Americans are passionate about food. We’re not suggesting that they are fanatical about gourmet cooking like the French. After all, the U.S. is the home of fast food.
What gets Americans excited is dietary dogma, especially if it disagrees with what they have been told. That explains why sparks fly whenever the benefits of low-carb versus low-fat diets are discussed.
We recently interviewed Eric Westman, MD, one of the authors of The New Atkins for a New You. This diet book summarizes recent research supporting a low-carb approach for weight loss and cholesterol control. While some listeners were pleased to hear of this approach, others were appalled. They left comments on our Web site such as:
“To promote anyone who says that saturated fats are less harmful than healthy carbohydrates is dangerous and disingenuous.”
Another opined: “We’ve gone from demonizing one macronutrient (fat) to demonizing another (carbohydrates). 
This is not productive. Successful weight loss does not come from swapping fat and carbs, it comes from eating fewer calories than are burned. …The tendency to demonize certain types of food just shows how far people will go to blame their weight problems on something other than how much they eat.”
This comment sums up the feelings of many listeners: “The overwhelming peer-reviewed, non-biased research from reputable journals shows Atkins-type diets to be unhealthy and ineffective.
“Ornish-type diets [low-fat] are healthy and effective as are other vegetarian and non-processed diets and good research backs this up.”
People have been told for decades that fat makes you fat and saturated fat clogs your coronary arteries. These beliefs have been stated as fact by so many authorities for so long they are ingrained in the American psyche. People have a hard time accepting data that does not confirm these views.
A new analysis from Harvard, however, could cause dismay among the diet dictocrats. The investigators assessed data from 20 studies that met quality criteria. More than one million people were included as subjects.
Here is the bottom line: “When all data were pooled, consumption of unprocessed red meat (eg, unprocessed meat from beef, pork, lamb) was not associated with risk of coronary heart disease or diabetes mellitus” (Circulation, online, May 17, 2010).
This conclusion is going to be very hard to swallow for both health professionals and the public at large. It flies in the face of long-established conventional wisdom.
That’s not to say the study let all meat products off the hook. This huge meta-analysis discovered that processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, salami, sausage, pepperoni, bologna, etc) were linked to both heart disease and diabetes. The authors propose that the high sodium and nitrate preservative content of such packaged products may be the culprits.
Because U.S. dietary guidelines have emphasized limiting saturated fat for so long, many people see steak as a sinful indulgence that takes them one step closer to a heart attack. Perhaps they should be more concerned about hot dogs, bacon and bologna.

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  1. greggT

    or read through the website
    where Dr Enig posts much of the information in the book.
    Before you form an opinion that this is a quackery, read through some of the articles…
    I’d be interested in what Joe and Terry have to say about the referenced science.

  2. Matt F.

    For a detailed explanation of why saturated fats are essential and healthy, why trans fats are unhealthy (with one exception), and the history of why and how saturated fats became falsely associated with heart disease and diabetes in the U.S. and worldwide, I highly recommend the 2000 book “Know Your Fats” by the prominent biochemist and nutritionist Dr. Mary G. Enig of the University of Maryland’s Lipid Research Group and the National Institutes of Health.

  3. BK

    “……….association between red meat and processes meat and increased risk of mortality.” The question is what are the risks (quantitative) and can this study unequivocally say the risk was only due to meats? Probably not. Most studies that I have read use words like “suggest an increase…” or “probably will increase…….” or “may increase…….”
    One can associate just about anything they do in life to increasing the risk of mortality such as it is safer to stay at home than fly or it is safer to play golf than tennis in your older years. So we all take risks when we indulge in the pleasures of life. But let’s face it, eating is one of the great pleasures of life and one has to decide if not indulging in this pleasure is worth it. I say not. However, I don’t mean one should abuse their body with constant ingestion of junk foods but an occasional pizza, steak, cup of ice cream, 1/4 pounder from Wendy’s, crunchy potato chips, or some killer cookies is something that I enjoy and will continue to consume. Then I go out an exercise it off.
    Seriously though there still is a lack of real data that can explain the lack of heart issues with the kind of diets that my grand father and the people in his coal mining community had. Same goes for the older Italian communities where pasta, breads, meats, and baked deserts were always on the table along with wine, beer, or whiskey. According to the referenced UNC study all of these guys should have dropped dead in their 40s due to heart attacks…. which wasn’t the case at all. Most of the coal miners died from black lung disease. All the Italians that I know died mainly from cancer from smoking heavily. My mother’s cholesterol in her later years was near 290 and her cooking/baking staples were butter, sugar, and whole milk. Lunch meats were plentiful at noon time. She constantly ate baked goods and candy but also cooked/ate nourishing meals, kept active and she lived a very healthy life and died at the age of 92. She never had any heart issues.
    So the data is lacking an explanation of describing all of the factors that contribute to the increased risk of mortality. So far no one has been able to explain why there is a lack of heart issues with certain groups that ate so called really unhealthy diets. The dietary habits of the French fits the same category. So I subscribe to the philosophy of eating ALL foods in moderation and getting as much exercise as your body can stand and drink plenty of liquids each day. A margarita a couple times a week sure also hits the spot. So far so good…….

  4. Susan

    The naysayers have obviously never tried a low-carb diet. I’ve followed one since February 1, 2010. I’m 5’3″, small-boned and 62 years old. My weight dropped from 123 to 109 (my tummy is now flat). After reaching my goal in 2.5 months, I asked my doctor for a lipid panel and here are the results: Total cholesterol dropped 91 points, HDL increased 31, LDL dropped 93, triglycerides dropped 146. My cholesterol/HDL ratio halved to 1.8. I’m lean, strong and heart-healthy now, and I love it.

  5. JB

    Last year (March, 2009) headlines in our paper read, “Study links red meat to risk of early death.” “‘This would be the Rolls-royce of studies on this topic,’ said Barry Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina.” The article went on to say that the bottom line is that an association was found between red meat and processed meat and increased risk of mortality. It also advised that people should follow “long-standing recommendations to minimize red meat consumption.” The researchers analyzed data collected from 545,653 volunteers, ages 50 to 71.
    The study also allowed for other variables such as smoking and physical activity. “…the researchers found that those who consumed the most red meat…. were more likely to die of any reason, from heart disease and cancer in particular, than those who consumed the least..”
    Could you please comment on this study?

  6. BK

    This goes along with doctor’s reports that 50% of the heart attack patients have normal cholesterol levels. It appears that the pharmaceutical industry has created a virtual monster and the general public has been eating this diet for years. My grand father (and everyone in his community) probably ate the worst diet that one could imagine which included red meat, whole milk, white bread, lard, bacon, and drank many shots of whiskey each day. Never did he or anyone in his coal mining community have any heart issues. Was exercise/hard work the key? Probably part of the answer but definitely his diet which included lots of red meat did not produce any harmful effects.
    So as I get older and older I am believing more and more in eating a balanced diet that includes just about everything including red meats. However, I do try to limit as much as possible anything with unnatural additives in it. These could be the real culprits in our health problems. And of course you can never exercise enough as this is the best food of all for the body.

  7. CM

    Perhaps the antis should read the Atkins book. I once thought it was silly as well but after a heart attack, Stent and Endartorectomy and watching my Brother lose 40 pounds I tried it and it worked and has for almost 10 years.

  8. B.T.

    Above was very helpful. Now I won’t feel guilty about having a fresh burger. Where besides Wendy’s or Fifth Ave. Burger can you find one? Even at these places you may encounter nitrates and other foreign preservatives, however. I always knew that sirloin steak and filet mignon were safe to eat.

  9. Ann

    Joe and Teresa, Thankyou, you two are full of wonderful information. I have been a health nut for 30 years. And telling people to eat right, it would keep most of them out of the Dr’s office. I just read the article about red meat. I have been saying it for years. Yes I eat beef, not so much pork. Shocking! I also eat eggs OMG! What I don’t eat is white flour, sugar or processed foods except oatbran ground seeds and grains etc.
    This is what people need to hear. “My great grandmother knew. Gotta get your ruffage. Nitrates are poison and The whiter the bread the sooner you’re dead.” I m so with you I also eat healty oils and avacados OH MY!
    I am 57 have a few health problems that I have had most of my life. That is why I am a health nut. If I eat like crap I feel like crap.
    It’s those pesty calories that make you fat. There I said it.
    Thanks for your fabulous informative articles, read them all the time.
    Ann Spokane WA

  10. MAM

    What about the hormones given to the animals? How big a problem is this?

  11. OPC

    The fact that was left out is that the beef should be grass fed. Grass fed beef is high in omega 3s whereas grain fed beef is higher in omega6s.

  12. George D.

    This article casts more doubt and confusion on the advice of medical “Experts”. How many of their other pronouncements are based on guesses instead of verifiable observations and statistics??

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