Pritikin faculty refutes Wall Street Journal low-fat diet article

A recent WSJ article lambasted low-fat diets. In this response, the doctors and dietitians at Pritikin focus on the science-based facts.

The author of The Wall Street Journal low-fat diet article, Nina Teicholz, is also author of the book "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet." But the real surprise – and disappointment – is how thoroughly Ms. Teicholz ignored science that conflicts with her assertions.

Wall Street Journal Low-Fat Diet Article

There are all kinds of low-fat diets. Some truly are terrible. Others, like the Pritikin Eating Plan, are extraordinarily healthy.

Wall Street Journal low-fat diet article – Major oversight

For all Ms. Teicholz’ bluster over the failure of low-fat diets, she failed miserably by never discussing one of the most important points, namely, there are all kinds of low-fat diets.

Some low-fat diets truly are terrible. You can eat jelly beans all day long and drink Pepsi, and you’re following what is technically a “low-fat diet.”

But you can also, like the Pritikin Eating Plan, eat a diet full of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fish that are naturally low in fat and naturally rich in virtually all the nutrients we need to enjoy a long and healthy life.

Wall Street Journal low-fat diet article | Flawed research

Another major failure of this article was citing research that has been vigorously criticized in the scientific community as lousy data. Author Nina Teicholz heralded a recent study as a “landmark meta-analysis of all the available evidence” on saturated fat. The study, published in March in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reported that people had the same risk of heart disease whether they ate a diet high in saturated fat or one high in polyunsaturated fats.

But there was a huge flaw in this meta-analysis, which pooled the results of several clinical trials that had used polyunsaturated fat as an alternative to saturated fat. It included a trial in which some of the saturated fat had been replaced with margarine high in trans fats. That was a major mistake because trans fats raise LDL bad cholesterol – and promote heart disease – as much as saturated fats. Eliminating that one trial from the meta-analysis would have reversed the conclusions and shown that people who used polyunsaturated fat instead of saturated fat had a lower risk of heart disease.

Ms. Teicholz also praised this meta-analysis as being conducted by scientists “at Harvard,” but she failed to mention that the leading researchers in nutrition and public health at Harvard University – Drs. Walter Willett, Frank Sacks, and Meir Stampfer – have publicly criticized this meta-analysis as “seriously misleading.”

Wall Street Journal low-fat diet article | More weak data

The other meta-analysis Ms. Teicholz cited, published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has also been roundly rejected in the scientific community as greatly flawed. It examined only a weak subset of the literature on heart disease; it excluded the most convincing evidence for a lower-fat, whole-foods diet and its success in reducing heart disease risk. That is why the USDA committee formulating the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans excluded it from their discussions. It was not because, as Ms. Teicholz accused, the committee was cherry-picking the data. In reality, Ms. Teicholz is the one doing the cherry picking.

Wall Street Journal low-fat diet article |
Hundreds of trials ignored

Ms. Teicholz called the “most hopeful” path a low-carbohydrate diet, which she asserted is based on “an enormous trove of research.” But in her Big Fat Surprise book and Wall Street Journal article, she ignored, unfortunately, the real trove of research – the hundreds of trials published over the last three decades showing beyond doubt that saturated and trans fats, found mostly in animal products and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, increase LDL cholesterol and lead to plaque-ridden arteries.

What a big fat shame.

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