Trends in Fat and Yogurt Consumption: We Eat Less Fat yet Get Fatter

A recent paper in JAMA and a Seinfeld episode shed some light on the change in diet and fat consumption in Americans initiated by national nutritional recommendations beginning in the 1970s.
Based on weak to nonexistent scientific evidence Americans were told to consume less total fat and cut saturated fat consumption to less than 10% of calories.
The paper shows that women in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area  followed this advice and cut fat consumption as a % of total calories from 38.4% in 1980-1982 to 30.6% in 1995-1997. Saturated fatty acids dropped from 13.5 to 10.5%. (Since then, total fat % and SFA % has drifted slightly upward and calories downward )(for the full table see fat consumption table (PDF))
Media summaries and reports on this paper have emphasized that Americans have failed to cut their saturated fat consumption to meet recommendations of the USDA (<10%) and the American Heart Association (<6%) with a call for more promotion of these (mis)guidelines.
The skeptical cardiologist has a different take.
Interestingly total calories during these time intervals went up from 1645 to 1851. Thus, in replacement of the fat calories, the women were consuming the carbohydrates and sugars the food industry had obligingly added to food to make it more palatable,  “heart healthy” and comply with guidelines.
The authors discuss the fact that during these time intervals, despite slashing fat consumption,  overall rates of obesity substantially rose. Their explanation was that the women were “underreporting” fat consumption.
A simpler and more compelling explanation is that replacement of fat with carbohydrates along with overall increase in calorie consumption was the culprit.

The Non-Fat Yogurt Scam and Seinfeld

One ongoing contributor to the phenemon of replacing healthy real food fats with engineered, highly processed and highly sugared foods is the yogurt industry.
I wrote about the non fat yogurt scam about a year ago in this post.
I happened to see the fantastic Seinfeld episode “The Non-Fat Yogurt” last night . In this episode Jerry, Elaine and George eat at a non-fat frozen yogurt shop. Everyone concurs that the yogurt is surprisingly delicious given that it is “non-fat” and begin eating it regularly.  Jerry and Elaine gain weight  and begin suspecting that the yogurt is not truly “non-fat”.
This episode aired in 1993 during the height of the shift toward unhealthy low fat, processed substitutes.  An analysis of the yogurt revealed that it was not non-fat and this is why they were gaining weight. In reality,  people get fat on truly non-fat yogurt (even Greek Yogurt) and non-fat cookies and non-fat smoothies and  anything with added sugar.
Fat consumption doesn’t make you fat.
Enjoy this snippet from the episode (and please excuse the bad language)



1 thought on “Trends in Fat and Yogurt Consumption: We Eat Less Fat yet Get Fatter”

  1. I believe you are basing this on a flawed understanding of nutrition based on Gary Taubes and other researchers who are following his lead. There are no such “Healthy real fats”. I suggest you review this study:
    Briefly, in the study they covertly reduced the fat calories that people got to 20% in one group and increased them to 60% in another group, with a control that ate the standard 40%. In only the low fat group eating an ad lib diet did weight loss occur. In addition, the high fat group was consuming around 600 calories more per day to reach the same level of food satisfaction.
    This direct observational study using easily understood principles simply falsifies your statement. Were you not aware of this study?
    An additional study to review was a meta-analysis of sixteen different trials published in 2000 that showed a consistent reduction in weight in subjects on a low fat diet.
    A true skeptic would wonder how doubling the energy density of food wouldn’t cause weight gain, I would think. Do you think the dogs who live in human homes eating high fat diets and getting obese are also getting fat because they eat too much sugar?
    How is your statement that “fat consumption doesn’t make you fat” stand up in light of these facts?


Please leave your comments. The skeptical cardiologist loves feedback. He reads all and replies to all that warrant a reply.