In the country that gave us their famous meatballs, the Volvo vehicle, and the classic hit-making 1970s singing group ABBA, there’s quite a firestorm of controversy and discussion going on within the realm of public debate regarding the validity of a high-fat, low-carbohydrate nutritional approach (LCHF) on health. The latest turn of events in this ongoing diet battle took place on March 15, 2009 when one of the leading public service morning television news programs on Sveriges Television (SVT) interviewed a physician about a study showing a lower occurrence of cardiovascular disease over the past couple of decades since low-fat diets have been promoted. Predictably, they marched out this university professor named Dr. Annika Rosengren who made the statement that the lack of saturated fat in the recommended diet has kept cholesterol levels low and that was the primary factor in the improved heart health results.
Needless to say, this didn’t sit too well with proponents of LCHF, including Dr. Dahlqvist, Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, and other leaders of the low-carb movement in Sweden. As you can see from the following rough translation of Dr. Eenfeldt’s blog post, he was pretty livid about it lamenting that no voices of opposition were brought on to present another viewpoint.
“But the report (on this study makes people) think the (professor and other “experts” featured on the television program) know better–naturally (they’re gonna say) saturated fat kills. Amazingly enough, (these “experts” never reported) exactly how many (people) died (from eating saturated fat). And (there was) no other view (countering these arguments) heard.”
Dr. Eenfeldt organized a campaign for LCHF supporters to write to SVT as well as the Swedish Broadcasting Commission demanding equal time for the pro-saturated fat message to be heard. This blatant bias against the LCHF message is illegal in Sweden because the television stations are required by their licenses to maintain impartiality when it comes to controversial subjects like this one. Had they done their due diligence and allowed someone like Dr. Dahlqvist or Dr. Eenfeldt to appear on the program to articulate the other side, then there would not have been a problem.
Needless to say, they were flooded with so many e-mails and letters of complaint that SVT had no choice but to offer the other side. So, who did they turn to for more information about the healthy benefits of consuming saturated fat? Was it any of the many LCHF advocates in Sweden? Nope. The television reporter went to see a representative from the National Food Administration–the Swedish version of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Not surprising, they spouted the same old garbage that was shared on the previous program by Dr. Rosengren confirming it to be accurate information.
“Saturated fat is bad for you, and LCHF is only approved for short-term treatment of diabetes and obesity,” the Livsmedelsverket spokesman stated.
Again, there was outrage in the Swedish low-carb community at this utter disregard and ignorance regarding the science behind LCHF for weight loss and disease prevention over the long-term. This time, SVT did the right thing and invited both Dr. Dahlqvist and Dr. Eenfeldt to appear with Dr. Rosengren for a live televised debate on saturated fat, but Dr. Eenfeldt was not able to attend.
I watched the debate when the video was posted online (it has since been removed) to see the demeanor of both Dr. Rosengren and Dr. Dahlqvist and it was quite evident that both were well-prepared with what they wanted to say. The professionalism of both was evident (although I couldn’t understand a word they were saying), but you could tell Dr. Rosengren was getting increasingly agitated by the assertions Dr. Dahlqvist was making about saturated fat.
The debate started out well with Dr. Dahlqvist explaining why a low-carb, high-fat diet is one of the best things you could do for improving your health. She said the insistence by those who promote a low-fat diet on people eating “the food industry yellow shoe polish” (her hilarious description of margarine) is more harmful than butter will ever be. Dr. Dahlqvist added that a saturated fat-based diet is a “natural” one for weight loss and health.
This, of course, set off Dr. Rosengren who disagreed that saturated fat is healthy at all. However, mimicking the style of American low-fat diet guru Dr. Dean Ornish when he told me in my podcast interview with him last year that “we all agree” on diet, she goes on to admit that people can lose weight very well on a low-carb diet and that she’s no fan of margarine either. However, Dr. Rosengren then switched gears to say there are different kinds of saturated fats and fatty acid compounds that can raise cholesterol levels and that this is a “very complicated issue” that contains “conflicting” research. Nevertheless, she said the preponderance of the evidence points to the fact that “saturated fat is harmful.”
The moderator then turned to Dr. Dahlqvist and said that the National Food Administration and cardiologists have echoed this sentiment that saturated fat is bad for people to consume. She then asked if all of these “experts” are wrong? You gotta love the answer she gave: “Yes, they all are wrong! It is only we who are right!” HA! Nice one, Dr. Dahlqvist! She explained that it was Ancel Keys in the 1950s who made the erroneous proclamation that saturated fat was dangerous and raised cholesterol levels. She added that the science has since evolved and yet our thinking on saturated fat has not.
“People have become thin by eating saturated fat and become fat from eating carbohydrates and a low-fat diet,” Dr. Dahlqvist exclaimed.
The moderator said these conflicting messages over whether saturated fat is good or bad has “squeezed” her as a consumer looking for credible information about what the truth is when such diametrically opposite viewpoints are being shared. Dr. Rosengren responded to this by saying that Ancel Keys was right in the 1950s and his hypothesis has been proven correct by ongoing research today. She added that “there is no scientific support for” the consumption of natural fats. Dr. Dahlqvist retorted that this is the “original diet” of our early ancestors and that without the consumption of saturated fat during the evolutionary development of man, we wouldn’t be around today. She made an excellent point about the changes in our diet that took place when margarine was introduced to the food supply.
“Ever since margarine and omega-6-laden vegetable oils like corn oil and sunflower oil have been used, we have only gotten sicker and sicker. We’re really sick now!” Dr. Dahlqvist remarked.
She said there is plenty of research to back up these claims, but that ongoing research has been stifled because scientists are “paralyzed by the fear of saturated fat.” Additionally, she said there is an enormous amount of money from the Swedish Nutrition Foundation, food industry, and other lobby groups to prevent quality research on this subject from being fairly conducted. This kind of influence makes any research against natural saturated fats “just nonsense,” Dr. Dahlqvist contended.
To clarify what fats she is referring to, Dr. Dahlqvist said the healthy ones are animal fats and natural vegetable fats such as nuts, avocados, and coconut fat. She again stated that people shouldn’t eat the “shoe polish” sold by the food industry as margarine because it is “industrially processed in every possible way…extremely polluted and…highly toxic.” Dr. Rosenberg chimed in that she wasn’t opposed to high-fat cheese and butter, but not in large quantities. She then repeated that this reduction in saturated fat consumption is what has led to cardiovascular disease dropping and Dr. Dahlqvist retorted, “There is no evidence for it.” This is when the debate got REALLY good. Here’s a rough transcript of the final moments of the televised debate:
Dr. Rosenberg: “We know that saturated fat raises cholesterol…”
Dr. Dahlqvist: “That’s only in your imagination. No, it does not. Saturated fat does not increase cholesterol.”
Moderator: “This is like talking to people from different planets! For some, this may indeed be a life or death issue.”
Dr. Dahlqvist: “And it is!”
Moderator: “How do we learn what’s right?”
Dr. Dahlqvist: “If people eat what I say, then they’ll live; eat the way Dr. Rosenberg says, then they’ll die.”
Moderator: “Wow, that’s some allegation. Would you like to respond?”
Dr. Rosenberg: “Yes I would. I am always a little worried when people are so sure of themselves and have no research to support what they are saying. Because I looked at your web site and to the publications you referred me to and there were a few studies that looked at the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, but there was not a single critical study. So you do not have all the studies listed together, just the ones that you want to show.”
Dr. Dahlqvist: “I’m more interested in running real research on real food instead of trying to keep up with all this nonsense that simply looks at different relationships between things that do not say anything about causation, but only co-variation. That is what you are doing.”
Moderator: “Now, I do not know if we have gotten any smarter, but thanks for coming.”
That got just a little heated there at the end of the program, didn’t it? Not surprisingly, there were split opinions from the pro-LCHF community about Dr. Dahlqvist’s performance whether it did more harm than good when she made such an incendiary comment like if people “eat the way Dr. Rosenberg says, then they’ll die.” My impression was that she did an outstanding job articulating the message that saturated fat is not as harmful as we have been led to believe. I sent an e-mail to Dr. Dahlqvist thanking her for being such a strong proponent of the LCHF lifestyle and she acknowledged the controversy about her appearance.
“Unfortunately I have a lot of critics, mostly low-carbers, who thought that I was too aggressive. It’s never easy to be ‘good enough,'” she responded in an e-mail.
I asked her why she believed there has been so much criticism from people on her side.
“I said that people would die if they ate the foods that the low-fat establishment recommends,” Dr. Dahlqvist shared. “Some of the low-carbers considered this an exaggeration. But I think it is a realistic threat.”
No doubt, she now feels torn about her performance in this debate because of all the criticism from the people who are supposed to be on her side. Dr. Dahlqvist is THE face of LCHF in Sweden, so the disappointment people have been expressing to her has to be discouraging. One of my Swedish blogging friends explained that Swedish culture mandates that people act modest and polite in public settings, especially when appearing on television. So when Dr. Dahlqvist noted that people would “die” eating a low-fat, high-carb diet, it was a bit “politically incorrect.”
As an American supporting a high-fat, low-carb nutritional approach to health, though, I didn’t see anything wrong with what she had to say because she merely pointed out the proven facts that are already out there and articulated them in such a way that anyone who was listening to her would understand. This idea that carbohydrate consumption can lead to death is not unprecedented in the United States–remember Dr. James E. Carlson’s 2008 book release Genocide: How Your Doctor’s Dietary Ignorance Will Kill You? Pretty hard-hitting stuff! And there’s another book out by Dr. Robert Su entitled Carbohydrates Can Kill that pretty much makes the same argument that Dr. Dahlqvist did in this television appearance. In other words, we need MORE people willing to talk like this if we are ever going to make a dent in the hearts and minds of those who need to hear this message the most.
To that end, I say KUDOS TO YOU, Dr. Annika Dahlqvist. You are a low-carb hero in my book and I urge you to keep shouting it from the mountaintops what an amazing way of eating this high-fat, low-carb diet really is. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could get some of the heavy hitters in the low-carb world in the United States of America to appear on the Today show or Good Morning America to debate the issue of saturated fat? I assure you, the gloves would come off and happily so because this open conversation is long overdue. Sweden is still leading the charge and I’m proud of leaders like Dr. Dahlqvist and Dr. Eenfeldt for standing up for what is right.
Share your reaction to how Dr. Dahlqvist handled herself in the televised debate last week by leaving a comment below. Do you think she was too aggressive as some LCHF supporters in Sweden have contended or was the way she described things accurate? Tell us what YOU think about what’s going on with our Swedish low-carb friends.