Make French Fries Great Again


Here’s an appropriate lunchtime story, by Sharon Begley in Scientific American:

[Christopher] Ramsden, of the National Institutes of Health, unearthed raw data from a 40-year-old study, which challenges the dogma that eating vegetable fats instead of animal fats is good for the heart. The study, the largest gold-standard experiment testing that idea, found the opposite, Ramsden and his colleagues reported on Tuesday in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

Although the study is more than just another entry in the long-running nutrition wars—it is more rigorous than the vast majority of research on the topic—Ramsden makes no claims that it settles the question. Instead, he said, his discovery and analysis of long-lost data underline how the failure to publish the results of clinical trials can undermine truth.

If anything, the findings of this study are the opposite of the common assumption.  Changing the fats that people eat does lower cholesterol…

But that lowered cholesterol did not help people live longer. Instead, the lower cholesterol fell, the higher the risk of dying: 22 percent higher for every 30-point fall. Nor did the corn-oil group have less atherosclerosis or fewer heart attacks.

Asked why the study was never published, the original researcher’s son seems to suggest his father wanted to find a link between fats and heart disease, and so might have assumed his study just wasn’t sufficient.

A properly skeptical diet continues to seem most appropriate:  Eat a variety of foods, including those that you enjoy, but don’t overdo anything.  Ever notice, by the way, that the same ideological movement that elevates evolution to a religion also insists that everything evolution has led us to want to eat must be bad for us?

  • Christopher C. Reed

    Ah, the childhood memory of the fries at Zim’s diner in San Francisco…crispy outside, tasty inside. The secret? Tallow. McD’s used the same stuff before the health scare (funded by ConAgra, ADM,, to be sure) cut in.

    • Justin Katz

      Malcolm Gladwell had a great podcast episode where he actually found a research lab that made the fries according to the old McD’s recipe, and his young interns were blown away. Gladwell went after McD’s for not standing up for their legacy.