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Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fats

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Dr. Ancel Benjamin Keys or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fats

Don't know the validity, but offers up some talking points...

Warm-up: 2 Rounds – 20 Leg Swings, 20 OHS w/PVC, 20 Dislocates, 10 Push-ups; 1 minute perfect squat on wall (laying down), 1 min each side hip opener, foam roll hot spots

Skill: Pistol Progression

MetCon – Erin…As in Slocum:
5 Back Squats (BW/70%)
25 Push-ups
5 Power Cleans (BW/70%)
25 Sit-ups

I am going to run an experiment at the gym next month.  We will test your 1 rep max back squat on the 1st.  I will then divide all of the members in to 22 different groups.  Each group will be assigned a different squat.  The different squats will include but not be limited to back, front, and overhead squats, high bar, low bar, dumbbell squat, split squat, elevated split squat, barbell and dumbbell split squats, air squat, box, jumping, and speed squats, and various other iterations until I reach the desired 22.  I will have each group perform that squat only for the entire month.  We will continue our MetCon work and other strength lifts, but as for squatting, you will be resigned to just that one for 28 days (stupid February).  At the end of the month we will test our 1 rep max back squat again.

My hypothesis is that unilateral squats (think one legged variations) will yield the greatest improvement in 1 rep max back squat.  I wouldn’t even call it a hypothesis at this point.  I am almost positive the experiment as laid out will result in confirmation of my theory.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if the back and front squats, box and speed squats, and several others prove to be equal to or better than the unilateral squats in raising the 1 rep max?  I could just throw out that data.  That then would actually give me affirmation of my hypothesis.  Maybe that is what I will do.  I reserve the right to do this; it is MY experiment after all.  I could then publish my experiment with a conclusion that mirrors my hypothesis.  Boomshackalacka!

Stupid, amirite?  Any person with a drop of common sense will see the fallacy in that scenario.  But what if I hid, or, because it sounds better, did not tell you about the other data.  I would present the experiment and just cherry pick the squats that would prove my hypothesis.  That would work even though it would be very unscientific of me.

“Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill prepared for making discoveries; they also make very poor observations.  Of necessity, they observe with a preconceived idea, and when they devise an experiment, they can see, in its results, only a confirmation of their theory.  In this way they distort observations and often neglect very important facts because they do not further their aim.”
Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, 1865

I presented that long-winded example to prep you for this farce of a publication: The Diet and 15-year Death Rate in the Seven Countries Study by Ancel Keys.  Note that the title leads you to believe the paper will discuss results from seven countries.  This is found to be true in the paper.  However, the entire study as set up by Dr. Keys included 22 countries.  After the data had been collected he found that 15 of the 22 countries did not yield numbers confirming his hypothesis, namely that differences among populations in the frequency of heart attacks and stroke would occur in some orderly relation to physical characteristics and lifestyle, particularly composition of the diet, and especially fats in the diet.  So instead of showing some humility and publishing a conclusion contrary to his hypothesis, he went ahead and threw out the non-confirming data.

The seven countries used in the paper were the United States, Finland, the Netherlands, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Japan.  Had Keys chosen France instead of any of the aforementioned nations it would have changed the regression line.  Everyone has heard of the French paradox – a nation that eats a great deal of saturated fat but has a very low incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  You could also add Spain and Switzerland to the paradox; maybe Italy too since its numbers (the ones Keys published in his actual study) did not sit well with the hypothesis.   Switzerland in particular reported that cardiovascular mortality declined between 1951 and 1975 (the years of Keys’ study) while consumptions of animal fats increased by 20%.

Of the countries he chose, Japan and Greece (of which he only used the two islands of Crete and Corfu), most definitely had lower incidents of CVD to go along with their low intake of dietary fat.  PROOF!  Then again, Keys gave little thought to the intake (or lack) of sugar.  In Japan, for instance, sugar intake was less than 40 pounds per person per year in 1963 and less than 50 lbs/person/year in 1980.  Cretan diet circa 1960 included only 16 lbs/person/year – a number closely mimicked by the Corfu diet and, inferentially according to Keys, all of Greece.  Let me contrast those numbers to the American intake of sugar in 1967: a whopping 114lbs per capita. The figure today has risen to almost 150lbs per capita in the US.  Maybe the Mediterranean diet’s efficacy isn’t totally owed to its consumption of seafood, olive oil, and vegetables but also (or only?) the minimal quantity of sugar.

In my last post I made reference to the 1980 USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  The medical bases of these guidelines were dominated by Keys’ Seven Countries Study – a study that was, for its time, revolutionary in its scope and some of the methods, but, nevertheless failed to draw any meaningful conclusion.  Actually, thanks to its author and collaborators, the study drew an incorrect conclusion.  Therefore, it is hard for me to put any stock in those Dietary Guidelines since it was Keys who so vehemently argued the case using his paper as fodder for his argument.  Sadly though, the American people did put stock in to said guidelines, much to the chagrin of many academics as noted in my previous post.  Let’s take a look at what has happened to our nation’s health since that publication.

In the years since the federal government told us to reduce our consumption of fat, or specifically saturated fat and cholesterol, the American people have fallen victim to more heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments of Western civilization.  This is not because the American people were unsuccessful in reducing fat.  On the contrary, Senator George McGovern announced on Friday, January 14, 1977 the first ever publication of Dietary Goals for the United States when the nation’s fat ingestion was approximately 40%.  The Dietary Goals told Americans to lower their fat consumption to 30% (which we did), with only a third coming from saturated fats.  It also stated the goal of raising carbohydrate intake to 55-60% (which we did plus more).  The current USDA guidelines call for 20-35% of total calories to come from fat.

America as a whole accomplished the said goals and then some.  Sadly though, the American Heart Association reports that between 1973 and 2003 the number of inpatient medical procedures for heart disease increased 470%.  In 2003 more than one million Americans underwent cardiac catheterizations, and more than a quarter-million had coronary-artery bypass surgery.  These facts are alarming seeing that smoking has decreased from 33% of Americans over eighteen in 1979 to 25% in 1994 – numbers in line with combating heart disease.  Another alarming statistic is that obesity in America held fast between 1960 and 1980 at around 12-14% of the population; now obesity has fattened to 30% of the American population.  That means out of the 10 people that read this post, 3 of you are obese.

I have attacked one study in this post.  There are many, many more, of course.  But I chose the Seven Countries Study because it is the one that most heavily influenced federal dietary guidelines, is the most popular of all large studies citing fat as THE atherogenic agent(another very popular one being the Framingham Heart Study, but it never even made it in to a peer-reviewed journal), and finally because this study has a plethora of information, arguments on both sides, and details freely available on the fabled Internet.

You have my word that in the next installment I will concern myself more with brevity.

Coach G

By | 2017-04-25T14:39:21+00:00 January 4th, 2011|CrossFit Ktown Knoxville, Uncategorized|10 Comments


  1. Miss J January 4, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Great post G. I’m excited for the next installment. Also, if you find this stuff interesting then do more research on your own. You never have to take our word for it, actually we don’t want you to. Take it upon yourself to do some looking and learning. I give you permission.
    -Miss J

  2. crossfitktown January 4, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Always read with healthy skepticism, please.


  3. Coach @ OPCF January 5, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Great stuff out there this evening, Grant, Jessie, Ceasar! Good to connect with another affiliate and be embraced by the CF community in Knoxville. You have a batch of motivated athletes to say the least. Sophia and I were happy to get in on Erin’s WOD (congrats again to Erin and Ben on the little peanut). Expect some Outpost CrossFit shirts in the mail. Stay frosty. -Ismael

  4. "G8r" Dave Parmly January 5, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Amazingly, the exact same thing happened with much of the popular “data” used to support the theory of anthropogenic global warming: Cherry-picking that which confirmed the hypothesis. Per Jesse and Grant’s call for both skepticism and “look for yourself”, the beauty of the internet is the democratization of data/information. As soon as you put anything out there, it’s subject to universal scrutiny. If you’re wrong, if your methods were unsound, and the whole body of data is available for analysis, you will get called out. This is what happened with Ancel Keys data, the global temperature data, Mann’s “hockey stick” data. Grant, the good thing about Taubes approach in his new blog is that he even takes shots at notions you and I might share that prejudice us too. Equal opportunity skeptic. I find, in my job, I have to look at health care data that might lead me to a different conclusion than I hope to find, but, as Michael Crichton often said, “Follow the data”. It doesn’t lie.

  5. Rise Up January 5, 2011 at 9:47 am

    If the next post is this long please break it up with more graphs, pie charts, photos, comics, sudoku puzzles, etc… Great post G.

  6. Brandon January 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Dave. Fantastic Crichton reference. You made my day. Oh yeah good post too.

  7. Coach CBo January 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    You can take my life, but you’ll never take away my animal fat.

  8. KPvogel January 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    One of my favorite public health topics. Terms people always need to keep in mind when reading or hearing health information…EVM and EVP. EVIDENCE-based medicine and EVIDENCE-based practice. Everyone should have to master an epidemiology 101 class.

  9. crossfitktown January 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    KP…you said it. And in the words of Kurt Harris MD, author of the PaNu blog, “This is all just epidemiology, and epidemiology is bogus. Now, I don’t mean it has absolutely no value. It is good for hypothesis generation. It is almost worthless for finding the truth.”

    -Miss J

  10. KPvogel January 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Exactly. Just like…Statistically Significant!

Comments are closed.