Carbohydrates – Good or Bad?

Americans have made a conscious effort to eat less fat, and particularly less saturated fat, since the 1960s.

According to the USDA, we have been eating less red meat, fewer eggs, and more poultry and fish; our average fat intake has dropped from 45 percent of total calories to less than 35 percent, and National Institutes of Health surveys have documented a coincident fall in our cholesterol levels.

The risk of suffering a severe heart attack, what physicians cal an acute myocardial infarction, may have diminished as well but there is little evidence that the incidence of heart disease has declined, as would be expected if eating less fat made a difference.

This was the conclusion, for instance, of a ten-year study of heart-disease mortality published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1998, which suggested that the death rates are declining largely because doctors and emergency-medical-service personnel are treating the disease more successfully. 

American Heart Association statistics support this view: between 1979 and 2003, the number of inpatient medical procedures for heart disease increased 470 percent. In 2003 alone, more than a mil ion Americans underwent cardiac catheterizations; more than a quarter-mil ion had coronary-artery bypass surgery.

The percentage of Americans who smoke cigarettes has also dropped considerably over the years—from 33 percent of Americans over eighteen in 1979 to 25 percent fifteen years later. This should also have significantly reduced the incidence of heart disease.

That it hasn’t, strongly suggests we’re doing something that counteracts the beneficial effect of giving up cigarettes. Indeed, if the last few decades were considered a test of the fat-cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease, the observation that the incidence of heart disease has not noticeably decreased could serve in any functioning scientific environment as compel ing evidence that the hypothesis is wrong.