Jane Brody: Mistress of unshakable stupidity

In going through the Science section of the New York Times I came upon the Personal Health article by Jane Brody on the next to last page. When writing on most medical subjects Ms. Brody is typically fairly reasonable and usually covers most of the pros and cons of whatever medical procedure or subject she’s writing about. Unless, of course, that subject is nutrition. When Ms. Brody writes on nutrition, especially if the subject involves fats, she becomes a foaming-at-the-mouth imbecile.

This week’s article is a case in point. Ms. Brody decided to tackle the issue of the health dangers of trans fatty acids in the diet, but instead of sticking to the case in point–trans fats–she decided to mount a jihad against saturated fat in the process.

She starts out mildly enough:

The culinary battle between butter and margarine has raged for decades, but, it turns out, for the wrong reason. We now know that the partly hydrogenated fatty acids in margarine and many processed foods are harmful to health — more harmful, in fact, than the saturated fat in butter. [my italics]

The clause I italicized implies that saturated fats are harmful, which hasn’t really been shown in the scientific literature.

She goes on to report that

Gram for gram, trans fats, as they are commonly called, are more hazardous to the heart than the saturated fats that damage arteries. Like saturated fats, they raise the “bad,” or L.D.L., cholesterol that can become glued to arteries; but unlike saturated fats, they also lower the “good” H.D.L. cholesterol that clears away these harmful deposits.

More of the same. She’s saying that trans fats are more dangerous than saturated fats in oh so many ways, which, of course, implies that saturated fats are dangerous as well. She, strangely, for her, gives saturated fats a left-handed compliment by implying, at least, that they do raise HDL. Of course, she doesn’t say this directly–our Jane would never do such a thing.

She charges on with her anti-saturated fat zealotry

Butter is not a heart-healthy choice because its saturated fat far outweighs the trans fat in traditional stick margarines.

And finally in describing the substitutions available for trans fats she takes a swipe at saturated fats of non-animal origin:

The bad news is that some substitutions — to tropical oils like palm, palm kernel and coconut — are reintroducing more heart-damaging saturated fats [my italics] to American diets and causing environmental devastation in several countries where palm and coconut trees grow.

Two statements that have no substantiation. To paraphrase Tom Cruise’s client in the movie Jerry McGuire, SHOW ME THE PAPERS! If Jane Brody (or anyone else) can show me well done medical studies showing that saturated fat causes heart disease, I’ll eat my words and quit eating and promoting saturated fat. But they can’t do it. You would think with as many people–both medical and non-medical–spouting the anti-saturated fat line out there as there are, that the scientific literature would be crawling with studies demonstrating how saturated fat causes heart disease. But the scientific literature isn’t crawling with such papers. In fact, there really aren’t any. If you think there are, well, SHOW ME THE PAPERS.

I’ll admit that there are a lot of scientific papers out there that mention saturated fat as a risk factor in the same way that Jane Brody does in her article. The authors of these papers assume that everyone ‘knows’ that saturated fats have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be a major cause of heart disease. Whereas such non-scientific dolts as Jane Brody describe saturated fats as being ‘artery clogging’ (in fact, most of them think of the term saturated fats as being incomplete unless written as artery-clogging saturated fats), the scientific dolts talk of the ‘putative risk for heart disease’ concerns about saturated fats. Most authors of medical literature have so been taken in by the anti-saturated fat bias that they don’t even bother referencing another article when making such pronouncements, and if they do reference another article, it’s always an article that itself doesn’t really make the case against saturated fats but instead parrots the idea that these fats are bad without showing data as to why.

After her anti-saturated fat diatribe in the early parts of her article Ms. Brody goes on to write a pretty decent piece on the trans fats, discussing the health problems they cause, their sources, and how to avoid them by asking the right questions and reading labels. I have a different take than she does on the amount of trans fats eaten by the average person, but that’s a small quibble.

After multiple paragraphs of fairly sane writing, she returns to her anti-saturated fat ways as she winds her article down.

To protect heart health, you would be wise, as well, to avoid foods made with tropical oils (palm, palm kernel and coconut), which contain saturated fatty acids.

And she finishes off with a bizarre ending. Her penultimate paragraph ends with

Soft and liquid margarines have little or no trans fats. And American producers are working hard to develop alternative methods of producing shelf-stable vegetable oils, which should be on the shelf in the next year or so.

Earth to Jane, Earth to Jane. How do you think we got trans fats in the first place? American producers working hard to find a substitute for saturated fats came up with trans fats. Which, of course, Jane Brody now savages. How do you know, Ms. Brody, that what the American producers come up with to replace trans fats won’t be worse?

How about just returning to the perfectly acceptable saturated fats that humans have consumed for millennia?

I can imagine her whiny response: But those fats are artery clogging.

SHOW ME THE PAPERS!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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19 thoughts on “Jane Brody: Mistress of unshakable stupidity

  1. If you think Jane B is a dunderhead when it comes to nutrition, just read her stuff on exercise.

    Great article Mike. I just blogged on eggs and the importance of eating the yolk today.

    Hi Fred–

    Right you are.

    I’ll take a look at your blog post. If I can figure out how, I’ll even link.

    Best–

    Mike

  2. Mike, what you wrote:

    “After multiple paragraphs of fairly sane writing, she returns to her anti-saturated fat ways as she winds her article down.”

    may very well be the equivalent of bi-polar-writing syndrome by the way she swivels from “fat to fat”. [Just in case, the comment is not intended to offend anybody]

    I guess she suffers from the same problem Einstein once admitted:

    “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

    Hi Gabe–

    Problem with Ms. Brody is that she doesn’t even have an education to get in her way. If she had been trained in the rudiments of scientific thinking, she wouldn’t write such balderdash.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  3. I also have a problem with the amount of trans-fat the typical american eats. I know in the past I’ve eaten that amount in just one meal!!!

    Getting back to basics, and back to nature is best.

    Hi Alcinda–

    Agreed!

    Best–

    MRE

  4. More and more, I’m eating at home simply because I know what goes into my food and that includes animal fats instead of the man-made ones. Like you, Brody really irritates me. Articles that she’s written on heath issues I’ve found to be really helpful but whenever she veers off onto the subject nutrition, I don’t bother to read them.

    Off topic here, but are you as annoyed as I am by Dr. Jarvik’s ads for Lipitor? They are everywhere, I can’t turn around without seeing his earnest face telling me all about high cholesterol and heart disease.

    Hi Esther–

    Yeah, I’ve seen the Jarvik ads. I guess he ran through the money he made from his artificial heart. Or, maybe that’s unkind. Maybe he really does believe that claptrap and thinks he’s doing the world a service.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  5. This is a classic case of the “Dear Abbey Principle” This principle says that people want other people to tell them what to do. They’re too lazy to figure it out for themselves and end up accepting anything.

    Hi John–

    I guess it works out okay for them if they listen to the right people. Problem is, how do they know?

    Best–

    MRE

  6. Dr. Mike
    I love it when you get all worked up — it really brings out the best in you, or at least your best and most entertaining writing. So not only do I thank you, I also thank Jane and Dean (not to be confused with the popular singing duo of the 60’s) and all the others that routinely get your hackles pointed skyward. Hopefully you won’t keep me waiting too long before you post a Letterman-like list of your Top Ten Devotees of Unshakable Stupidity. Of course I’d also like to see a post on your Top Ten Most Respected Thinkers, but I’m betting while both posts would be informative, the former would easily be the most entertaining. And just in case it’s escaped your notice, I’m here for the laughs as much as for the information.

    Hello James–

    A top ten list, eh? I can assure you that Jane and Dean would be near the top of any list I could create of people who are nutritional morons.

    I’m glad that I’m able to keep you entertained.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  7. Mike, what’s your take on palm oil? Is anti-palm oil rhetoric in a similar vein to the false malignment of coconut oil?

    Also, where are you on fully hydrogenated oil? I keep reading about how 100% hydrogenation = zero trans fats, but I’m still skeptical.

    I use butter for just about all my baking needs, but there are certain applications where a neutral tasting moisture free saturated fat like shortening is ideal.

    Hi Scott–

    Take a look at my posts on March 22 and April 12 to see my take on palm oil.

    If an oil is fully hydrogenated, then it is a saturated fat, which, in my book, is okay.

    Best–

    MRE

  8. I heard somewhere, maybe NPR, that a lot of doctors were not happy with Jarvik’s endorsement of Lipitor…

    Anyway, back to the trans fats… While going grocery shopping, I was looking for a jar of natural peanut butter (the kind that has no sugar or anything else but good old peanuts) so I spend quite some time reading labels. I came across one that listed ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ in the ingredients, right after peanut butter and before sugar. Interestingly (or is it?), the actual content of ‘trans fats’ was zero… nada, zilch… I guess we are still a long, long way from making the food industry to come clean, at least in all parts of their labels. That is wishful thinking, isn’t it?

    Hi Gabe–

    The experience you had with noticing ‘partially hydrogenated’ fats in the ingredients listing but zero trans fats in the nutritional contents is one of the things Jane Brody had right in her article. She wrote:

    “The new food label rule exempts products with less than 0.5 gram of trans fatty acid per serving, which can list the amount as zero per serving. But if someone eats, say, four servings of the food instead of one, as many do, the amount of trans fats consumed can have a significant effect.”

    “The only way to know if a zero listing really means zero is to check the ingredients list. If partly hydrogenated oil is an ingredient, there is some trans fat in the food.”

    She is absolutely correct. A food can contain less than 0.5 gm trans fats per serving, but still contain almost 2 grams per four servings. Do this a few times per day and you can get 6 or 8 grams of trans fats without thinking you’re getting any.

    Best–

    MRE

  9. ..Sir now you’ve covered fats what about adding an ‘s’ to the aforementioned word sandwiched (oops! what a word) betwixt ‘a and t’ ?!

    In due course.

    MRE

  10. Hi Dr. Eades,
    The following is something I posted on Art Devany’s site (ArthurDevany.com). Art is a staunch supporter of the paleo diet and lifestyle and a smart guy. I was hoping you could also comment on it. Here it is:

    “Hi Art,
    I’ll first say that I support most of the ideas you write about on this site. That said, I had a question for you that I’ve asked myself and can’t seem to answer.
    While I agree that a “paleo-style” diet is most appropriate for health and longevity, I can’t seem to answer this question:
    Is it necessary?
    In my efforts to answer it, the best answer I can come up with is “No”. In other words, while I agree that

    low insulin levels,
    regular/varied/non-excessive exercise,
    good sleep,
    little to no sugar or refined foods,
    lots of veggies, and
    effective stress coping methods

    are all necessary to increase one’s chances for a long time, I don’t think that eating purely paleo is. Do you?

    The simplest argument that I have for this statement is as follows: While I have not researched the topic at all, I would still be willing to bet that if you polled all the centenarians in the world today, few if any would admit to following a paleo diet, especially eating no grains. If this turns out to be true, would you agree then that, if longevity is the goal in mind, there is no reason to not eat grains (assuming one follow most, if not all, of the above recommendations)?

    Your thoughts on this matter would be much appreciated.
    Daniel Chong

    Hi Daniel–

    All the centenarians alive today are those who have adapted to whatever diet they happened to have at hand and managed to live at least 100 years on it. As I’m sure you are aware, there is a bell shaped curve for all these kinds of analyses, and, in the case of centenarians, they are the ones way out on the long right hand tail. If you take a large enough group of people and feed them for their entire lives on (insert your diet of choice here), some of them will make it to 100 years of age. Because these outliers on the long tail of the bell-shaped curve lived to be 100 on such a diet doesn’t mean that that particular diet is the best one for all people who want to live to be 100. It simply means that some people live to be 100 on it. Everyone alive today who is 100 years old lived through two world wars; does that mean that the stress caused by living through two episodes of global conflict leads to longevity? I doubt it.

    What I believe (and what, I suppose, Art DeVany believes (I’ve don’t know Art DeVany;until this comment I’d never heard of him)) is that our genome developed over the last couple of million years on the diet at hand during that time, which, for the most part, consisted of meat, fish, insects, and a few roots, shoots and tubers. It makes sense (to me, at least) that if this is the diet the forces of natural selection molded us to perform optimally on, then it’s probably the best diet for a long, healthy life.

    Best–

    MRE

  11. You just have to wonder what these people are thinking. On par with Ms. Brody’s comments is our friend Michael Jacobson.
    A free copy of Nutrition Action showed up in my mailbox a few weeks ago. I’m not sure who submitted my name to them (I do know an avid vegan, she denies it), but since it was free and at my doorstep, I took a look. Wow, Mike J has not stopped with the ” 30 grams of artery clogging fat” summation of any kind of animal product. It amazes me that these claims can be made with “studies”. How many people take that information as the “right way” to eat?
    On a positive note; About 6 months ago a friend of mine noticed that I had lost weight and wanted to know what my secret was. My weight loss is so noticeable I get asked the question often; especially from people I have not seen in a while. Not many listen to, or like my answer. I told him to get rid of sugar, cut back on the carbs, up the protein, don’t fear fats, lift weights and be happy. I saw him this past weekend, he took most of my suggestions (no weights, but hiking and other activities). Now people are asking him; what is the secret?
    BTW, Fred’s blog is right on. I eat eggs WITH yolk everyday. I am due for another lipid profile, the last one was fabulous, I expect this one to be excellent as well.

    Hi Audley–

    Michael Jacobson would indeed be on my top ten list of nutritional idiots, right there along with Jane and Dean.

    It’s too bad he has such influence on the dietary mores of America.

    Best–

    MRE

  12. On page 60 of PPLP, you make reference to an ongoing study on elk nutrient composition. Could you point to the results of that study? If you knew the results of the study before you had written PPLP, what would you have said differently? Any other pointers to nutrient analysis of pasture fed or wild meats would be appreciated.

    Hi Imsovain–

    As we were writing the PPLP that study was in the works at Colorado State University. We had arranged for all the funding, had the experimental details worked out, and were awaiting our elk and deer collecting permits from the Colorado wildlife people. Unexpectedly, they turned us down. We argued with them for a while, then realized that we were wasting our time and moved on to more productive endeavors.

    Loren Cordain has some data from other studies showing the breakdown of carcase fat in wild animals. Check out his website at http://www.thepaleodiet.com.

    Best–

    MRE

  13. I just get annoyed by the sheer number of cholesterol medication commercials. I see several every single day and I just keep thinking that if these people just went on a low-carb diet then many of them wouldn’t need the medications. Sadly, most doctors won’t prescribe that sort of diet. With my cholesterol at 214 my doctor sent me a letter telling me to stuff my face with carbohydrates (!) (my HDL was 82 and all ratios were good). Why do they still think carbs are the answer to everything? And how many people are being harmed by believing what’s said is these commercials and going on medication they wouldn’t need if they’d eat a better diet? Grrr…

    Hi Victoria–

    I experience these same frustrations daily.

    Best–

    MRE

  14. I do really like to read your stuff; very informative, but not meaning to offend, when it comes to my food I do not listen to anybody; there are just too many differing opinions – one doc says it’s good for you, another says it’s not. My cholesterol is great, my blood pressure is great, as far as I know my heart is great, and though I carry a few extra pounds it stretches out the wrinkles so I’m fine with that. And I eat ALL kinds of fat.

    Hi Kathy-

    As I tell almost anyone who will listen, if your happy with your weight and your state of health, far be it from me to make any kind of dietary recommendation.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  15. Hi, this is a question about an older post on Krill oil. You stated you took fish oil and krill oil and curcumin (sp) ? I don’t think you gave dosgae potencies for anything but the last. Was wondering if you could expound a bit.
    Thanks.

    Hi Elaine–

    Sure. I took 2 krill oil caplets and 2 Nordic Naturals ProOmega capsules.

    Best–

    MRE

  16. Hi. you replied to my last post:

    “I took 2 krill oil caplets and 2 Nordic Naturals ProOmega capsules.”

    What are the potencies of these pills in gm or mgm?

    Thanks and loving PP.
    Elaine

    Hi Elaine–

    2 caps of krill oil provide 150 mg EPA and 90 mg DHA; 2 caps of ProOmega provide 650 mg EPA and 450 DHA. The krill oil fats are in the phospholipid form making them much more potent than their doses would imply.

    Here is the info from the label of the krill oil:

    EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) 150.00mg
    DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) 90.00mg
    Omega-6 Fatty Acids 0 20.00mg
    Omega-9 Fatty Acids 0 85.00mg
    Phospholipids 0 400.00mg
    Astaxanthin 0 1.50mg

    Hope this helps–

    MRE

  17. This is a bit off-topic:

    “I heard somewhere, maybe NPR, that a lot of doctors were not happy with Jarvik’s endorsement of Lipitor…”

    Hey, but all of us from the Milwaukee area love that Lipitor commercial with Dr. Jarvik. It was filmed at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the new addition designed by Calatrava.

    Sue O.

    Hi Sue–

    I’m well acquainted with the Milwaukee Art Museum that has the fins (or whatever they’re called) that change as the day goes on. MD and I have spent a lot of time in Milwaukee over the past year and a half because that’s where our PBS TV show Low Carb CookwoRx is filmed.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  18. Fat, particularly animal fat, has been implicated as a cause of cancer, while the consumption of fruits and vegetables had been shown to protect against cancer. For instance, Boyd et al reported on this in a 1993 study published in the British Journal of Cancer, as did Steinmetz et al in a 1996 article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and La Vecchia et al in a 1998 article in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention. Studies on laboratory animals also implicate omega-6 oils and saturated fat intake as cancer promoters. (Examples include Hursting et al in a 1990 Preventive Medicine article, Zhao et al in Nutrition and Cancer in 1991, Fay et al in Cancer Research in 1997.)

    And your point is? Just as many papers – if not more – have shown no correlation between meat consumption and cancer. You’ve got to look at the whole of the data pool, not just cherry pick studies to prove whatever point you’re trying to make.

    Cheers–

    MRE