Earlier this year, Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition released a Food Compass nutrient profiling system in the prestigious journal Nature Food. The chart ranked foods from 0 to 100 and placed the foods in three different categories: green (go), yellow (caution), and red (avoid). Foods in the green section included Frosted Mini Wheats, nonfat frozen yogurt, chocolate covered almonds, Honey Nut Cheerios, and orange juice with calcium. The yellow section included egg substitute fried in vegetable oil, sweet potato chips, Lucky Charms, canned pineapple in heavy syrup, and almond M&Ms. Finally, there were only three foods in the red section that experts want you to avoid: whole egg fried in butter, cheddar cheese, and ground beef.
This chart isn't a superfluous thing that happened to be shared online. It's a nutrient profiling system from a renowned university that will likely lay the foundation for future food public policy in our country for the next several decades. Experts and doctors will likely refer to this chart to recommend dietary choices to patients. In other words, this chart is important and health organizations probably want you to take it seriously. But a cursory glance almost makes you ask if the whole thing is a parody—in what world would Honey Nut Cheerios be highly recommended while ground beef should be avoided?
There is something seriously broken about the way we are taught about nutrition and health. Sadly, most medical doctors abide by these charts and recommendations from health organizations (both private and public), and they impart incorrect, misguided nutrition information on impressionable individuals who implicitly trust anyone who is deemed an expert. Perhaps even more upsetting is the fact that this is all by design. It is no accident that we've been told for decades that things like butter, cheese, and meat are making us unhealthy, while also being encouraged to eat packaged foods and artificial ingredients. Greedy corporations have been influencing health organizations to deliver the wrong message to Americans about food since the 1950s.
There is something seriously broken about the way we are taught about nutrition and health.
In the 1950s, there was a growing epidemic of heart disease. Men and women were suddenly dropping dead of heart attacks at higher rates than ever before and many public health experts were stunned at the statistics. Pathologist Ancel Keys was enlisted by the Minnesota Health Department to investigate the cause of this problem; he wasn't a medical doctor but he built a name for himself during World War II for creating K ration, a system of boxed meals delivered to soldiers on the battlefield. He was assigned with the task of figuring out what was causing all these bouts of heart attacks around the country. His research (misguided though it was) influenced the next 60 years of policy and education.
He put together something called the Seven Countries Study in 1958, which surveyed seven different countries and concluded that saturated fat found in butter and meat was the cause of heart disease. However, there were a few huge problems with his research. He conveniently left out data from 16 other countries, including and especially France, which didn't have a heart disease problem and yet the French ate much more saturated fat than Americans at the time (and probably still do to this day). His data also left out significant factors that play an important role in people's health.
There were two renowned experts who criticized Key's research. Professor John Yudkin found that sugar was actually the culprit for heart disease, not saturated fat. "In the weather countries, there is evidence that sugar and sugar-containing foods contribute to several diseases, including obesity, dental caries [cavities], diabetes mellitus [type 2 diabetes] and myocardial infarction [heart attack]," he said in 1964. Until the mid 1800s, sugar was a rare treat and a luxury, but by the 1950s, Americans were eating copious amounts of sugar on a daily basis. Researcher Pete Ahrens also dissented and his research found that the carbohydrates found in processed cereals, grains, flour, and sugar were actually linked much more strongly to heart disease and obesity. Years later his research proved to be correct.
However, even though there were sound disagreements with Keys' research, he had money on his side.
The well-known corporation Procter & Gamble stepped in to fund Keys and help him shape public policy and health education. The company offered a huge investment to convince the American Heart Association (AMA) to tell Americans that it was saturated fat causing heart disease, and that things like vegetable oil and margarine were heart-healthy alternatives. Procter & Gamble was producing and selling high amounts of polyunsaturated vegetable oils and margarine, two items that had a very high profit margin. Vegetable oils were liquid at all temperatures, unlike saturated fat such as butter or coconut oil, and they influenced the AMA to teach Americans that this was a sign of heart-healthy food. This is where the low-fat, cholesterol-free myth was born, and it was peddled by health organizations that were heavily influenced by money-hungry corporations.
This is where the low-fat, cholesterol-free myth was born.
In 1967, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a study pointing to saturated fat as the role of heart disease, just like Keys' research did. Sugar was barely mentioned in the review and cholesterol was instead pointed to as a culprit of poor health. This research was promoted by various experts and public health organizations, but little did Americans know that each scientist in that study was paid today's equivalent of $50,000 each by the Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association. This information was not disclosed in the original paper. Unfortunately, this isn't the first or last time that the sugar industry has influenced papers, research, and studies pertaining to health and nutrition.
It has been revealed in many recent studies that highly processed polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oil wreak havoc on people's health, causing severe inflammation, obesity, and many chronic diseases. Of course we also know now that refined sugar is a primary source of poor health in America, causing many people to face type 2 diabetes, obesity, and many chronic illnesses. Of course, there are few public and private health organizations that will admit that Keys' research was unreliable and deceiving at best. Corporations like Procter & Gamble and organizations like the Sugar Association have never and probably will never be held accountable for their nefarious influence on how experts and doctors teach individuals about nutrition.
At this point, it's pretty safe to say that you can and should ignore most of the information that is given to you by these health organizations and experts. They can be (and have been) paid off to lie to you so that greedy corporations are able to sell you more and more products that will destroy your health while lining their pockets.
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