Oops–another federal nutritional shibboleth seems about to bite the dust.
A few months ago eggs became OK again, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new dietary guidelines reversing decades of official alarm over the dangers of a traditional farm breakfast. Studies have shown that the 50-year-old vaunted link between eating cholesterol-rich foods and high levels of blood cholesterol doesn't really exist.
Now, it appears that avoiding whole milk–a dietary guideline still promoted by the government–may be a mistake as well. The Washington Post reports:
U.S. dietary guidelines have long recommended that people steer clear of whole milk, and for decades, Americans have obeyed. Whole milk sales shrunk. It was banned from school lunch programs. Purchases of low-fat dairy climbed.
“Replace whole milk and full-fat milk products with fat-free or low-fat choices,” says the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal government's influential advice book, citing the role of dairy fat in heart disease.
Whether this massive shift in eating habits has made anyone healthier is an open question among scientists, however. In fact, research published in recent years indicates that the opposite might be true: millions might have been better off had they stuck with whole milk.
Scientists who tallied diet and health records for several thousand patients over ten years found, for example, that contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease.
Whole milk is currently banned from childhood-obesity-phobic school-lunch menus–even though a 2013 study revealed that kids who drink it are on the whole slimmer than kids who drink low-fat milk, (probably because the fattier milk is more filling and doesn't have to be disguised with chocolate to make it more appealing). So parents who declined to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice to switch their toddlers to 2 percent milk seem to be vindicated.
The demonization of whole milk–and foods high in saturated fats in general–seems to have originated from a single study conducted in Norway during the 1960s that, according to the Post, quickly turned into dietary dogma:
Public health authorities, including those in the United States, were soon recommending that people reduce their consumption of saturated fats — meat, eggs and dairy — as a means of lowering heart disease risks.
The idea became a part of U.S. official advice in 1977, when the U.S. Dietary Goals, a forerunner of the Dietary Guidelines, embraced the position….
Indeed, the subsequent 40 years of science have proven that, if nothing else, the warning against saturated fats was simplistic.
By itself, cutting saturated fats appears to do little to reduce heart disease. Several evidence reviews — essentially summing up years of research — have found no link.
“There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease,” said one published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
“Current evidence does not clearly support” guidelines linking saturated fat and heart disease, according to a review of experiments and observational studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Saturated fats are not associated” with mortality, heart disease, strokes or type 2 diabetes, a major review in the British Medical Journal reported in July.
So Washington Post reporter Peter Whoriskey wonders:
It also has raised questions about the scientific foundations of the government’s diet advice: To what extent did the federal government, and the diet scientists they relied upon, go wrong? When the evidence is incomplete on a dietary question, should the government refrain from making recommendations?
Yes, perhaps the government ought to stay out of the nutrition business altogether. At the very least children and adults alike would be drinking better-tasting milk.