In the years 1977-1984, the U.S. government pushed out dietary recommendations to the American people to cut their intake of saturated fats (as in butter, lard and red meat) and increase their intake of carbohydrates and fiber (as in grains, fruits and starchy vegetables) and of “healthy” fats (as in poly and monounsaturated vegetable oils).
The goal was to prevent heart disease. The theory was, dietary fat — especially saturated animal fat — causes a build up of fats in the blood, leading to clogged arteries, leading to high blood-pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Therefore, eating less animal fat, and more of just about any other nutrient, should head off the supposed epidemic of coronary-artery disease.
So the theory went. While it lacked solid scientific backing, it had the aura of common sense about it. If you eat fat, you get fat in your arteries.
Since the 1980s, fears of a heart-attack epidemic have been supplanted by a real and growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes and hyper-tension. There is still heart-disease. Indeed, by any measure, the overall health of the American people has declined since the government began pushing its dietary advice.
Some experts think the American people have ignored the wise advice of their government.
The numbers show otherwise: the advice was not ignored. The Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2011 (Table 212) reveals that the overall consumption of carbohydrates by Americans increased 20% between the 1970s and the first decade of the new century. Typically, Americans get 60% or more of their calories from carbs, a whopping 470 grams a day.
Saturated fat intake also increased by 10%, but only after the 1990s. In the final decade of the 20th Century, saturated fat intake actually fell by 2% from the level of the 1970s — just as the government and the medical establishment desired.
It is also clear from the data that people followed the government’s advice to use more vegetable oils:
As you can see, between the 1970s and 2006, the U.S. consumption of monounsaturated fats (as in olive oil) increased over three times as much as the consumption of saturated fats. The consumption of polyunsaturated fats (as in corn oil) increased over four times as much as the consumption of saturated fats. (To be sure, this is an over-simplification; lard and red meat, for instance, are sources of monounsaturated fat. However, the consumption of these animal-base foods has dropped; see this earlier post.)
In general, the people listened to their government’s advice, and tried to implement it. But the implementation has been flawed. The result has been an increase in consumption of both carbs and fat, with a (government-approved) shift in the sources of fat from animals to plants. At the same time, as I wrote about in my previous post, Americans continue guzzling caloric beverages. Overall caloric intake is up.
All of that has set the stage for tragedy.