USF professor gains national attention after nutrition myths video goes viral
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sometimes it only takes one man with a singular thought and a bunch of questions to bring about change in society.
David Diamond, a professor and neuroscientist at the University of South Florida Department of Psychology, became an overnight sensation after his 2011 lecture debunking the myths about saturated fat being unhealthy was posted by the College of Arts and Sciences on YouTube.
Now one year later, the lecture has been viewed more than 54,000 times, and a Google search shows about 10,000 websites share a link to the video, including low carbohydrate discussion blogs, such as livinlavidalowcarb.com and carbohydratescankill.com.
“It feels good to get the word out,” said Diamond, who also holds an appointment in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at USF, and is a career scientist at the Tampa VA Hospital. “This was not just an academic exercise. This, to me, was about educating people about accurate, science-based, information about nutrition.”
Diamond’s video message was simple: saturated fat, which is found in high concentrations in animal products and tropical oils, is not as unhealthy as Americans have been led to believe by food and drug companies, as well as by government dietary recommendations. According to Diamond, the scientific evidence is clear: a diet low in refined sugar and high in fat and cholesterol is actually healthier for an individual than a low fat diet.
“People have been led to fear that if they eat fat, it will make them fat, which is completely wrong,” Diamond explained. “Eating fat, as part of a low carbohydrate diet, not only helps you to lose weight, it also makes you healthier…there is no need to make the false distinction that animal fat is bad and plant fat is good for you…they are both good for you. Fat is a very important part of the diet, in part, because dietary fat helps you carry fat soluble vitamins and nutrients into (your) blood and into your cells.”
Diamond said a diet high in carbohydrates and unnatural (partially hydrogenated) fats can contribute to “obesity, Type 2 diabetes and an unhealthy lifestyle.”
He was taken by surprise at the popularity of his video, and joked that he’s become a “diet guru” since the video went viral.
“I’ve had people contacting me from around the world asking me for diet advice, which was very strange,” he said. “So many people are confused and get mixed messages, so I feel very good that I have been able to help people who have contacted me.”
Many people, both within and outside University walls, have come away impressed with Diamond’s presentation. Dr. Bradley Harlan, who spent 30 years as a licensed cardiac surgeon in California, spent a majority of his career telling his patients to not eat foods rich in saturated fats because “I was believing what the American Heart Association (AHA) and medical establishment said.”
It wasn’t until Harlan began conducting his own research following his retirement in 2003 that he began to see that he had been deceived.
“They actually made recommendations that of course Dr. Diamond and I and many other people think were the worst possible recommendations because the result of those recommendations were that carbohydrate intake increased, and many people feel, myself included, that obesity and serum lipids are more related to carbohydrates than they are anything else,” Harlan said.
Harlan said he then stumbled across Dr. Diamond’s YouTube lecture and thought it was “excellent…because it organized and explained things in a comprehensible matter.” He added that video also taught him two new things: Ancel Keys, a leading nutritionist in the 1950s and proponent of the idea that eating fat makes you fat and causes heart disease, was based on fraudulent science.
“There is no question now he (Keys) cherry-picked data to fit his hypothesis from that multi-national study,” he said.
Harlan said he also was struck by the “magnitude of financial conflict of interest by the board that made the recommendations for serum cholesterol, cholesterol management from the American Heart Association.”
However, not everyone reached the same conclusion that Diamond is correct in his views on nutrition. Diamond was even called a “quack” by one YouTube responder.
“Obviously another non-credited doctor that has not done any scientific research. Everyone except the hard core meat eaters knows Atkins diet is a disaster waiting to happen. What David didn't mention was what he was eating in the first place, and what was he eating when he said he changed his diet. I eat 80% carbs from fruit, and have no diabetes and six percent body fat. Sign this guy up for quack watch!!,” danaryken2012 posted a few weeks ago.
According to Diamond, all of his statements were backed up by more than 100 years of scientific research.
“This person’s comments are, unfortunately, a common reaction from lay people, as well as dieticians, to someone who advocates the Atkins diet, since we’ve all heard that this diet is so unhealthy,” Diamond said. “In my lecture I described how this distorted perspective on the Atkins diet began with fraudulent research in the 1950s, which was never supported by subsequent work. It seems easier for some people to believe that I have not done sufficient research or that I’m wrong, as this person suggested, and more difficult to accept my point that we’ve been misled about the purported adverse effects of fat, particularly animal fat, on health. I can only suggest that this person view the whole video and see that my lecture is entirely science-based, and not quackery.
“If this person is consuming 80 percent of his or her calories from carbohydrates, then he or she is probably young and very athletic, and therefore burning the calories as soon as they are consumed. For most people, especially as they grow older and sedentary, a diet composed of 80 percent carbohydrates would be unhealthy, potentially contributing to obesity and heart disease.”
Others have questioned Diamond’s authority on the subject because he is a neuroscientist and not a so-called “expert” in the field of nutrition.
He said the idea that his work cannot be taken seriously is invalid because he is open to new information and is continually questioning everything the “experts” have said. “I’m from outside the area of nutrition, and so I needed the field to prove to me that the current nutritional guidelines are accurate, and that is how, as a result of my reading of the scientific literature, I came to conclusions that are contrary to dogma,” he said.
In addition, Diamond said he been in contact and learned from experts, such as Dr. Robert Lustig, whose YouTube video on how unhealthy fructose sugar is, has reached more than 2 million hits, Jeff Volek, of the University of Connecticut and Gary Taubes, who has written extensively on obesity and diet.
Diamond said he also joined a blog called “The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics (THINCS.org), where he shares ideas and information with “scientists driven only by their interest in advancing nutrition and cholesterol science, and not by dogma or financial interests.”
“The THINCS members are scientists who have evaluated nutrition research and have come to the conclusion that eating natural fat and food rich in cholesterol is healthy – the basis of diseases that are prevalent in Western nations is the consumption of refined sugar and partially hydrogenated fats.” Diamond added.
Diamond said he recently published with individuals from the THINCS group a contribution to the British Journal of Nutrition, asserting that consumption of saturated fats is not linked to coronary heart disease. He also is currently collaborating with Volek, an authority on animal and human studies on low carb diets, in research addressing the interaction of diet and stress in rats.
According to Diamond, sugar potentially interacts with stress “to increase inflammation as well as to produce obesity.” Diamond said in his new project one group of rats will be on a diet high in fat and sugar, similar to a typical Western diet, while the other will be on a low carb diet, similar to the Atkins diet, which is high in fat and very low in sugar.
“We hypothesize that the rats on the Atkins diet will be healthier and have less inflammation; they will not be overweight and that they will respond to the stress much more efficiently than the rats on the high fat and sugar diet,” Diamond explained. He is hoping to have results in the next sixth months.
Diamond’s lecture has been heard outside of the YouTube world as well. On May 15, he spoke at the University of California at San Francisco’s prestigious Stress-Obesity Center, where he stated that the myth that saturated fat is unhealthy has been perpetuated by the American Heart Association (AHA). He explained that the AHA’s current message that saturated fat is a “bad fat” is not based on rigorous nutrition science.
Diamond’s waistline is further validation of his findings that a low carb diet contributes to weight loss.
After starting his diet high in fat and low in carbs about seven years ago, Diamond said he has lost 20 pounds and said he has more energy. His triglycerides dropped from a dangerously high 800 to a much safer 140, and his “good cholesterol” doubled from 25 to 50, which is a much healthier level.
On a recent trip to China and San Francisco, Diamond said he “allowed himself to eat too many carbs” and he came back 5 pounds heavier. When he got home, he responded to his weight gain by not eating any carbohydrates, other than his daily allotment of dark chocolate, and he focused on eating foods rich in fat and protein, such as grass-fed beef. Within a few days, he lost the excess weight.
Diamond said he can accept people who look down on his dietary choices because they have a moral issue with the killing of animals for food.
“It’s understandable if someone doesn’t want to eat animal products because they are disturbed by how animals are treated,” Diamond said. “But if you don’t eat animal products because you think they are unhealthy, then you should be outraged at that because you have been misled. People should understand that animal fat is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. A mixture of animal-based foods, such as beef, chicken and fish, along with nuts, vegetables and a small amount of fruit, is all we need to be healthy, and to believe anything else simply reflects how we’ve been misled by government intervention, big business and bad science.”
Editor's note: Many people have asked for a video of Diamond's slides with the audio from his presentation. Here's the video.
Filed under:Arts and Sciences Psychology Research
Author: Andrew Moser