Eat up: the diet you’re on is likely a pretty good one

Health Oct 27, 2017 at 2:28 pm

James McCormackA plethora of ‘experts’ have provided nutritional advice that sounds definitive and evidence-based. Many of us have lived through vast recommendations: low fat, high fat; salt is a problem, salt is no problem; eggs are good, eggs are bad; butter is very bad, margarine is good, then butter is good again; high carbs, no carbs … and so on.

This befuddlement has led health-care professionals to make recommendations and members of the public to make changes in their diets that resemble a great yo-yo. With so much wayward nutritional advice, the medical profession has come to look indecisive and sometimes downright silly.

So here we go again.

A few weeks ago, a large (18 countries, five continents, 135,000 people) and long (7.4 years) cohort study on nutrition was published in the Lancet. The headlines were full of hyperbole: “Low fat diets could kill you” and “Huge diet study shows carbs not fats are the problem.”

But when it comes to interpreting nutritional evidence, you shouldn’t just read the headlines because the devil is always in the details.

For starters, a cohort study like this can’t determine cause and effect. It can only suggest what might happen when populations consume varying amounts of macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and protein. The people studied ingested a broad range of macronutrients (anywhere from 45 to 75 per cent of calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 20 per cent from protein and 10 to 35 per cent from fat). The investigators then looked at the association between the percentage of macronutrient intake and major cardiovascular disease and overall death.

They found that despite broad macronutrient ranges, there was no association between the percentage of macronutrient ingested over 7.4 years and the chance of a person developing cardiovascular disease – a major cause of overall disease and death.

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