BY EXTENSION: Have nutritionists gotten it wrong on fats and carbs?

by Jessica Linnell, PhD, Assistant Professor (Practice), Family & Community Health, OSU Extension
Have you ever wondered, “Why do nutrition scientists change their minds so much?” One that comes to mind is that eggs were good for us, then they were bad for us, and now they are good again. Now the latest apparent flip-flop is that fats were bad and now they are good.
Recently, news headlines across the country suggested everything we know about nutrition is wrong because of the findings of recent research. Some headlines read: “Huge new study casts doubt on conventional wisdom about fat and carbs,” and “New Study suggests it’s Carbs, Not Fats that are your Worst Enemy.”*

What did the study find?
This study, called the Prospective Urban Rural epidemiology (PURE) study, followed 135,335 individuals, asked them what they typically eat, and collected information about cardiovascular events like heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality.

Here’s what they found:
• High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality.
• Total fat and individual types of fat (saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated) was associated with lower risk of total mortality.
• Total fat and individual types of fat (saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated) was not associated with cardiovascular disease.
Have nutritionists been getting it wrong?
The simple answer is no. In reality, those headlines are meant to grab your attention. Sometimes authors unintentionally misrepresent scientific findings in an effort to entice you to read their article. While the findings of the PURE study are adding some interesting new evidence to the breadth of nutrition science and inspiring some debate among researchers, the overall findings are consistent with what we understand about healthy eating patterns. That includes that eating too many carbohydrates is not good for us, and we do need fat in our diet to be healthy.
What should I eat?
The current recommendations, published at ChooseMyPlate.gov are based on the results from numerous studies that consistently show that a healthy eating pattern is:
• High in fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole-grains, and a variety of protein foods (meat, seafood, nuts, beans, and eggs); and
• Low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium; and
• The appropriate amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight.
These recommendations are neither glamourous nor sensational, but are based on what is currently understood by nutrition scientists that have reviewed thousands and thousands of studies to determine what foods we should eat to get the nutrients we need to grow well and stay healthy.
Every five years, the nutrition scientists from across the United States get together to review the newest studies and update the recommendations. The next update is set to come out in 2020.
When looking for nutrition info, cross-reference and check the source.
Remember that food companies, book authors, and magazines are trying to sell their products to you. Even if authors are well intentioned, sometimes their information can be misleading. When you read sensational headlines about what to eat or what not to eat, compare it to the science-based MyPlate recommendations, and always check the source.
Look for articles by experts in nutrition science who have appropriate credentials, like a Registered Dietitian or someone that has a PhD in nutrition science. In addition to MyPlate, great sources of nutrition information include EatRight.org, Oregon State University Moore Family Center Blog, and Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council.
Want to read other view points about the PURE study?
Check out these articles by Harvard School of Public Health, James Hamblin, MD, Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, and David Katz, MD, MPH.
Photo credit: Tiffany Woods, OSU EESC & Stephen Ward

By Extension, Your Connection to the Programs, People, and Publications from OSU Extension Tillamook County
Seeking Answers?
Submit your questions to so we can write about what about what matters to you.
Join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter
Find us on the web.

*Resources:
“Huge new study casts doubt on conventional wisdom about fat and carbs,” https://www.statnews.com/2017/08/29/fat-nutrition-study/
“New Study suggests it’s Carbs, Not Fats that are your Worst Enemy” https://www.ketovale.com/its-carbs-not-fats-that-are-your-worst-enemy/
Choosemyplate.gov https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate