The fat-free food movement’s big lie

Dietary fats are a vital component of the regular diets of almost all mammals. Together, they comprise one of three macronutrient food sources, along with protein and carbohydrates, that are eligible for consumption. However, for several decades of the 20th century, millions of human beings fell victim to advertising campaigns and misinformation suggesting that we would all be better off without fat.

The early defense of fat-free diets was actually based on sound medical reasoning and isolated cases where it might have been shown to be legitimately beneficial. In 1929, renowned baby expert, author, and reporter Myrtle Meyer Eldred explained in the Registry in Des Moines how some children find all dietary fats problematic; and how fat-free substitutes might help alleviate some of the irritation caused by fat. “Buttermilk made from whipped sour milk contains no fat at all, and for those children who find fat irritating in any form, it is a more successful food than skim milk, which cannot be entirely fat-free,” he wrote. she.

Likewise, in February 1931, the York Dispatch published a column by Dr. Logan Clendening recommending a fat-free diet to combat a very different medical condition: gallbladder inflammation. “Inflammation of the gallbladder in the mild catarrhal form is often amenable to medical attention,” Clendening explained. “The arrangement of the diet is based on known facts of physiology: that bile is used in the digestion of fat. Therefore, a fat-free diet is indicated.

Even in this era, however, less medically sound anti-fat sentiments were brewing, with dire consequences. Dr. Philip Lovell published a column in the Los Angeles Times in July 1933 about a woman who permanently avoided fat on the advice of her doctor in order to lose 40 to 45 pounds. “She lost weight wonderfully,” Lovell wrote. “She kept her strength up, although she suffered from an occasional headache. In less than two months, she lost 40 pounds. Everything would have been sweet and pink. It would have been a wonderful diet if it weren’t for the fact that she he died at the end of your fat-free diet. I think the doctor called it heart block. I would call it a crazy fat-free diet: a terrible price to pay for ignorance”.

Basically, it hampered all the essential bodily functions that are only optimized through the ingestion of dietary fats. The production of key hormones and the regulation of cellular function require the presence of fat, not to mention that the ingested forms of certain vitamins (A, D, E and K) can only be properly delivered to the body after they have been absorbed by fat of the diet. Or put more simply, eating zero fat is far from a good thing.

Unfortunately, other popular diets during the 1930s and 1940s also focused on fat loss as a temporary balm for psoriasis and celiac disease.

The dairy industry starts the confusion

The first true combination of body fat and dietary fat appears to have been born out of the dairy industry’s aggressive promotion of skim milk. Newspaper ads began to appear touting skim milk as the necessary tool for a slim appearance.

1950s advertisement for nonfat milk

These ads created enough confusion over the emergence of the new fat-free terminology that numerous nutrition writers tried to explain that it was nothing more than skim milk under a new brand name. In the following decade, however, skim milk was joined by skim cheese and oil; all of which were clearly positioned as calorie cutters that could evoke weight loss.

1964 fat-free cheese ad

When fat-free ice cream and yogurt emerged in the 1970s, nutritionists were inundated with questions about how eating something as sweet as ice cream might not lead to the production of more body fat. To that end, Frederick Stare of the Harvard Nutrition Department published a syndicated column in 1974 in an ill-fated effort to clear up the misconception. “The fact that some nonfat milk yogurts are advertised as 99 percent fat-free may lead the consumer to believe that yogurt is a low-calorie or non-fattening food. The person who eats sweetened yogurt for dessert, a snack, or a meal, believing it to be low in calories because it is 99 percent fat, may be surprised to learn that a half-cup serving of ice cream or a small sandwich is actually lower in calories than a cup of yogurt,” he explained.

Needless to say, it fell on deaf ears. As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, everything from fat-free soups to fat-free cold cuts began to be marketed to consumers.

But then, in August 1986, dieticians and nutritionists went to war over the issue of fat intake. The battle was sparked by the American Heart Association (AHA), which lowered its recommendation that 40 percent of all calories should come from fat to 30 percent, advice that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) objected to. Since a gram of fat has more than twice as many calories as a gram of protein or carbohydrate, this reduction actually meant that fat intake would equate to less than 20 percent of a diet in terms of weight consumed.

The Cox New Service reported that Dr. William Weidman of the AHA made a statement that there was “significant indirect evidence” that such fat reduction would have a positive effect. (However, he also admitted that it could take “another 30 years” to see if the change did any good, before concluding that it “certainly won’t hurt anyone.”) AAP President Laurence Finberg vehemently disagreed. “Based on the research, we can’t say we need to limit fat intake to 30 percent,” he argued. “And we’re not sure that if we did, we wouldn’t be harming the normal development of children and causing other problems.”

‘No fat’ fails

By the early 1990s, fat-free food products had taken over supermarket shelves, and the fat-free label now adorned everything from salad dressings, mayonnaise, and sour cream to Fig Newtons and other cookies. jane snow from the Akron Beacon Journal reported in June 1992 that the advent of such fat-free items was in response to 44 percent of Americans saying they wanted to limit fat in their diets, but also said there was a catch involved. “With few exceptions, the price of fat-free products is higher than that of regular items,” Snow wrote. “Miracle Whip Free was $1.49 in a store, compared to Miracle Whip at $1.39. The Kraft Free Singles Cheese was $2.49 and the regular Kraft Singles was $2.29.”

Snow also provided a graph showing that the price paid ultimately resulted in very little caloric difference per serving, with fat-free offerings often providing a material reduction of only 10 to 20 calories per serving, while in some cases , the fat-free products provided even more calories.

With “diet” products like this, it’s no wonder Americans continued to gain weight despite eating so much fat-free food. “Fat-free food sounds magical,” said a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). the tennessean in January 1996. “We might think we can eat all we want and still get fat, but that’s just not the case.”

Marli Murphy of the kansas city star reported later that same year that Americans had reduced their fat intake by about 16 percent between the 1970s and 1990s, but still weighed about 12 pounds more on average than they did in 1978. sugar, Murphy reported how the USDA attributed the unwanted weight gain to a reduction in physical exercise. “A lot of us, it seems, are just sitting on our fatty acids,” Murphy joked.

Soon, however, the fat-free jig was ready. In the late 1990s, there was an 11 percentage point reduction in the number of American households that regularly purchased such items. Still, it took yet another decade before health columnists finally had carte blanche to drive a sharp stake through the heart of the fat-free movement. “Sometimes we tend to overeat fat-free foods because we think, ‘Oh, this is fat-free, I can eat as much as I want,'” Lacy Ngo of Rock Hill Herald he wrote, now stating the obvious. “Fat-free products will have calories, so you have to stick to one serving size or you’ll end up eating the same or more calories than you would with the higher-fat product.”

At long last, consumers were finally being fed the big truth.

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