Slate writer Melinda Wenner Moyer makes a big to-do over new mainstream medical-research findings that suggest that saturated fats affect your blood-cholesterol levels in ways that don’t really hurt you, while processed sugars affect your blood-cholesterol levels in ways that do hurt you. I agree with Moyer that the topic is something over which it is worthwhile to make a big to-do. The bottom line: LDL (“bad, bad”) cholesterol comes in a variety of flavors, distinguished by the sizes of the particles in your blood. Big LDL particles — those you get from eating fatty meat — seem not to attach to artery walls; those are the heart-neutral particles. Small and medium LDL particles — the ones you get into your blood by eating processed sugars and flours — do appear to attach to artery walls and contribute to heart disease.
The knowledge that processed carbohydrates lead to problems with blood cholesterol isn’t new, however. Dr. Sheldon Reiser published studies showing that processed-carb intake raises LDL and triglyceride levels back in 1983. (You’ll have to visit a library to find this: “Physiological Differences between Starches and Sugars,” in Medical Applications of Clinical Nutrition pp. 133-177, ed. By J. Bland, Keats Pub. New Canaan, CN, 1983.)
I’ve known how to eat well for years, but recently have set aside the time and developed the motivation to really do it. What occurred to me while I was shopping: My wife and I are now shopping mostly for meats (including fish), cheeses, nuts, and a huge variety of fresh produce. In other words, the “radical” healthy diets some of us are eating, including the “paleo” diet, remind me of what my grandmother ate (though our grandparents didn’t know to avoid bread, especially white bread). Of course, we’re avoiding processed foods, which everybody has known to do for decades.
So, what’s the federal government to do? Government officials have been waging war on our meat and fat intake for years, most recently with the updated food pyramid (the one from 2005, due to be updated this year) that calls for six or more servings of grain (only half of them whole grain), and only two of meat, per day — a diet likely to make anyone but a marathon runner gain body fat and tiny-bit LDL. Knowing that the 2005 pyramid is already obsolete, is there any reason to trust the next one, or any reason to trust that the government’s new war on salt is any more credible?
The final answer: Don’t trust the government’s war on nutrition (ostensibly a war on bad nutrition) any more than its wars on inflation, unemployment, drugs, or terrorism. Inform yourself, take control of your own health, and enjoy a long and healthy life in spite of the government’s attempts to help.