Re: The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?
Statement of CSPI Nutrition Director Bonnie Liebman
September 23, 2015
Today’s “feature” in the BMJ by journalist Nina Teicholz continues her distorted and error-laden campaign against the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Earlier this year, she wrote a similar mistake-filled op-ed for the New York Times. Teicholz is author of a book urging the public to eat more red meat, cheese, butter, and eggs.
In fact, the DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority, including the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, and the Obesity Society. Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence. In fact, she makes many glaring errors in her BMJ piece. Among them:
Teicholz criticizes the DGAC for ignoring “a meta-analysis and two major reviews (one systematic) that failed to confirm an association between saturated fats and heart disease.” In fact, the systematic review to which she refers concluded that “reducing saturated fat by reducing and/or modifying dietary fat reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 14 percent.” (That figure was increased to 17 percent in a 2015 update.) The meta-analysis and second review, whose senior author has been heavily funded by the dairy industry, had serious flaws.
Teicholz notes that the Women’s Health Initiative found no drop in heart disease deaths after “nearly 49,000 women followed a diet low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains for an average of seven years.” Yet the eight-year trial was never designed to lower cardiovascular disease. As the authors note, the drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol measured in the women “would be predicted to produce only a small (2 percent to 4 percent) decrease in CVD risk, a value far below the power for detection in the current study.” (Note that the women averaged an increase of only one serving of fruits and vegetables and only half a serving of grains per day.)
Teicholz claims that “large government funded randomized controlled trials on saturated fats and heart disease from the 1960s and ‘70s…showed mixed outcomes for saturated fats but early critical reviews, including one by the National Academy of Sciences, which cautioned against the inconclusive state of the evidence on saturated fats and heart disease, were dismissed by the USDA when it launched the first dietary guidelines in 1980.” In fact, a meta-analysis of many of those trials concluded that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats led to a 19 percent reduction in heart disease. Furthermore, that National Academy of Sciences review was roundly criticized, in part because some of its authors had strong ties to the egg, dairy, and meat industries.  The Academy was so embarrassed by those disclosures that it reorganized its Food and Nutrition Board to include fewer members with food industry ties.
Finally, Teicholz adopts the latest defense by a growing number of scientists who are heavily funded by the food or soda industries. They charge that scientists who do not take industry funding have a “white hat bias.” How convenient.
Like other health authorities, the DGAC report advised Americans to “consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.” Nina Teicholz’s latest salvo on behalf of saturated-fat-laden meat and dairy foods is a hodge-podge of fact and fiction and will only confuse a confused public even more.
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Competing interests: No competing interests