Dr David Diamond is a neuroscientist who was overweight with high values for his blood cholesterol (TC) and triglycerides, which indicated that he was a prime candidate for heart disease. He was therefore typical of those who are recommended to be prescribed statins on the grounds that this treatment will lower the TC and therefore reduce the risks that they will suffer a heart attack. In this case Dr Diamond decided against statins but elected to change his diet and follow the official recommendations which were supposed to reduce his TC and triglycerides. Essentially he cut down on animal products such as meat, butter, cheese and eggs in order to reduce his intake of saturated fat (SFA). His diet consisted of skinless chicken, low fat foods (cheese, yogurt), olive oil, bread,vegetables, fruit, nuts, cereal and potatoes In addition he increased the amount of regular exercise.
After a couple of years, he found out that this regime not only failed to reduce his risk for heart disease, it actually increased it. His triglycerides and the ratio of TC/HDL Cholesterol got even worse. His cardiologist told him he needed to go on statin drugs immediately and that he was deluding himself by believing diet could change anything.
Instead Dr Diamond decided that he would do his own research into the scientific literature and become an expert in heart disease. This meant that during the day he was a neuroscientist, but in the evenings and weekends he was studying about heart disease. He tells his own story in a public lecture given at the University of South Florida where he is employed (1). It is available on You Tube and although it lasts for about an hour it is well worth watching. Here is a summary of some of the key points he makes.
He begins by recalling the experience of William Banting, a London undertaker, who in 1862 at age 66 years weighed 200 pounds even though he was only 5 foot 5 inches high. Although he tried cutting down on his calorie intake coupled with vigorous exercise, he was unable to lose weight. A surgeon named William Harvey recommended a diet rich in animal foods and vegetables but limited in sugar and starch. So he ate 3 meals a day consisting mainly of meat, fish or game. As far as possible he avoided bread, milk, beer, sweets and potatoes. Between August 1862 and May 1863 he had lost 35 pounds which increased to 50 pounds by the beginning of 1864.He wrote a pamphlet describing his experience which was widely disseminated. He lived well into his eighties.
More recently in the 1940s and 1950s Alfred Pennington in the USA found that those who consumed fresh meat with no restriction on fat but avoiding bread flour, sugar and sweets had no difficulty in controlling their weight.
In 1963, it was reported that weight loss could be achieved satisfactorily by a diet which was low in carbohydrates (2). The patients felt no hunger. They could eat as much meat, butter and fat as they wished, provided they restricted their consumption of foods containing carbohydrates. More recently the Atkins’ Diet has been the subject of much controversy but effectively there is no major difference between this diet and the one which Banting had adopted over 100 years earlier.
Despite all the claims that a diet low in carbohydrates can have all kinds of effects which are deleterious to health, these have proved to be totally unfounded. Research reported in 2006 confirmed that a diet low in carbohydrates not only facilitated weight loss but also moved other indicators of risk towards the normal/healthy levels (3). This included triglycerides and the TC/HDL ratio. Furthermore the blood glucose levels, which indicate diabetes were reduced considerably.
As a result of his investigations, Dr Diamond altered his own diet to one with eggs, butter, beef, chicken (with the skin), full fat cheese, coconut, dark chocolate, nuts and vegetables (especially broccoli), small quantities of fruit, bread, potatoes and sugar. This certainly worked and all the usual indicators reverted to the values consistent with low risks for various disease and general good health, not to mention the fact that he lost weight.
So what has gone wrong? Dr Diamond recounts the role of Ancel Keys, who was a very influential character from the 1950s when Americans were obsessed with the fact that they had one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. Keys claimed that the higher the fat (and SFA ) intake in a country the greater the death rate from heart disease. However a relationship like this certainly does not demonstrate that the fat/SFA is the cause of the heart disease. In reality, the truth reveals that Keys was selective in his use of data, because other researchers pointed out that he had only used data from 6 countries, whereas if he had used all the data at his disposal (from 22 countries) it was evident that there was no relationship whatsoever. In fact Keyes was a fraud. Despite opposition from many experts, he managed to prevail. He was effectively supported by Senator George McGovern, who chaired a Senate Committee which devised dietary guidelines for the USA. These endorsed the advice to limit the intake of meat/meat products, partly because they were regarded as a source of SFA but also because they were a source of cholesterol. There was never any justification for either of these concerns (4, 5). However the Senate Committee report provided the rationale for the official US dietary recommendations which advised that the most of the diet should consist of carbohydrates, but that animal foods especially those which contain fat should be restricted.
Dr Diamond is just one of a long list of individuals who have evaluated the evidence objectively and come to the same conclusion. There is convincing evidence that the increased intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates is the fundamental cause of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease and various cancers. Because the official advice is wrong, we have the paradox that those who follow it carefully are damaging their own health. As Dr Diamond found out, when he discovered that his risks of developing heart disease had increased, the treatments/advice offered were completely ineffective and actually exacerbated his condition. There is absolutely no doubt that this scenario is all too common. It is not just confined to the US because the guidelines devised there have been adopted by the WHO. Consequently the official policies on nutrition are essentially the same in most countries. This is a scandal of immense proportions, which is made worse by the fact that there is huge reluctance by the mainstream public health professionals to admit that there is a need for a profound change in national policies.
- E S Gordon et al (1963) http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=666850