lipid hypothesis carbohydrates low carb diet dietary-fat
heart healthy eating Atkins Diet Doctor speaks out

The Lipid Hypothesis...

Long accepted as gospel, many questions remain about the lipid hypothesis and the so- called dangers of high fat food.

Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, authors of many books including The Protein Power Lifeplan, discuss the body's response to and the challenges of eating a high carbohydrate, low fat diet and the benefits of following a low carb, higher fat diet .

One of the biggest controversies surrounding heart disease and diet is the lipid hypothesis. If you've not heard of this, be prepared to read some interesting and possibly surprising things.

A caveat.

The information on the pages in this section of the website may seem to fly in the face of what you've heard or been told by "official" sources such as your government, doctor, dietician or health organization.

The simple truth is, there is no simple truth! What you will find is plenty of controversy about the lipid hypothesis: low fat diets, low carb-high protein diets, the government approved food pyramid, and just about everything else that we might consider "conventional thinking" when it comes to food and nutrition.

While we cannot attempt to be all-inclusive (there is just too much published material out there to attempt that!), we will present some of the results of our recent reading... things that seem to make sense to us.

We urge you NOT to take this information about the lipid hypothesis at face value, but rather to use it as a springboard to delve into this complex area in greater detail on your own.

And just as important, as stated elsewhere on this site, do not make medical decisions or changes (i.e., in your meds or diet) without consulting your professional care givers.

And if you become convinced, as we have, that there are significant health benefits to adopting a low carb diet but you do not have the support of your health care providers, it might be time to search out someone who will support you!

Our intention is to give you some insights about the situation, point you in the direction of some of our sources, and let you do some of your own research to come to your own conclusions about the lipid hypothesis and what it means to you.

So, fasten your seat belt and be prepared for a bit of a wild ride... you may or may not like what you are about to read. You may or may not choose to believe some or all of what follows... but we urge you to review this material with an open mind.

Pursue it with the same intent that it is presented... as a means to expand your thinking and understanding on the carbohydrate/lipid controversy.

Start at the beginning

That's easy to say and difficult to do.

The beginning in this case could be Paleolithic man and the diet he ate or we presume he ate based on considerable research. Or the beginning could be the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, particularly the rise in popularity of grain crops.

The beginning could be January 14, 1977, the first publication date of Senator George McGovern’sDietary Goals for the United States.

Or the beginning could be the time in the 1980s when a sudden and dramatic increase in the amount of sugar became a regular part of our western diet.

Another beginning point could be the recent significant subsidies given to corn growers and the spread of that crop as a monoculture to the detriment of many others, that led to corn being fed to millions of cows in feed lots, and chickens in overcrowded pens, even though cows were never intended by nature to consume this particular nutrient and chickens should eat a much broader diet.

It also led to the creation of a super cheap sweetener called high fructose corn syrup that found its way into tens of thousands of food products.

All of these points are interesting and relevant markers. And there are others.

But let's look at some fascinating bits of information that help us understand how we got to where we are today in terms of official government policy on diet, the food pyramid, grains, carbohydrates, dietary fats, the rise in the metabolic syndrome that leads to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and a host of other problems.

What is a hypothesis?

A hypothesis is a tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.

But it is unproven. A hypothesis must always be followed by experiments or trials that will objectively show whether or not the hypothesis holds true under the scrutiny of the science.

In some instances a hypothesis is presented with the full intent of conducting the science to prove or disprove its validity. Indeed, that is the proper scientific method. The reality is bias often becomes part of the equation... either inadvertently or purposefully.

What is the lipid hypothesis controversy?

This issue can be traced back to the 1950s and a researcher named Ancel Keys whose "Seven Countries Study" became the basis for his contention that cardiovascular disease was largely the result of high serum cholesterol levels brought on by a diet high in saturated fat.

However, Ancel Keys and his "lipid hypothesis" is a perfect example of strong personal bias affecting research results. Keys was, in fact, determined to "prove" his lipid hypothesis by pretty much any means, even if that included selecting only data that supported it.

This is precisely what happened with the lipid hypothesis.

Ancel Keys had put forth that a high fat diet, particularly a diet high in saturated fat, was a major contributor to high cholesterol which in turn leads to heart disease in the form of arteriosclerosis (arterial plaque build-up).

Never mind that there was no primary research that was ever conducted to test this hypothesis.

Subsequent and independent analysis of the data that were available to Keys shows that he "cherry picked" only those countries with numbers that supported his hypothesis and omitted a significant amount of data that showed there was actually no correlation between dietary fat, cholesterol, and arteriosclerosis. But this information has been largely ignored.

Part of this can be explained by powerful industry groups with a vested interest in having his theory accepted as fact. Part of it can also be attributed to Keys’ strong and persuasive personality.

The upshot is that today, some 50 years later, a lipid hypothesis based on faulty data is accepted as true by governments, health organizations, the media, and industry. Official public policy is created and fat, especially saturated fat is demonized. We're told to include a significant amount of grains and other starches in our diets, and we, the general population are left eating a recommended diet that has led to an unprecedented obesity epidemic and rapidly escalating rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other diseases.

Too bizarre to be true?

You may be thinking, as we were, that this situation is too strange to be true... that true science would rule the day and show the errors in the original and accepted hypothesis.

That, of course, is what should have happened. Before official public policy was established there would be studies and experiments to test the hypothesis. But politics and big business have had starring roles in this real life drama.

As revealed in Gary Taubes fascinating, and meticulously researched book,Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, when the government made it official policy to tell Americans what they should and should not be eating through Senator George McGovern's 1977 Dietary Goals for the United States, we were being led by biased research, bad science, naïve and biased writers, and the powerful influence of various factions of the food industry.

Biased research

As mentioned previously, Ancel Keys data were inconclusive as to the true impact of fat and cholesterol.

That didn’t stop Keys from using only data from seven countries that supported his lipid hypothesis. When subsequent researchers reviewed the entire data that were available to Keys, they were astonished to learn that there was no correlation in the data to support Keys hypothesis.

Indeed when analyzing data from all countries from which data were available (data that Keys had access to) there was nothing to support his contention that saturated fat caused heart disease.

In spite of this, that initial report has been used over and over to provethat fat, particularly saturated fat, is a major contributing factor in arteriosclerosis, and that a low fat diet is important to control cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

Other data used by researchers at that time were notoriously bad. Taubes says "The USDA statistics... were based on guesses, not reliable evidence. These statistics, known as 'food disappearance data' and published yearly, estimate how much we consume each year of any particular food by calculating how much is produced nationwide, adding imports, deducting exports, and adjusting or estimating for waste. The resulting numbers for per-capita consumption are acknowledged to be, at best, rough estimates."

Although the USDA began compiling these statistics in the early 1920s, data were used dating back to 1909. Additionally, although the reports remained sporadic and limited to specific food groups until 1940, they were still used to paint a picture of food consumption during this period.

Taubes goes into great detail in his book about the studies, the personalities involved, about the relationships between individuals as well as their association with industry groups.

He shows very clearly the impact that certain individuals with clear biases had on crafting official government dietary policy... the policy that became the backbone of the food pyramid as well as the diets expounded by the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, National Institute for Health (NIH) and many others.

If you're not inclined to read Taubes entire book, although I highly recommend it, he wrote an article that appeared in the New York Times in 2002 that outlines many of his ideas that became "Good Calories, Bad Calories". The article, entitled What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? is a great place to start in educating yourself about this entire controversy.


Gary Taube's latest book, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, written for the lay person, and with some updated material will give you a good grounding on this important topic.

Why isn't it working?

One of the striking arguments that leads to questioning the accepted dietary guidelines is, if this is supposed to be a healthier way of eating, why are we, as a society, getting sicker?

Since the early 1980’s the consumption of red meat, butter, and other sources of the "evil" saturated fats are down, while consumption of carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats are way up... just as we've been told to do. We, as a society, have dutifully followed the experts' and the government's "advice".

But look at the current state of affairs. Obesity is at epidemic proportions at one third of the population and another one third classed as overweight, the rates of diabetes have increased dramatically. This should, at the very least, raise some major red flags about the dietary advice we're getting.

But the official response to this is seems to be a deafening silence.

Why? Could it possibly be because it would mean an admission that they were wrong? That there really is no scientific basis for the lipid hypothesis? Read on using the links below to learn more.

See also

What are your thoughts on this important topic?

We Recommend
There are a number of books mentioned in this section on the lipid hypothesis. We strongly urge you to read some or all of them to better equip yourself with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

And be sure to check out these great online resources for
blogs and podcasts.

Everyone has a story to tell...
What's yours?

Share your story on Smart Heart Living. Not only will it do you a lot of good to express your feelings, but sharing your experience could be a turning point for someone who reads about it.

Click Here
to write your own or to comment on someone else's.