The headline looks like a hoax-- saturated fat does not cause heart disease -- but it's real. This news is more than just another example of changing health guidelines; it's a cautionary tale about trusting the scientific consensus.
For more than 50 years, the best scientific minds in America assured us that saturated fat was the enemy. Animal fat, we were instructed, was the chief culprit in causing obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Throughout my adult life, I have conscientiously followed the guidelines dispensed by the health arbiters of our age. Trusting utterly in the scientific research of the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I accepted the nearly universal wisdom of the medical and nutritional experts.
Boy, did I accept. I practically banned red meat from my diet for decades. Butter? Only on special occasions. Cream? Do they still make it? Lean chicken, turkey and fish, combined with complex carbohydrates and, of course, lots of fruits and vegetables were the ticket, I was certain, to the best odds of avoiding heart disease, diabetes and cancer. When the Atkins diet craze swept the country, I shook my head sadly, half expecting my friends who indulged in it to keel over from heart attacks.
Now, the Annals of Internal Medicine declares that beef, butter and cream do not cause heart disease. Women whose total cholesterol levels are high live longer than those with lower levels.
This is not just reminiscent of Woody Allen's 1973 movie "Sleeper" -- it's nearly word for word. In the future, Allen joked, wheat germ and organic honey would kill you but "deep fat, cream pies and steak" would be regarded as health-enhancing.
How could the experts have been so wrong for so long?
Nina Teicholz, writing in The Wall Street Journal, notes that "there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias."