Sång till Norden

Ensam är stark. “Alone is strong.” 

–Swedish Proverb

Forgive the long silence. I cracked my head on a wall last week and writing has been difficult till now.

My favorite Swedish proverb is actually Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder. “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” However there’s no doubt that the Swedes are standing alone just now; they are certainly also standing strong.

Sweden has become the first Western nation to officially abandon the high-carb, low-fat mantra for health and weight loss. They are returning to their traditional way of eating, which includes lots of fat: plenty of fish and dairy and salt. The Swedes are now actually recommending eating plenty of saturated fat and avoiding carbohydrates. Swedish doctors are saying, out loud mind you, that carbs are far more damaging to arteries than butter and cream and that the idea that fat contributes to heart disease is a “myth.”

Clearly they’ve all gone insane over there. From the cold, we can only guess. Or possibly from trying to put together IKEA furniture. I mean, what else but insanity could possibly cause sensible doctors and scientists to ask such nit-picky logical questions as:

Dr Malhotra said the government’s obsession with cholesterol ‘has led to the over-medication of millions of people with statins’. But why has there been no demonstrable effect on heart disease trends when eight million Britons are being prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs, he asked.

What a silly question. It’s almost like they don’t believe the byline on this article at all. According to that article, Americans are eating lots more fruit. Hooray! The idiotic article explains that back in 2003 Americans’ favorite foods were (in order of popularity) sandwiches, soft drinks, vegetables, milk and finally fruit. Today in 2013 it is sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, soft drinks and milk. We know this has been good for us because way, way more people are obese now than in 2003. Back in 2003 only 24% of us were obese. Now 35.7% of us are! Proof positive that drinking less soda and substituting fruit for it has worked like a charm!

Oh, wait.

Oh, no sorry that’s not what the article wants you to think. What they want you to believe is that in the last two years obesity levels haven’t increased much, and this is most likely because we’re eating more bananas and apples than we did ten years ago. As the headlines say, we’re making “healthier choices,” and yet somehow we’re all fatter than we were the last time they did a survey of what we ate.

If these choices are really all that healthy, she asked, then why have obesity levels merely “leveled off”? Why haven’t they gone down? I mean, we still eat LOTS of vegetables (third most popular food in America) and we now eat more fruit than soda or milk. Why so little response?

Well the nutritionist interviewed in that article thinks that if we just ate even more vegetables that would fix everything. Vegetables as the third most popular food in America doesn’t seem to be doing anything for us except causing the occasional salmonella outbreak. But Dawn thinks that if we could just convince people to put some vegetables on their sandwiches, then we’ll all be thin and trim.

This makes sense, of course, because you so rarely see sandwiches with vegetables on them.

Oh, wait.

Actually if you do a quick internet picture search of the word “sandwich,” this is what you get.

Sand

Even the drawings of sandwiches have vegetables on them. The only one that doesn’t is the Fluffernutter sandwich on the third row, and only people in Maine eat those.

Dawn, I’m sorry but you’re deluding yourself. Now I sadly couldn’t find any sandwich statistics to let us know if sandwiches have changed much in the last 10 years, but I think Subway can help us get a feel for the situation. Let’s think. Has Subway been marketing more refined breads or more whole grain breads? Higher fat subs or lower fat ones? Ones with more vegetables or new ones that have none? I think we all know the answers to these questions. People have been doing what the health experts tell them to do and obesity rates, diabetes rates, heart disease rates, and cancer rates have not gone down. They’ve gone up and up and up and up and up and up and up since 1980 or so.

Now there is good news, we’ve been told, in that our obesity rates are “holding steady” over the last two years. Almost 36% of us are waddling around putting cracks in the concrete foundation at Walmart, but that hasn’t changed much in two years. Awesome!

They say this is because we’re eating a little better.

I say that’s baloney. People have been trying to eat better since…hmmmm, let me think…since the dawn of time. Google “antique cookbook” and read through some of those gems. Every one purports to give you recipes for good health, including the Middle Ages monastery cookbook with advice on keeping your vapors balanced. It’s described as “essentially a health book, so the meals were meant to improve a person’s health or to cure certain afflictions” (The monks, by the way, clearly adored bacon, but warn you not to ever roast it lest the fat melt off and you lose it in the fire. They recommend boiling it, cooling a little and then drinking/eating it to make sure you get every ounce of fat.)

Everyone is concerned about their health. (Boys under the age of 30 who drive cars at ridiculous speeds and drink Red Bull in front of the TV don’t count). Of course people make exceptions for certain occasions, but that’s nothing new in human history. We’ve always put on the fatted calf for certain important events. But we haven’t always been morbidly obese. We’re following the dietary advice we were first given in 1980, when no state in America had an obesity rate at even 15%.

How about a different hypothesis? Instead of conjecturing that by eating more fruit and less fat we’re getting healthier by infinitesimal, almost imperceptible degrees, I would like to suggest that what’s actually happened is back in 2011 we hit Maximum Fatness, after being told since 1980 to eat more and more grain and less and less fat.

What if we’re all being slowly poisoned by a steady diet of extravagant amounts of carbohydrates, including lots of sugar and white flour, ridiculous amounts of fructose and poisonous Frankenfats; while eating not nearly enough essential saturated fat? What if this poisoning is breaking everyone metabolically and causing everyone to suffer from chronically high blood sugar, resulting in higher rates of the end results of chronically high blood sugar and over-indulgence in grain: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, celiac, and other auto-immune disorders? What if obesity is just one of many symptoms? Whatever the disorder, not everyone gets the same symptoms.

Not every flu victim gets sore eyes. About 60% do. That percentage holds whether 100 people have the flu or 10,000. What I’m saying is that back when we ate healthier food, fewer people had this “flu.” Some of those who did got fat. Others didn’t, just as some people with the flu will get sore eyes and some won’t. Now that we’ve been told to eat lots of carbs and fruit, more and more people are getting this flu. More and more people have sore eyes–but only because more people have the flu, not because there’s an epidemic of sore eyes or because sore eyes cause the flu.

We’re eating all the grains and fruit we possibly can. Society, in general, can’t eat any more and survive. We need some fat and protein, even if it’s only a measly 30-40% of our diet. So we’re maxed out on carbs, and hence we’ve maxed out on fatness. Everyone in the whole country (more or less) has the flu, so there are more people with sore eyes around than ever before.

Now if this wild idea is true, we’d expect to find that obesity rates would take off around the time we changed our diets and gradually level off once we attained Maximum Fatness, which would be at the point where we can’t eat any more carbohydrates as a percentage of our diet. That’s exactly what we do see. Obesity rates remained steady through the 20th century, until they slowly begin to climb in the 1960s, after George McGovern’s senate committee decided they didn’t have time wait for doctors to decide what actually was healthy to eat, and just told everyone to stop eating fat. Obesity rates suddenly rose sharply after 1980, when those controversial opinions were finally enshrined on tablets of stone and pushed on everyone by various government entities.

We should also see rates of the final end products of constant, toxic high blood sugar and over-eating of grains–cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ADD, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, auto-immune diseases–increasing starting around 1980 and then leveling off.

Hmmmmm. Let’s start with cancer. We’ll skip things like cervical cancer, which is so strongly affected by the HPV virus, and lung cancer, which is closely connected with smoking. We need to look more general cancers.

The Susan G. Komen foundation reports that between 1940 and 1980 we saw a steady 1% increase per year in breast cancer rates. In the 80s there was a sudden, dramatic increase. Shocking! It’s leveled off now, but it has not gone down. Shocking again!

This study reports something quite similar with prostate cancer. Cancer rates increased steadily between 1960 and 1980. After 1980, rates skyrocketed. They started leveling off recently.

Everyone says, of course, that this is all due to better screening for these cancers, and that may indeed be part of the explanation. But it’s an interesting coincidence don’t you think? 1980 is some kind of turning point in national health–and that’s the very year we started really overturning our national diet. So let’s try heart disease, shall we?

This one’s hard. Every time you try to look it up, what you get are heart disease mortality statistics. They’re down, and that’s great. But the issue isn’t how many people are dying from it, but how many people are getting it in the first place. (Smoking is also a confounding factor here, as smoking rates are down nationwide and smoking doesn’t help your heart one bit.)

So let’s see what Harvard has to say. Interesting. According to them, we’re not seeing nearly as many people die of the disease, but that’s almost entirely due to intervention and care for those already diagnosed with it. The most telling paragraph is this one:

“What startled us was that treating patients with coronary heart disease was having so much more effect than trying to prevent the disease,” notes Maria Hunink, an associate professor at both the School of Public Health and the University of Goningen in the Netherlands. “Primary prevention still has an important role to play but most of its effect was realized before 1980.”

Huh. So we haven’t had much success in preventing it since 1980. And they admit later in the article that heart disease prevalence went up between 1980 and 1990, after which it started to level off. What’s interesting about that actually is the smoking. Smoking kills, right? How many times have we been told that if we quit smoking, it’ll do so much for our risk of heart disease? In 1980, 32% of Americans smoked. Now only 24% do. Yet our heart disease rates went up. Even more interestingly, back in the 1950s 44% of us smoked and yet fewer people got heart disease back then than in the 80s, 90s, or 00s.

What about diabetes?

This is an easy one. 1980 to 2011 saw a 176% increase in Type II diabetes prevalence. Before 1980, things were pretty steady. Since 2011, they’ve (say it with me now) leveled off.

Now all these articles explain their individual areas of concern by asking us to argue in a big circle. We’ve got more heart disease since 1980 because more people have diabetes since 1980 because more people are fatter than in 1980. The end; nothing to see here. Except any 5th grader with a brain knows that there’s an unanswered question: even if you assume that being fat caused the diabetes, and being diabetic caused the heart disease increase: why did people start getting fatter suddenly in 1980? And if the fatness caused it all, why are all these diseases trending exactly the same way?

If fatness causes diabetes, then shouldn’t the diabetes epidemic have started after the obesity epidemic? It takes a while for a fat person to develop diabetes, right? And it takes a while for a diabetic to develop heart problems, right? So these problems shouldn’t have all started in 1980. We should have obesity, then maybe ten years later, skyrocketing diabetes, and then ten years after that the heart disease. Why did they all start at exactly the same time?

And what about the other diseases?

Well, we’ve got one that didn’t even exist as an official disease until guess what year? I’ll give you three guesses. That would be ADHD. Rates of diagnosis increased steadily after 1980 and are now leveling off.

Then there’s celiac. That’s another one that barely even existed in 1970 (0.03% of the population had it). But suddenly in 1980 it was on the rise. Now there’s definitely an element of better diagnosis going on with this one. This is a complicated disease. However that doesn’t explain why once modern diagnostic criteria were discovered in the mid 80s the disease doubled in prevalence over the next 10 years and then leveled off. Or why there was little interest in the disease up until 1980. In that magic year, we see an increase in interest in and research into the disease, which led to the diagnostic breakthroughs of the late 80s.

How about Alzheimer’s, or “Type III diabetes” as many have taken to calling it, due to its close association with diabetes, obesity, and blood sugar. Once again, the disease rates increased 10x in the 80s. TEN TIMES, folks. But of course that’s all just because of better diagnosis. Before 1980, no one ever noticed that Uncle Roy wasn’t remembering to put on trousers in the morning.

Autoimmune disorders, especially among children, doubled after 1980. Leveling off since.

Before 1980, incidence of lupus were 1.5 in 100,000. After 1980, 5.6 in 100,000.

Now all this is just conjecture and coincidence. It doesn’t prove anything. But it is certainly an interesting place to start, and it’s no more conjecture and coincidence then every article I’ve read this year trying to link fat to heart problems and obesity. The evidence is certainly clear enough for socialized–medicine Sweden to hop on board the low carb, high fat train to try to keep their people healthy so they don’t have to pay out in actual medical care payments.

But I didn’t think to look for these trends just by accident, either. I know that 1980 marks the moment that we started really upping our intake of sugar, fructose, and grain. Here’s a long but interesting study on the effects of different elements of modern wheat on celiac, type 1 diabetes, cancer, diseases of the nervous system, and auto-immune disorders. Interesting that all these afflictions are on the rise since we started eating a lot more wheat.

Here’s another on the effects of chronically high blood sugar on cancer risk. And here the damage to blood vessels, the brain, and the heart. What causes chronically high blood sugar? Well, it could be M&Ms and Twinkies and five sodas a day. Or it could be your low fat yogurt, whole grain sandwich, energy bars, healthy fruit smoothie, fat-free pretzels, and whole grain corn chips.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have two slabs of extra fatty wagyu beef to grill. Enjoy your day.

 

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