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Isn’t it about time diet advice changed?


Kurt Wood


For decades, our diets have been shaped by misinformation. In the 1980s the government introduced low-fat dietary guidelines, but were those guidelines actually a large and costly mistake?

In the latter half of the 20th century, rates of heart disease were soaring. The US government was determined to find out why. Experts concluded that saturated fat was to blame.

But the evidence was shaky, the guidelines questionable. In an article called “Ending the War on Fat”, Philip Handler, then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, admitted “the experiment was a failure. We cut the fat, but […] Americans are sicker than ever.”

Shortly after, the UK followed suit. Look in any supermarket today and you can see the result: carbohydrate-heavy, nutritionally-deficient processed meals; “low-fat” products coated in sugar. Low-fat is preached not just in general but to people with diabetes. Diabetes UK, Britain’s leading diabetes charity, generally supports the guidelines. The NHS urges people with diabetes to “include starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta.”

In June, a UK-based study led by Zoe Harcombe and published in The BMJ describes the “absence of supporting evidence from randomised controlled trials” for the low-fat guidelines. “[Low-fat] dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced.”

But once these ideas become entrenched they’re extremely difficult to reform. In recent years, alternative diets have gained traction, but influential organisations remain unmoved.To many, though,the low-fat flaws are obvious. Dr. David Unwin has published several studies in which people with type 2 diabetes have improved their diabetes control by following a low-carb diet.

Scientifically, it makes sense. As Dr. David Cavan, author of Reverse Your Diabetes writes: “We know that type 2 diabetes develops when blood glucose rises above a certain level […] whether it’s sugar, rice, bread or potatoes, these carbohydrates rapidly turn into glucose.” Dr. Aseem Malhotra, clinical associate to the Academy of Royal Colleges has argued that “type 2 diabetes is a condition related to an intolerance to metabolise carbohydrates,” and questions why anyone would recommend “the consumption of plenty of starchy carbohydrates.”

Online, the low-carb diet is becoming increasingly prevalent. From the major social media sites like Twitter – which has 74 searches for “Low Carb” every hour – to the staggering amount of anecdotal evidence on the Diabetes Forum, more and more people are exploring the positive effects of a low-carb diet on weight loss and blood glucose levels.

It’s not easy to follow a diet low in carbs and sugar because both are so prevalent.The Low-Carb Program, launched on World Diabetes Day, provides a step-by-step guide to reducing your carbohydrate intake, along with a wide variety of low-carb recipes and resources.

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