If you want a quick primer on everything that's wrong with how we think about food today, read "Are some diets 'mass murder'?" in the British Medical Journal.
Dr. Richard Smith, the former editor of the journal, combed through five of the most popular nutrition science books of the last several years. In this sentence, he perfectly encapsulates why we have been led astray on food: "In short, bold policies have been based on fragile science, and the long term results may be terrible."
Smith explains why studies on diet and nutrition are so unreliable, borrowing insights from Nina Teicholz's fantastic book The Big Fat Surprise to unpick the low-fat and Mediterranean Diet crazes. Many of the health policies and personal dietary choices we made related to fat (and saturated fat in particular) were based on very flawed and biased evidence. Contradictory research findings that challenged the paradigm were systematically stifled and ignored, and self-interested researchers — as much as Big Food — shaped the research agenda, media reporting on diet, and public perception.
Our bias against saturated fat remains firmly in place today, Smith writes, and this has had untold consequences for our collective health:
Reading these books and consulting some of the original studies has been a sobering experience. The successful attempt to reduce fat in the diet of Americans and others around the world has been a global, uncontrolled experiment, which like all experiments may well have led to bad outcomes. What's more, it has initiated a further set of uncontrolled global experiments that are continuing.
To borrow a quotation from Teicholz's tome, there's a really good reason why scientifically flawed diet fads won't change any time soon: "The food world is particularly prey to consumption, because so much money is made on food and so much depends on talk and especially the opinions of experts."
(When you have time to read more than Smith's article, I also recommend The Big Fat Surprise.)