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When presented with the question: What’s worse for you, bacon, or a bagel? It would seem the answer to be obvious, because, of course, that’s what we’ve been taught; force-fed even, by various governmental agencies these past thirty-plus years. Another thing obvious, and not merely seemingly so, is the painfully ponderous pace with which the government responds to legitimate data, of which I could list a litany of examples; but will mention only one, that being the role carbohydrates play in our metabolic processes, specifically in regard to insulin, obesity and the metabolic syndrome.

Even today, on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website, you can access the “current” publication of clinical guidelines (from the National Institutes of Health [NIH]) for the treatment of obesity in adults. It is from 1998, and recommends as an optimal diet; low-calorie , less than 30% (approaching 20%) of saturated fat, and 15% protein. Well, do the math and you see that, if you approach the ideal, and limit fat intake to 20%, and protein to 15%, that leaves a remaining 65% for carbohydrates.  There is no mention of the quality studies demonstrating the positive outcomes of caloric-controlled/low-carbohydrate diets, when compared to low-calorie/high-carbohydrate diets. It is as though these behemoth agencies are so invested in their ideology of; Fat:Bad, Carbs:Good, Protein:Equivicol (unless it’s from a plant-based source, in which case it’s good), that they refuse to acknowledge what everyone else already knows—that the more effective diets are those that control carbohydrates in some fashion, and that more protein is not bad.

It’s not that the data’s not there—it is, if you look for it; for instance, a search of the NHLBI yields an article from 2005 with the title, “Replacing Some Carbohydrates with Protein and Unsaturated Fat May Enhance Heart Health Benefits.” And two more recent articles from earlier this year, both funded by the NIH, suggest that saturated fat is not the bogeyman it was long thought to be. The bogeyman, it seems, is actually carbohydrate, especially high-glycemic.

When an individual cuts saturated fat from their diet, assuming that their caloric intake is appropriate, then those calories have to come from another macronutrient, either carbohydrate, protein, or un-saturated fat (olive oil is mono-unsaturated). In one of these recent studies, in which the calories of saturated fat are replaced by those of poly-unsaturated, or mono-unsaturated fat, what is conclusively shown is a reduction in Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) events. Additionally, if those saturated fat calories are replaced by carbohydrates (especially refined carbs), there is an exacerbation of plaque build-up, increased triglycerides and “bad” cholesterol, and a reduction in “good” cholesterol. The evidence shows that increasing the unsaturated  fraction of fat is a good thing, whereas replacing saturated fat fraction with carbohydrate is a bad thing.

The second study, also funded by the NIH, is what’s called a “meta-analysis,” which is a summary of similar studies; and this analysis was comprised of studies from 5-23 years of follow-up, and a total of 347,747 subjects. What did this study show? It showed that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with in increased risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), or CVD.” I wouldn’t say that this is incredibly shocking information, based on the breadth of research available for review when I was working on my book; in fact, it is entirely consistent with the argument that I make in The Relativity Diet. It is, perhaps not entirely ironic, that these thirty-plus years of “bad information,” propagated by the NHLBI, parallels the rising incidence of overweight and obesity in our unique and exceptional nation.

The fact that fat is not the bogeyman once thought to be is not an excuse to over indulge, because it is energy-dense, at 9 calories per gram, and one still must honor the first law (energy in=energy out); but the next time you find yourself in an early morning breakfast buffet line, you’d probably be better served picking the bacon over the bagel, as long as you are within your caloric requirements, of course.

Am J Clin Nutr 2010;9(3)1:535-46, 502-9