Adele Hite, Nina Teicholz, and Logical Fallacies

Introduction

Some weeks ago I got a call from a reporter.1 This reporter had just attended an event called “Politics of the Plate: The Evolution of American Food Policy” presented by Real Clear Politics that included Nina Teicholz and Adele Hite. You can view the event below, but the gist of the event was that the US government’s nutrition policy is bad, it has been based on bad science for years, it advocates a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet, is anti-fat, and has contributed to the rise in obesity and many chronic diseases we see today.

According to this reporter, the event was compelling enough that he or she wanted to write a piece on it and kind of examine the merits of our nutrition recommendations.2 I was told the piece would be published about a week after our conversation, but as of this writing many weeks later it has not come out. Perhaps I was successful in convincing the reporter that Teicholz and Hite did not know what they were talking about. Or maybe the senior editor of the news outlet didn’t feel it was something that needed to be published. I don’t know. But what I’d like to do here is give something of an expanded version of what I told the reporter.

[Link to the video on Real Clear Politics]

False Dichotomies

I’m going to get into the merits of the arguments in a moment, but before I do I would like to spend several paragraphs on one logical fallacy I have encountered often when I engage the work of popular low-carb authors and increasingly when the more zealous low-carb adherents engage with me: the false dichotomy.

One employs the false dichotomy when there is little evidence for their position, but there is another position for which there is even less evidence (or there is good evidence against the other position). If the charlatan can convince their audience that these are the only two positions available then their job becomes much easier. All they need to do is poke some holes in the opposing position, and then the charlatan’s position is accepted by default – the charlatan doesn’t even need to provide positive evidence for their own position. In other words, reduce the spectrum of positions, of which there may be countless, to only two, and make sure the opposing position is a rather weak one.

Okay, that last paragraph was perhaps too abstract. Let’s talk about something more concrete. What I see very, very often among proponents of low-carb diets is that there are essentially only two diets out there to follow: the low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or the high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet. When low-carbers are asked why one should follow a low-carbohydrate diet, often they begin by telling you that a low-fat diet is bad. Nina Teicholz does this in her recent book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. You might think that the book is a collection of evidence for butter, meat, and cheese being healthy, but it is not. The bulk of the book is dedicated to pointing out how and why a low-fat diet might not be healthy. Very little ink in the book is actually dedicated to making the case for butter, meat, and cheese.

This is actually a pretty smart move on her part, since not a lot of evidence exists that butter, meat, and cheese are healthy. So instead of trying to show legitimate evidence in favor of her position, she reduces the spectrum of diets in the world to essentially low-fat or low-carb and pokes holes in the low-fat diet, hoping her readers accept her low-carb position by default.3

This logical fallacy is also used by the young-earth creationist community. If you follow that issue at all you will notice that the cornerstone of the creationists’ argument is not “Let me present all the scientific evidence suggesting that our deity created life and the universe…” But rather their argument is “Here are some possible inconsistencies with evolution by natural selection…” Now of course creationists can try to poke all the holes they want in evolution, but doing this does not make the scientific case for why young-earth creationism is true. They still have all their work ahead of them.

FalseDilemma

I feel like I need a picture to break up the wall of text.

 

Teicholz also employs this tactic when trying to create a bizarre crusade against the USDA. For decades official dietary guidelines have consistently recommended a diet that is 1/3rd fat. A diet that includes ~33% calories from fat may not be considered a high-fat diet, but nobody in their right mind would call this a low-fat diet. No one, that is, except for hyper-dogmatic low-carb proponents like Teicholz. You see, since there are only two diets in existence, and the USDA does not recommend a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet, it must therefore be recommending a low-fat diet.

Although this kind of argumentation is clearly based on flawed reasoning it seems to be quite effective at both convincing the less-skeptical among the audience and at rallying the troops for the ridiculous anti-government crusade du jour. I have criticized false and misleading statements by low-carbohydrate proponents like Teicholz and Taubes on this website, and I have also made evidence-based criticisms other places online such as Reddit. I am always accused of both following and promoting a low-fat diet.4 It never fails. Nevermind that there is no evidence of this promotion because I have never advocated such a diet; if I point out dishonesty by low-carbers then I must follow a low-fat diet. There is no alternative.

For those too busy to read the long-winded explanation above, I will sum it up as I did in an earlier post: Many LCHF proponents reduce the multiplicity of diets that exist in the world to a low-fat or high-fat dyad. This is overly-simplistic and creates a false dichotomy, which only benefits people interested in deception.

Adele Hite Wants to Change the Dietary Guidelines

If you watched the above video, you’ll notice that Adele Hite is not a big fan of the dietary guidelines. She blames the guidelines for the rise in obesity over the last several years as well as a major contributor to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. She has written a manifesto on her website, complete with a letter-writing campaign where you can print a pre-written letter by Hite and send it to the USDA.

In Hite’s blog post she says the letter “is not a call for low-carb, high-fat dietary recommendations,” but it kind of is. She criticizes what she says are plant-based recommendations, and lists a series of “specific recommendations” that she takes issue with because they are apparently anti-fat and too focused on carbohydrates. By the way, I’m pretty sure these “specific recommendations” are straw men (another logical fallacy!), because I can’t find them anywhere in the full 95-page document of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At least not in the specific wording she uses.

As an aside, I doubt very highly that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have any meaningful influence over our food consumption. I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but neither do I think Hite or Teicholz have any evidence to the contrary. I bet you dollars to donuts that you could do a man-on-the-street style interview and grab 100 random people and ask them questions about the dietary guidelines like

  • According to the Dietary Guideline for Americans, how much folic acid should a woman who wishes to become pregnant consume daily? Answer in micrograms, please.
  • According to the Dietary Guideline for Americans, persons aged 51 years or older should consume no more than how many milligrams of sodium per day?
  • According to the Dietary Guideline for Americans, pregnant or breast-feeding women should consume seafood ranging from ______ oz to ______ oz per week?

…and NONE of them would know the answers. I bet you could even repeat the experiment with actual medical doctors and you wouldn’t do much better. Besides most of the guidelines are so freaking vanilla that I have a hard time understanding why anyone would be against them? Who could possibly be against recommending a variety of vegetables? Who could be against recommending physical activity? Only people with personality disorders that need attention.

In the video Teicholz says that the guidelines are aggressively influential and she makes ridiculous claims like the NSF and the NIH will only fund research that conforms to the guidelines, ALL nutritionists must conform to the guidelines, ALL doctors must use the guidelines to educate their patients, ALL the Health and Human Services programs are required to abide by the guidelines, school lunch programs must conform to the guidelines… methinks there is a teensy bit of exaggeration going on. I could explain why these claims are ridiculous, but this post is long enough as it is.

 

Apparently this plate is the worst thing to happen to public health since the cigarette.

Apparently this plate is the worst thing to happen to public health since cigarettes.

In any case, Hite makes some claims in her manifesto that have actual citations. If you are a follower of the blog you know how much I love citations. Let’s dive in!

The DGA have contributed to the rapid rise of chronic disease in America.

In 1977, dietary recommendations (called Dietary Goals) created by George McGovern’s Senate Select Committee advised that, in order to reduce risk of chronic disease, Americans should decrease their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products and increase their consumption of grains, cereal products, and vegetable oils. These Goals were institutionalized as the DGA in 1980, and all DGA since then have asserted this same guidance. During this time period, the prevalence of heart failure and stroke has increased dramatically. Rates of new cases of all cancers have risen. Most notably, rates of diabetes have tripled. In addition, although body weight is not itself a measure of health, rates of overweight and obesity have increased dramatically. In all cases, the health divide between black and white Americans has persisted or worsened.

obesity-trends-cdc-2009-chartbook

From the video

 

Right off the bat, before we even check any sources, Hite is shown to be a hypocrite. How? I’ll tell you. Hite discusses supposed increases in chronic disease since the DGA have been introduced, arguing that “the DGA have contributed to the rapid rise of chronic disease in America.” She also makes this same case in the video with the fancy graph she had made at Kinkos. To break this down a bit: Event happened (dietary guidelines); then some other things happened (increased disease, allegedly); therefore the event caused the things.5 In case you can’t tell this is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Some might know it better as “correlation does not equal causation.” Its use is often criticized by people who know the difference between spurious correlations and causes. People like Adele Hite.

Now let’s get into the claims and the evidence. Since the DGAs were introduced…

Claim: The prevalence of heart failure and stroke has increased dramatically.

Facts: Hite cites the Morbidity and Mortality: 2007 Chart Book on Cardiovascular, Lung, and Blood Diseases. Don’t know why she doesn’t cite the more up-to-date 2012 chart book, but it’s the one I’m going to use. According to the report, heart failure has pretty much stayed constant since the 1980s, with a slight increase for blacks over the years. She is right about stroke, though, at least partly. Prevalence of stroke rose quite a bit up until 2008 when it started declining. But there’s a lot of data in the chartbook that was not mentioned. Why? Because it doesn’t fit nicely into the story Hite is trying to craft. For example:

  • The death rates for cardiovascular disease have dropped precipitously since 1980. [chart]
  • The death rates for stroke have fallen since 1980. [chart]
  • Age-adjusted death rates for coronary heart disease have plunged. [chart] This remains true even when stratifying by race. [chart] [chart]
  • Hospital case-fatality rates for acute myocardial infarction have plummeted. [chart]
  • Hospital case-fatality rates for heart failure have dropped like crazy. [chart]
  • Hospital case-fatality rates for stroke have sunk dramatically. [chart]
  • Age-adjusted death rates for stroke have cratered. [chart] Again, this remains true when stratifying by race. [chart] [chart]

Now if Hite wants to blame the DGAs for an increase in stroke prevalence (which she has no business doing in the first place, considering the evidence) then she must also say that the above improvements are also due to the DGAs.

Claim: Rates of new cases of all cancers have risen.

Facts: Her evidence for this is a decade-old publication on cancer statistics.6 The way Hite words that claim you might think each subgroup of cancer (lung, brain, colorectal, ovarian, etc.) have all risen, but this is not the case. Incidence of most cancers has dropped, but if you average all the cancer incidence over the past several years they have risen very slightly as a whole. It seems that the substantial increase in lung cancers skews the average upward. Although, if you look at cancer death rates they have all decreased slightly. Technically correct, but potentially misleading.

Claim: Rates of diabetes have tripled.

Facts: According to the cited source, the total number of persons with diabetes has tripled – not the rate.7 Technically incorrect, but I’ll let this one slide.

Claim: Rates of overweight and obesity have increased dramatically.

Facts: Absolutely true.8 Well, at least obesity rates have increased dramatically. Overweight actually has remained pretty stable through the years.

Claim: All available data show Americans have shifted their diets in the direction of the recommendations.

Facts: This is a juicy one that needs unpacking. This is kinda something that has been batted about on all sides of the nutrition spectrum for several years. Hite cites another old statistics report based on self-reported dietary intakes from 1971-2000.9 Here’s the low-down on that and similar reports: Since 1971 (and even earlier, I’m sure) Americans have been steadily eating more daily calories. In terms of macronutrients we have been eating more of everything. More CHOs, more protein, more fat.10 Thing is we have increased our CHO intake more than we have increased our fat and protein intake, which means that if you look at the relative changes in macronutrient intake we will have narrowly increased our percentage of calories from carbohydrate, and narrowly decreased our percentage of calories from fat and protein. Then what happens is people like Teicholz, Hite, and anyone else with a moneyed agenda claim that the DGAs forced Americans on a low-fat diet which has caused a rise in obesity, diabetes, and all that which is extraordinarily misleading because TOTAL FAT ACTUALLY INCREASED & TOTAL CALORIES INCREASED. This highly relevant context is left out to hornswoggle an unskeptical audience. Don’t be deceived.

Claim: Current choline intakes are far below adequate levels, and choline deficiency is thought to contribute to liver disease, atherosclerosis and neurological disorders. Eggs and meat, two foods restricted by current DGA recommendations, are important sources of choline. Guidance that limits their consumption thus restricts intake of adequate choline.

Facts: Almost entirely false. The source for this claim is a review article on choline.11 An article funded by the American Egg Board if you were curious. The article kinda says that intakes among women are suboptimal. According to the paper the Nurses Health cohort has intakes of about 411 mg/day which is not quite the recommended 450 mg/day. But the eggs and meat statement is preposterous on two levels. One, the current DGAs don’t restrict eggs or meat. In fact they explicitly recommend an increase in egg consumption and lean meat consumption. Secondly, choline is widely available in plant foods as well. In fact the article mentions soy flour as having one of the highest concentrations of choline, along with quinoa and wheat germ.

Claim: In young children, the reduced fat diet recommend by the DGA has also been linked to lower intakes of a number of important essential nutrients, including calcium, zinc, and iron.

Facts: Again, the DGAs do not recommend a reduced fat diet, unless your idea of “reduced fat” is simply “not extremely high in fat.” Further, the study she cites for this claim actually makes the case that lower fat diets are actually healthy for children! From the conclusion: “Lower fat intakes during puberty are nutritionally adequate for growth and for maintenance of normal levels of nutritional biochemical measures, and are associated with beneficial effects on blood folate and hemoglobin.”

Claim: DGA guidance rejects foods that are part of the cultural heritage of many Americans and indicates that traditional foods long considered to be important to a nourishing diet should be modified, restricted, or eliminated altogether: ghee (clarified butter) for Indian Americans; chorizo and eggs for Latino Americans; greens with fatback for Southern and African Americans; liver pâtés for Jewish and Eastern European Americans.

Facts: Nope. At least not explicitly.

Claim: Recommendations to prevent chronic disease that focus solely on plant-based diets is a blatant misuse of public health authority that has stymied efforts of researchers, academics, healthcare professionals, and insurance companies to pursue other dietary approaches adapted to specific individuals and diverse populations, specifically, the treatment of diabetes with reduced-carbohydrate diets that do not restrict saturated fat. In contradiction of federal law, the DGA have had the effect of limiting the scope of medical nutrition research sponsored by the federal government to protocols in line with DGA guidance.

Facts: Nope. At least Hite provides no evidence for these absurd claims. Plus the DGAs even explicitly say that “plant-based sources and/or animal-based sources can be incorporated into a healthy eating pattern.”

Claim: The science behind the current DGA recommendations is untested and inconsistent. Scientific disagreements over the weakness of the evidence used to create the 1977 Dietary Goals have never been settled. Recent published accounts have raised questions about whether the scientific process has been undermined by politics, bias, institutional inertia, and the influence of interested industries.

Facts: For fuck’s sake. Here Hite cites Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories and Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise. How many times must we revisit the lies??

Claim: Two recent meta-analyses concluded there is no strong scientific support for dietary recommendations that restrict saturated fat.

Facts: Actually the only one of the two cited studies is a meta-analysis; the other is a review article.12,13 The meta-analysis has been widely misinterpreted to suggest that saturated fatty acids are harmless, but that’s not the case. As we all know some saturated fatty acids are basically benign, like those found in coconut and other tropical oils. Typically the short and medium chain fatty acids. But the data from that paper show that the longer chain fatty acids definitely increase the risk of heart disease, especially stearic and palmitic acids which are the most abundant in animal fats. http://i.imgur.com/H72g1eP.png The only one that appears to decrease risk is margaric acid, a synthetic fat found in margarine. Even when you pool all the saturated fatty acids the net effect is an increased risk of heart disease, although a modest one. All the polyunsaturates, however, were shown to decrease risk of heart disease: http://i.imgur.com/e7lJ6PL.png http://i.imgur.com/YfC1qMx.png

The review article also gets misinterpreted, willfully it seems. It states that replacing saturated fatty acids in the diet with polyunsaturated fats has been conclusively shown to reduce the risks of CVD. It also says replacing saturated fats with carbohydrate offers no real benefit. However, low-carbers like Hite and Teicholz take that last result and make the leap to “saturated fats are good” or “restricting saturated fat is bad.” It is truly deceitful.

Claim: Federal dietary guidance now goes far beyond nutrition information. It tells Americans how much they should weigh and how to lose weight, even recommending that each American write down everything that is eaten on a daily basis.

My sarcastic response: How dare they?? This is clearly an attack. The horror… The horror…

Claim: This focus on obesity and weight loss has contributed to extensive and unrecognized “collateral damage”: fat-shaming, eating disorders, discrimination, and poor health from restrictive food habits.

My response: The government is responsible for fat-shaming now? The USDA caused eating disorders and discrimination because they recommended incorporating more fruits and vegetables? I can’t imagine that demonizing carbohydrates and vegetable oils would cause any kind of eating disorders, though.

At the end of the letter Hite ends with such vague and nonspecific recommendations that no matter what the committee actually decides you would have real difficulty making the case that Hite’s precepts were not followed. Seriously… have the recommendations apply to all Americans; expand nutrition research; include traditionally nourishing foods; are directed towards health and well being; are clear, concise, and useful… I mean, unless the committee recommends a diet of used tires and uranium and does so in an 800 page report written in pig latin, I imagine Hite will have difficulty proving that the USDA did not do just as she instructed.

Conclusion

There may indeed be a case for modifying the current dietary guidelines, but Hite and Teicholz make a bad case based on logical fallacies and the willful misinterpretation of nutrition science. Let’s hope that the people tasked with actually creating these recommendations rely on evidence instead of nonsense.

 cloud

1. A reporter, by the way, that writes for a legitimate news publication. It wasn’t like Bubba’s Food Blog or anything.

2. I’m keeping the identity of the reporter vague for a couple reasons. First, on the off-chance that he or she still is planning on publishing something I don’t want to scoop them. Secondly, I know from firsthand experience and secondhand knowledge that the more zealous of the low-carb bunch can be rather cruel, and I wouldn’t want the reporter to experience any of that just for speaking to me.

3. She also hopes her readers will assume that a low carbohydrate diet necessarily means a diet high in butter, meat, and cheese, even though the few studies she cites in favor of a low carb diet often use vegetarian sources of protein and plant-based fats in the low-carbohydrate groups.

4. Amusingly, very often I also get accused of being brainwashed by the government and/or being a paid shill for Big Vegetable. I wish I was kidding.

5. In case you want to argue semantics with me and say some crap like ‘she said CONTRIBUTED not caused,’ then I say that’s a distinction without much of a difference. Webster defines contribute as ‘to help to cause something to happen.’

6. Jemal, A. et al. Cancer Statistics, 2005. CA. Cancer J. Clin. 55, 10–30 (2005).

7. CDC – Number of Persons – Diagnosed Diabetes – Data & Trends – Diabetes DDT. at <http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/prev/national/figpersons.htm>

8. Products – Health E Stats – Overweight, Obesity, and Extreme Obesity Among Adults 2007-2008. at <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_adult_07_08/obesity_adult_07_08.htm>

9. Wright, J., Kennedy-Stephenson, J., Wang, C., McDowell, M. & Johnson, C. Trends in Intake of Energy and Macronutrients — United States, 1971–2000. (National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, 2004). at <http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5304a3.htm>

10. Ford, E. S. & Dietz, W. H. Trends in energy intake among adults in the United States: findings from NHANES. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 97, 848–853 (2013).

11. Zeisel, S. H. & da Costa, K.-A. Choline: An Essential Nutrient for Public Health. Nutr. Rev. 67, 615–623 (2009).

12. Siri-Tarino, P. W., Sun, Q., Hu, F. B. & Krauss, R. M. Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 91, 502–509 (2010).

13. Chowdhury, R. et al. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann. Intern. Med. 160, 398–406 (2014).

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37 thoughts on “Adele Hite, Nina Teicholz, and Logical Fallacies

  1. As far as I know, there is indeed a requirement within HHS that all nutrition recommendations by any NIH or other HHS agencies must be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, and there is a committee that enforces this.

  2. Nice job of analysis! I particularly enjoyed your identification of the different logical fallacies. I really appreciate people such as yourself who take the time to help us disentangle the overheated rhetoric and motivated reasoning of the diet wars.

  3. The false dichotomy technique is powerful. Taubes uses it extensively. Is obesity caused by calories or carbohydrate? Insulin or food reward? The underlying assumption is that obesity is caused by exactly one thing, and therefore if you weaken the alternative you strengthen your own hypothesis. When the assumption is clearly stated, it is obviously absurd, but when it’s not stated a false dichotomy can be a remarkably effective rhetorical sleight of hand.

    • Hi Stephan — much enjoying and learning from your website as well.

      I ran into the use of False Dichotomy recently when I started interacting with followers of Joel Fuhrman’s diet. They kept referring to a false dichotomy between the “MacDonald’s Diet” (lots of high sat fat industrial food) and a Vegan Diet — as if there was no in-between.

      Another fallacy they deployed was a sort of slippery slope argument — 1) It is well established eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health 2) [missing slippery slope premise] 3) You should eat only (or almost only) fruits and vegetables. QED. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope.

      This approach was used to advertise their rather expensive diet program — on the surface promoting reasonable diet changes that we would all agree on but on closer inspection proposing an extreme Vegan diet.

      Identifying the logical fallacies and the flaws in seemingly rational arguments that used to support various diet agenda’s is useful work!

    • Exactly, that was an illuminating example. This very same strategy is used widely (and effectively) in many kinds of diet discussions when you want to get your message through. As if high cholesterol was the only reason for heart attacks. As if phytatic acid was the only regulating factor in determining the mineral status of body when consuming grains or beans.

      • Yep – exactly. It’s annoying that Ezra Klein is promoting this claim.
        BTW, I know people that believe whole grains are the single greatest poison known to man. I guess some people think pink unicorns live on the moon too. Thanks for the link.

    • I can say a few things about the article. 1) This is anecdotal evidence and, as such, does not hold a lot of scientific weight with me (pardon the pun). 2) Many studies have shown that you can effectively lose weight on a low-carb diet, although the weight loss is almost always short-term. When measured for more than a few months the low-carb usually fares about as well as any other weight loss diet. 3) Weight loss, especially when you are overweight or obese, almost always leads to improvements in lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides), insulin sensitivity, etc. Plus I’m sure you look and feel better, too. These improvements will happen whether you lose weight on low-fat, low-carb, Mediterranean, DASH, vegan, or my personal favorite: the Laxatives and Methamphetamine diet.

      As for the surge in articles… If you look over the past few decades you’ll notice that every ten years or so Atkins-style diets gain some mainstream traction. Do you remember a decade ago when everyone was on Atkins? It was THE diet. Arrested Development even did a whole show on it. My guess is that since The Big Fat Surprise is backed by a behemoth of a publishing company, they have publicists that plant stories here and there for promotion, then other news outlets kind of piggyback on the trend. Just my thoughts.

      • Thanks! These articles drive me bonkers. I know someone who tells friends that the higher one’s cholesterol the better, to have a diet of 70% saturated fat, and that fiber is bad for your gut.

        I love your blog – keep the posts coming.

  4. Nina gave a talk at a bookstore, where she mentioned that people were eating more carbs than they were in 70s, before we all became fat. I raised my hand, said we’re eating more of everything, fat consumption didn’t go really go down, we’re eating more fat, but proportionally, more carbs. I got a blank look and a bs response, than makes me think that she doesn’t understand the difference between absolute amounts and percentages. I notice that’s not uncommon amongst people who aren’t STEM, but if one doesn’t understand the concept, one can’t talk science and make sense.

    • Does teicholz even know what nutrient density means? Is she even aware of energy density of proteins, fats, and carbs? Or that brains run on glucose and glucose only?

  5. Hi,

    I want to take a bit different tack. Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier argue in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (http://www.dan.sperber.fr/wp-content/uploads/MercierSperberBBS.pdf) that the major purpose of reason is argumentation – “ to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade”.

    Traditionally reasoning is commonly seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However it has been repeatedly shown that people are prone to “epistemic distortions and poor decisions”.

    “Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias.” (Sperber & Mercier)

    Aristotle distinguished between logic and rhetoric. Logical forms preserve truth. SOUND arguments are VALID (follow logical forms) and have true premises. Sound arguments advance knowledge. Rhetorical arguments aim to persuade. Much of what passes for sound argumentation is actually rhetoric.

    [I hold that if we prefer rational choice making we should prefer sound arguments and beware of rhetorical arguments which appear sound.]

    Humans are great “rationalizers” of their beliefs:

    “How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers, and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners, and deflated soufflés? The answer is simple: We cook the facts.” Gilbert, Daniel (2006-05-02). Stumbling on Happiness (p. 162). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    We have modular brains (and minds):

    “The very constitution of the human mind makes us massively inconsistent. In this book, I try to persuade you that the human mind consists of many, many mental processes—think of them as little programming subroutines, or maybe individual iPhone applications—each operating by its own logic, designed by the inexorable process of natural selection; and, further, that what you think and what you do depends on which process is running the show—your show—at any particular moment.” Kurzban, Robert (2011-01-03). Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind (p. 4). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

    From a biological and evolutionary perspective FOOD and EATING is right up there in the motivational spectrum. And given its deep connection to our reward circuitry it can manipulate our perceptions (and I would argue our motivations — perhaps even our beliefs):

    “Most people do a poor job of reporting what they eat, and overweight people are particularly inaccurate reporters. So much of our eating takes place outside our awareness that it’s easy to underestimate how much food we actually put into our bodies.” David Kessler. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Kindle Locations 167-168). Kindle Edition.

    So what Seth is doing — teasing out the sound arguments from the rhetoric is particularly important when it comes to food — we humans are very prone to distort reality and particularly when it comes to food. We are motivated to justify our sometimes poor choices. Is it really surprising that there is a movement to justify eating lots of MEAT — one of the big four (FAT, SUGAR, SALT, MEAT) that we are evolutionary programmed to seek out and maximize?

    Anyway — the bottom line for me is that I am a calorie (and nutrition) counter (and a Quantified Selfer) — as any engineer will tell you — you can’t control what you don’t measure — but then I am for sure a bit OC.

    Hope this was a bit interesting to you. Sorry for the CAPS — its just for emphasis

  6. False Dichotomies…
    You build your case on that Teicholz states “that there are essentially only two diets out there to follow: the low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or the high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet.” You furthermore say that “the bulk of the book is dedicated to pointing out how and why a low-fat diet might not be healthy. Very little ink in the book is actually dedicated to making the case for butter, meat, and cheese.”

    Did you read the book? She mentions several diets, several cultures with different kind of food intake and clearly states, with lengthy proof thereof, that saturated fatty acids is the best for you heart and arteries.

    You suggest that Teicholz has a moneyed agenda, but when I read your articleit makes me wonder if you have one?

    Ignorant articles like yours makes some people stick to what brought them to the unhealthy state. Hope you sleep well.

  7. Seth, I appreciate your discussion of logical fallacies and pointing out several specific ones. I have a PhD in philosophy and used to teach logic so I recognize all that you mention. People fall into these and similar traps all the time.

    Also appreciate the meticulous detail in your critical reviews.

  8. So what is the point of dietary guidelines that no-one remembers and no-one follows?
    Why not instead have simpler guidelines –

    1) What foods contain the necessary nutrients, and how to prepare them safely

    and leave
    2) the competing hypotheses that might interest you or your doctor in special cases
    to a completely different forum than the DGA?

  9. Recently David Katz, M.D., published an article that is very much in tune with your observations on the false dichotomy fallacy employed by some authors who sucessfully make a fortune out of scandalizing the dietary recommendations and giving people bad (potentially deadly) dietary advice, by practising the arts of cherry picking, rhetoric based on logical fallacies and selective perception and appealing to widespead preconceptions and reactionary sentiments. He truly is a voice of reason, as you are:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/sugar-and-saturated-fat-f_b_8227088.html

  10. Ok, so here’s a twist.

    The French always consumed more wheat than Americans and were always one of the thinnest developed nations on the planet. (Their very recent uptick in overweight incidence may be attributed to smoking cessation laws passed in the late 1990s). But in the US, bread was perceived as fattening even by the 1970s. Note in that link that McGovern was being encouraged by the ADA to reverse declining grain consumption.

    The American Bakers Association pushed McGovern and the FDA to allow “super-enriched” refined grains during the 1970s with high levels of iron (a known oxidant that, in excess, is linked to metabolic issues). Doctors were outraged and the government rescinded the increases after a few years. A few years later the ABA requested to the FDA to reconsider the request for increasing iron and other enrichments. The ABA, to this day, lobbies the government to include more enriched grains in the dietary guidelines.

    Recently, some researchers have noticed that countries that enrich are significantly more likely to become obese and diabetic. These trends not only line up with enrichment policies in developed nations, but also the timing and increases in enrichment policies. Other have even noticed that states that passed fortification laws were more likely to become obese. These cannot be coincidences. And this even explains why the French remain one of the thinnest developed nations despite their higher intake of flour.

    See also: Iron Fortification, Disease, and Obesity: An Update with Data Refinements

    As to why this happens, it appears to be due to a mineral imbalance caused by fortification.

  11. “I doubt very highly that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have any meaningful influence over our food consumption. I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but neither do I think Hite or Teicholz have any evidence to the contrary.”

    From the anti-DGA bloggers I’ve read, school lunches, military food and food stamp supplies, among others, are required to follow the DGA. That sounds like a pretty big influence to me.

    The DGA guidelines get magnified by advertising i.e. advertisers can make claims for products that sound impressive because they appear to follow DGA recommendations. For example, vegetable oils can be advertised as “0% cholesterol”. Since cholesterol is an animal sterol, of course vegetable oil contains 0%. But such advertising does not just promote the advertiser’s product deceptively, it promotes the DGA themselves. In other words, because the source is, in theory, non-commercial, advertisers that agree have only to parrot the DGA line and link their products to it whereas advertisers with claims that contradict the DGA are facing headwinds.

    And living half way around from the world from the United States, I can testify that the DGA, through various mechanisms, become default truth for much of the world.

    None of the above is rigorous evidence of the “meaningful influence of the DGA”, true, but I suspect you could look a little harder, and beyond Hite and Teicholz, for “evidence to the contrary.”

    • I’m guessing, Tim, that you are not familiar with the International Food Information Council Foundation. “Incorporated as a public education foundation in 1991 and based in Washington, DC, the International Food Information Council Foundation is independent and not-for-profit. We do not lobby or further any political, partisan, or corporate interest. We bring together, work with, and provide information to consumers, health and nutrition officials, educators, government officials, and food, beverage, and agriculture industry professionals. We have established partnerships with a wide range of credible professional organizations, government agencies, and academic institutions to advance the public understanding of key issues. For example, we have a long-standing relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion as part of the Dietary Guidelines Alliance, a public-private partnership focused on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPlate Food Guidance System. Recognizing the global nature of food safety, nutrition and health issues, the Foundation extends its mission internationally. We share education materials with an independent network of Food Information Organizations and partners from around the world. We also serve as a news media resource. We provide science-based information to the media and refer journalists to our 350 independent, credentialed experts on a variety of nutrition, food, and safety topics…We believe in the importance of educating health and nutrition professionals. We regularly host Continuing Professional Education (CPE) programs which are offered in person and via Web cast, and have developed a series of Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the American Dietetic Association, CPE-approved learning modules on a variety of subjects.”
      http://www.foodinsight.org/about-ific-and-food-safety.aspx

      Then there’s this: “It’s important to know how DGAs are created. First, an expert panel of independent scientists performs a detailed, public review of the latest nutrition science, which they summarize as formal, public recommendations to the government, including clear descriptions of the rationale and evidence underlying each recommendation. Second, the government takes these public, annotated scientific recommendations; considers other public and private viewpoints, including from industry; and then — behind closed doors and with no transparency — writes the final DGAs. Not surprisingly, a lot can happen between the objective scientific report, which was largely outstanding, and the final DGAs.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dariush-mozaffarian/the-2015-dietary-guidelines-for-americans-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly_b_9106744.html

      In the end, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans document is the highest nutrition authority in the World. I am associated with the food service director for our school district. She is obliged to follow United States Department of Agriculture low-fat dairy guidelines or risks loss of federal funding for the school lunch program. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IB7NDUSBOo

  12. There is one major point lacking from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, MyPlate etc and the discussions about it: this is a diet where Pizza is technically a recommended food.

    So long as I stay under the recommended calories and that crust is wholegrain I can have pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner 🙂

    I’m always disappointed when official guidelines recommending eating grains say stuff like: Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. – See more at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains#sthash.45sh0oau.dpuf

    Why not include pizza?

    I’m just having a bit of fun here of course but technically they could be recommending eating wholegrain pizza but I guess that wouldn’t be so good for their credibility.

  13. Pingback: The Drama of Nutrition | The Science of Nutrition
  14. Pingback: Response to Critics | Nina Teicholz
  15. I’m a bit late to this party but I would just like to say thank you for your blog.

    I just downloaded the Taubes and Teicholz books with a view to looking at a HFLC diet.

    You have saved me the time and effort of reading them.

    • Hi Seth,

      I’ve been busy perusing endocannabinoid system research these past 6 months. I encourage you to do the same. I think you’ll find that the fatty acid profile of the food supply is the big problem. To get started I suggest you Google these phrases: endocannabinoid system arachidonic acid
      endocannabinoid system linoleic acid
      endocannabinoid system saturated fat
      endocannabinoid system feeding and care
      endocannabinoid system omega-3
      endocannabinoid system dysregulation
      Endocannabinoid system George Kunos
      Endocannabinoid system 20,000 research papers
      BMJ The importance of a balanced ω-6 to ω-3 ratio
      Comparison of Fatty Acid Composition between Farmed and Wild Indian White Shrimps

      As for scientific consensus: http://eaglerising.com/677/michael-crichton-and-the-fallacy-of-consensus-science/

      There is no scientific consensus on the diabetes/ obesity epidemic because the scientists who dictate government nutrition doctrine don’t have a clue as to what happened. Google – “Sanjoy Ghosh PUFA” and “An Essential Debate”.

  16. Pingback: METODO GREZ, VERDAD O MENTIRA? Parte 1 – FALSA CIENCIA TRAS EL METODO GREZ.

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