Made Us Fat 2012 put forth some theories.

    This Atlantic article explains that McGovern had poor data about the eating habits of early Americans who did not have heart attacks.

    I am disappointed to see the latest Lifestyle guidelines to miss these important articles:


    Unfortunately when Chief Scientist of guidelines uses the term “LDL levels” instead of the guidelines suggested metric of non-HDL cholesterol we can see the problem. High fat diets raise HDL-C. Subtract HDL-C from Total Cholesterol and you have a better number than the LDL-C most old trials used.

    Dr. Rose Marie Robertson writes: “The link between saturated and trans fat intake and LDL cholesterol levels is irrefutable, as is the link between LDL levels and coronary artery disease”

    This very strong statement is too simple.
    Trans fat acids are bad but grouping all fatty acids in one group is wrong as an article demonstrates:
    “Compared with carbohydrate, the TC:HDL-C ratio is
    1- non-significantly affected by consumption of myristic or palmitic acid,
    2-is non-significantly decreased by stearic acid, and
    3-is significantly decreased by lauric acid.”

    “LDL levels” is an inexact term and the new ACA/AHA guidelines directs us to use
    non-HDL cholesterol levels are a better predictor of risk.

    I believe LDL particle numbers are even better and most the literature of the past does not take non-HDL cholesterol or LDL particle numbers into account.

    This is a very critical point as high fat diets raise HDL-C and thus the non-HDL cholesterol number is better than the LDL-C number.

    Another reference states:
    “ Among individuals who are insulin resistant, a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet typically has an adverse effect on lipid profiles
    (in addition to decreasing HDL-C,
    it also increases triglyceride and LDL particle concentrations).

    Thus Dr. Robertson your statement: “The link between saturated and trans fat intake and LDL cholesterol levels is irrefutable”

    Thus can we please not be so certain in our diet recommendations as Dr. Baum suggests.

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