Beef and Dairy Using Tobacco’s Playbook

October 4, 2016 in Foodland, Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

It seems as though we are going to have to recognize and combat the “tobacco industry playbook” for each and every Big Food Industry. Sugar, processed foods, dairy, beef and other red meat, processed meat all seem to be using THE playbook. It worked like magic for tobacco; many extra decades of disability and early deaths while they used their claims of “scientific” evidence to hide the truth. For me, thinking of the period is a sad recollection of an era that could have been shortened; cigarettes having taken two members of my family.

Those memories are stirring for me; but what is even more moving is that Big Food is so effectively using the playbook – the deception just seems to persist. Public health nutrition is challenging enough without all the erroneous “scientific” studies that are being propagated by reporters on the lookout for man-bites-dog stories and the eyeball grabbing headlines (as Nutrition Action Health Letter calls them).

Today I want to spend a little time on saturated fat; where do you find it and is it a problem or not? May I suggest that you do a little research if you have any questions about the power of the meat and dairy industry? They are certainly among the most powerful lobbyists in America.

It seems to me that the evidence is that many people are being sucked into the wild stories, perpetuated by Big Food and their “researchers.” If you take a glance at the American diet, you see a pile of full-fat dairy. Cheese for example seems to be on nearly every sandwich, salad, pizza, taco, or burrito. I read lots of recipes and am astonished by the number that are loaded with cheese. I believe they have a possible adage: “If you don’t know how to make something taste good, put a pile of cheese of it. Voilà – yummy! I’m not sure how the American people have come to accept cheese as a wholesome food to be eaten liberally; was it only the salt, fat, flavor and texture? Or did the dairy industry help underwrite it? The fat in cheese is saturated; that is a vitally important and basic bit of information – foundational nutrition information. In 1970, Americans ate about 5 pounds of cheese per person; now we’re consuming well over 20 pounds per person, per year. That’s a lot of cheese and a lot of saturated fat.

Part of the latest publication of articles saying that saturated fat is great came as a backlash when the new dietary guidelines came out. But without going through all their articles and erroneous research, let me just share quotes from two of the members of the panel that sifted through the best data to write the guidelines. First, is Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at Tufts University, who said; “We recommended a limit of saturated fat and a dietary pattern that replaces it with unsaturated fat, especially polyunsaturated fat.” Second, is Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; who is quoted as having said; “Butter is not back. Saturated fat is still bad for heart disease risk. Evidence from studies on thousands of people shows that if you replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat, you reduce your risk of heart disease.” And further, “If you replace saturated fat with refined carbs, you don’t reduce your risk.” 1, 2, 3, 4.

The very best studies don’t justify a switch from low-fat to high-fat dairy. Be careful who funded the studies that you read/embrace. There are no reputable studies that prove that dairy fat is good for your heart.

Just because we know that simple carbohydrates (sugar and refined grains) strongly contribute to heart disease, does not mean that saturated fat does not also contribute to heart disease. Low carbohydrate diet is not a magic bullet. Complex carbs from whole grains, fruits and vegetables have been around for millennia – please don’t equate them to sugar and processed grains because both sets are in the simple carbohydrate category.

Besides making a decision to choose low fat versions of cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and milk; you can also replace saturated fats with foods rich in unsaturated fats like seafood, nuts, most salad dressings and mayo, and oils like soy, canola, and olive. In addition, you may want to consider cutting back your portion of cheese; or using a stronger cheese sprinkled on a dish sparingly for flavor. Vested interests, no matter how powerful, can’t change science, only pervert it for the unwary. Good science will eventually prevail; but bad science and bad journalism or advocacy, disguised as science is the strategy promoted by the now widely used tobacco playbook. Let’s all be among those who are not deceived by the uncertainty and doubt they sow about good science, coupled with the outright bad science generated under the long proven guidelines of that playbook. We should beware of who we let influence us.