Carbs, Fat, Sugar, & All That Jazz: A Willett Lecture

I Could Not Believe It

A friend posted a short YouTube clip on Facebook of an answer in response to someone in the audience that one may think was taken out of context. So I asked for the link to the full video, which you find here, only be warned that it took me two days to actually be able to watch this video. I suppose after the short clip the whole world went to watch the video and the NIH website went down as a result. Because of this, I uploaded the video here and added a few comics and emojis starting at about 49-minutes where the question/answer period is:

I watched the video now at least 3 times because I still can’t believe what I am watching and hearing.

So let’s back up: Who is Dr. Walter Willett? And why do we care?

Who is Dr. Walter Willett

He is the Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and was the chair of its department of nutrition from 1991 to 2017. His work is extremely controversial among many nutritionists, metabolic researchers, and other scientist whose research connects to nutrition in any way, like mine is.

Some of his most controversial academic involvements have placed him into the category as the leader of the movement against low carbohydrates diet, like in this Lancet article in 2018, to which I published a commentary in the same journal, along with several like-minded scientists, mine you can find here and a more in-depth critique you can read here. Willett is also one of the driving forces behind the Eat Lancet Commission, on which I have written previously here.

I have also taken the nutrition course offered to professionals by Willett and two colleagues and discussed my feelings about that course here.

Angela A Stanton, PhD--Certificate of Completion

Angela A Stanton, PhD–Certificate of Completion

My prime observation about Dr. Willett has been based on these experiences. To sum it up in a few bullet points, he is:

  • Against meat
  • Against low carbs
  • Supports most the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle
  • Supports vegetable and seed oils, particularly soy oil
  • Suggests that omega 6 oil is the only fatty acid we need
  • Supports a very high carbohydrate diet

In general, most of his papers and lectures have always been around:

  • Low fat diet is heart protective
  • Low fat diets support weight reduction more than low carbohydrate diets do
  • Low fat high carbohydrate diets are heart protective
  • Vegetable oils are the most heart protective
  • Saturated fats are the worst thing on the planet
  • Red meat is evil
  • High whole grain diet is the healthiest and most heart protective
  • Fat (the consumption of fat) is fattening
  • Carbs are not fattening

The Video Presentation

Alfatoxin

Prior to this presentation I have never heard of alfatoxins. Willett commented that we should all “avoid alfatoxins in our diet”. I knew nothing about alfatoxins so I looked up what they are:

“Aflatoxin is found in a wide range of tropical or subtropical food commodities peanuts in particular. Other food commodities include corn, figs, nuts and cereals. The contaminated foods reported to be associated with aflatoxin in Asian region include maize, peanuts, rice, and other oil products.” (here)

Amazing. He suggests avoiding alfatoxins because of its toxicity, yet everything he recommends eating—corn, cereals (whole grains), rice, vegetable and seed oils and high carbohydrate foods that include peanuts, nuts, figs, and other tropical and subtropical carbohydrates—are full of alfatoxins.

Folate

Dr. Willett used folic acid and folate interchangeably, as if the two were identical. Folate is a generic term for a family of compounds, which includes folic acid as well as  folinic acid and methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF)–often referred to as methylfolate.

“Folic acid is the synthetic, parent compound of this family. It is an oxidized synthetic water-soluble member of the vitamin-B complex family which does not exist in nature” (here)

It is also important to note that how each progresses to methylfolate in our body (the form humans can use) is not the same. For those with reduced methylation ability, folic acid causes a methylation challenge and, if so desired, usually supplement folate in a methylated form. The inability to methylate can cause major problems for these people with food fortification with folic acid for the general population. Nearly every processed food is enriched with folic acid, the synthetic form.

Dr. Willett suggests that those with homozygous variants (SNPs) for the MTHFR gene (a variant that, if active, can reduce folate methylation ability by up to 70%) have reduced rates of cancer. This is particularly pronounced in the case of prostate cancer. Meaning: the inability to methylate folate is beneficial for health in this case. This suggests that less folic acid is better for some populations. If less folic acid is better, why is the government mandating the fortification of everything with folic acid? Pregnant women, or those wishing to be pregnant, are also placed on supplements containing folic acid. This then places a large percent of the population at risk from folic acid fortification.

What’s with the Seventh-day Adventists?

Another interesting point that grabbed my attention is that several of his conclusions were derived from Seventh-day Adventist studies! Why those and not other studies? He used them as a “conclusion” in many areas as if the last word must come from that sector of religion in nutrition science. Of course, if you dig deeper a bit, you will find that the entire movement against meat consumption and the encouragement of vegetarianism and veganism, even in the US Dietary guidelines, is influenced by (in fact, was started by) the Seventh-day Adventists. Read the history of nutrition science here.

The Willett Video by Sections

So here comes this video, which is from 2012, so not new, only it was well hidden! In this video, you will meet a terribly misleading Willett. One who says one thing in one sentence and then straight the opposite in another sentence, only you need to listen really carefully. His annunciation is terrible and he has incomplete and grammatically ill-formed sentences that can easily be misunderstood! If you don’t pay full attention, the last impression this talk leaves behind–without the question/answer period at the end–is that low-fat, high carbohydrates, and a lot of whole grains are what you should be consuming for good health. Yet, if you listen to the details with great care, you will see and hear that the presentation actually proves the opposite, that low-fat, high carbohydrate, and whole grains are dangerous for your health. Some details to pay attention to:

  • Low-fat diets have never worked for weight loss.

While showing slide after slide how low-fat diets have never worked, he concludes that one needs to follow a low-fat diet.

  • Low-fat diets are associated with an increase of cancer rates.

While showing slide after slide that low-fat diets not only don’t reduce cancer rates but there appears to be an inverse relationship–meaning the lower the fat the more cancer cases are associated with it–he concludes that a reduced fat diet is what one should follow.

  • Research has never shown that low-fat diets benefited weight loss or heart health.

He shows slide after slide that low-fat diets benefit nothing, yet at the end he suggests that one should consume a low-fat diet.

At the end of the lecture there was a short 5-minute Q/A period about the benefits or harms associated with various fat and carbohydrate levels. One person noticed the conflict in Willett’s general discussions/papers of the past and what the slides were showing, and he put Willett to the test with three awesome questions. This is where the most amazing part of the video starts. This is where Willett makes huge points of information you have never ever heard Willett say or write before:

  • The consumption of fat is not fattening.
  • Carbohydrates are inherently fattening.
  • Every farmer will tell you that feeding grains to farm animals will make them fat.
  • Sugar (carbohydrate) consumption and high blood glucose are independent.

Throughout his career he has been pushing very low dietary fat, very high carbohydrate, and high levels of whole grain diets to all. His presentation in this video was so incredibly confused that I decided to create a transcript of the answers Willett gave to one person’s three questions on fat, carbohydrates, and wine. The transcript covers the very last few minutes (starting at about 49:30 minute):

In response to a question on fat:

“There had been part of a belief that fat in the diet is what makes you fat and I even had colleagues who said that you can’t get fat eating carbohydrates because the body can’t convert carbohydrates to fat. I grew up in Michigan in a rural community and I can tell you that farmers have known for thousands of years if you want to fatten an animal a lot, what you feed them is grains, high carbohydrate diets, and you put them in a pen so they don’t run around and they get fat very predictably… most recent literature showed very clearly, you can really do randomized trials looking at weight change because you need just a hundred or few hundred people and you don’t need decades; you need a year or two and it’s very clear from those randomized trials that low-fat diets…ummm… fat is really not determinant of body weight. The percentage of calories from fat in the diet is not a determinant. In fact, lot of evidence suggesting it is easier for many people to get fat on a low-fat high carbohydrate diets. If anything, that’s what the literature is suggesting. So, it is interesting that fat in the diet just has almost nothing to do with fat in the body. We can get very fat on just lots and lots of carbohydrates.”

In response to a question on sugar:

“So the sugar hypothesis; we’ve looked at that, and other people… and there is no strong suggestion that sugar, per se, in the diet’s specifically related to cancer incidents. Of course, high blood glucose, those are not really much related to sugar in the diet. Again it is very much not connected. We get most large part of our sugar from starch actually and the blood sugar which may contribute to cancer; cancer is mostly determined by our degree of insulin resistance, not by what we are eating necessarily…”

In response to the benefits or hazards associated with red wine:

“The idea that red wine is beneficial is French propaganda machine. Particularly the case has been made that it’s particularly beneficial for cardiovascular disease, but that’s been looked at really thoroughly… it is really the alcohol that is beneficial for heart disease and diabetes but for cancer, alcohol… again, it looks like it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from, we looked at this, from red wine, white wine, distilled beverages, or beer, those are all similarly related to breast cancer and other cancers. So really, it’s the alcohol per se. And the studies that have been done in resveratrol in some animal models which is reported the beneficial factor in wine; The doses we get from a couple of glasses of red wine are really minor compared to what they have been using in those studies. You’d have to drink a couple of gallons a day to get to those kinds of levels.”

Really Dr. Willett?

In conclusion, the silliness is as follows:

  1. The body can’t convert carbohydrates to fat (uummm… no… the body converts carbohydrates to fat continuously–triglycerides to be precise. This has been known for a very long time… here is an article from 1970)
  2. Farmers have known for thousands of years if you want to fatten an animal a lot, what you feed them is grains, high carbohydrate diets, and you put them in a pen so they don’t run around and they get fat very predictably” (Perhaps this is why the RDA is so high in the Standard American Diet for carbohydrates; it is 60%. This is great, everyone in the US will become fattened like farm animals. This allows for lots of money to come in from healthcare! Yippy!)
  3. Fat [consumption] is really not determinant of body weight (there is research showing both that it does and also that is doesn’t. It matters, of course, what the fat is consumed with. Looking at fat-consumption alone, it truly is not a determinant of body weight.)
  4. Lots of evidence suggesting it is easier for many people to get fat on a low-fat high carbohydrate diets (OMG so true! Yet in all of Willett’s work, he always wrote the opposite in published articles!!)
  5. We can get very fat on just lots and lots of carbohydrates (yep! Right on! The 60% of calories from carbohydrates diet recommendation by the USDA and Willett makes everyone fat.)
  6. High blood glucose not really much related to sugar in the diet (Excuse me??? Is this real? Dr. Willett, your own employer disagrees with you, see here.)

Comments are welcome, as always, and are moderated for appropriateness

Angela

About Angela A Stanton, Ph.D.

Angela A Stanton, PhD, is a Neuroeconomist focusing on chronic pain--migraine in particular--physiology, electrolyte homeostasis, nutrition, and genetics. She lives in Southern California. Her current research is focused on migraine cause, prevention, and treatment without the use of medicine. As a forever migraineur from childhood, her discovery was helped by experimenting on herself. She found the cause of migraine to be at the ionic level, associated with disruption of the electrolyte homeostasis, resulting from genetic variations of all voltage dependent channels, gates, and pumps (chanelopathy) that modulate electrolyte mineral density and voltage in the brain. In addition, insulin and glucose transporters, and several other variants, such as MTHFR variants of B vitamin methylation process and many others are different in the case of a migraineur from the general population. Migraineurs are glucose sensitive (carbohydrate intolerant) and should avoid eating carbs as much as possible. She is working on her hypothesis that migraine is a metabolic disease. As a result of the success of the first edition of her book and her helping over 5000 migraineurs successfully prevent their migraines world wide, all ages and both genders, and all types of migraines, she published the 2nd (extended) edition of her migraine book "Fighting The Migraine Epidemic: Complete Guide: How To Treat & Prevent Migraines Without Medications". The 2nd edition is the “holy grail” of migraine cause, development, and prevention, incorporating all there is to know. It includes a long section for medical and research professionals. The book is full of academic citations (over 800) to authenticate the statements she makes to make it easy to follow up by those interested and to spark further research interest. It is a "Complete Guide", published on September 29, 2017. Dr. Stanton received her BSc at UCLA in Mathematics, MBA at UCR, MS in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, PhD in Economics with dissertation in neuroscience (culminating in Neuroeconomics) at Claremont Graduate University, fMRI certification at Harvard University Medical School at the Martinos Center for Neuroimaging for experimenting with neurotransmitters on human volunteers, certification in LCHF/ketogenic diet from NN (Nutrition Network), certification in physiology (UPEN via Coursea), Nutrition (Harvard Shool of Public Health) and functional medicine studies. Dr. Stanton is an avid sports fan, currently power weight lifting and kickboxing. For relaxation (yeah.. about a half minute each day), she paints and photographs and loves to spend time with her family of husband of 45 years, 2 sons and their wives, and 2 granddaughters. Follow her on Twitter at: @MigraineBook, LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angelaastantonphd/ and facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DrAngelaAStanton/
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1 Response to Carbs, Fat, Sugar, & All That Jazz: A Willett Lecture

  1. Pingback: Where is the Beef? The 6 Papers That Turned the World Up-Side-Down | About Clueless Doctors & Scientists

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