If the AHA Diet is Premised on a Bad Theory, Don’t Expect Our Doctors to Admit it Any Time Soon

The AHA diet (American Heart Association diet) constitutes what most of us have come to believe is a “healthy and balanced” diet.

Per the American Heart Association website, here are the diet guidelines. Our comments are listed next to each recommendation. (Please note that we are not doctors or nutritionists. Speak to your physician before you change your diet/lifestyle!)

AHA Diet Recommendations Our Critique
Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Sugary fruits, such as grapes, bananas, and fruit juices, can wreak havoc on blood sugar and insulin levels.
Eat six servings of grains a day. Carbohydrates like grains break down into sugar in the body. Sugar drives secretion of insulin and screws up metabolism in many other ways. So in essence, the AHA diet tells us to eat SIX SERVINGS of sugar a day in the form of grains.
Eat lean meats, poultry, dairy, and legumes. The assumption is that dietary fat makes us fat. But according to the USDA’s own numbers, we consume less fat than we did prior to the obesity epidemic. Plus, dietary fat does not drive the secretion of insulin, and the studies linking saturated fat and heart disease are inconclusive at best.
Eat fatty fish like salmon and tuna twice a week. Sounds great. But if the AHA diet tells us to eat fatty fish, why is it so afraid of us telling us to eat fatty meats and poultry?
Limit saturated fat to 2 grams per tablespoon. Again, the AHA diet maintains that saturated fat causes heart disease and high cholesterol. But this assertion is based on dubious science. Please read the book Good Calories, Bad Calories. This book outlines how we came to believe the idea that saturated fat causes disease and why this hypothesis is ultimately preposterous.
Maintain or reduce sodium intake at 2400 milligrams per day or less. The AHA diet blames hypertension on salt in the diet. But, again, the science behind this is extremely dubious. For a full expose, read this article.
Limit alcohol consumption. Fine.
Limit eating trans fats, cholesterol, and saturated fats. Again, the AHA diet insists that saturated fat and cholesterol cause health problems, but we assert that the science upon which this recommendation rests is fatally flawed.
Reduce intake of high calorie junk food, such as candy and soft drinks. We heartily agree -- limit sugar as much as you can.
Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. This AHA diet recommendation assumes that exercise leads to weight loss. But as we’ve examined at length on this site, this obvious assumption does NOT hold up when you look at the data.
Maintain your weight by maintaining caloric balance. In other words, balance out the calories you eat with the calories you burn off through exercise and other activity. This entire site is devoted to destroying this fundamental proposition of the AHA diet. For a good overview on the counter-argument, see our page on the First Law of Thermodynamics. This page explains how the AHA diet derives its calorie balance recommendation and explains an alternative theory about energy balance that refutes the AHA theory.

Putting aside the rightness or wrongness of the AHA diet, let’s consider the mentality of those who support it.

Would the doctors, public health authorities, nutritionists, and other celebrated figures who support the so-called balanced diet really change their minds if evidence came to light that contradicted what they thought they knew?

We believe not. Consider:

  • Most AHA diet advocates have preached about the balanced diet for years if not decades.
  • They have told thousands of people that these dietary guidelines are correct.
  • The American Heart Association is a very hierarchical institution.
  • Lay people are generally laughed at for questioning AHA diet recommendations because they lack the credentials or lab experience to make counter claims.
  • Doctors as a class are not exactly known for their humility.
  • Confirmation bias runs rampant among public health experts. This allows them to ignore/discredit information that does not fit within their belief system. Simultaneously, it helps them pump up and over-credit data that DOES appear to fit their beliefs.
  • The architects and supporters of the AHA diet are also the judge, jury and executioners of diet science.

We assert that the AHA diet architects are not scientists.

They do not strive to falsify their own hypotheses about diet and nutrition. Rather, they strive instead to preach their guidelines to other people. A true scientist relentlessly challenges what he or she thinks is true and seeks out evidence that might CONTRADICT a preferred hypothesis.

A true scientist never “proves” anything but seeks to disprove what she thinks she knows.

Only by relentlessly and ruthlessly testing a hypothesis can you hope to arrive at a credible understanding of how nature works.

But the supporters of the AHA diet in general do not do this.

They act like the truth is already known and that the only problem is messaging. How is this attitude any different from the attitude that animates religious zealots?

To solve our obesity problem, we need scientists, not wizards and priests who use the language and the authority of science to cloak what’s ultimately nothing more than a religious agenda.

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