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Dumping the Ancel Keys Playbook

Understanding the pressure to conform, and how to overcome it.

Article by Ben Wagenmaker | 02 May, 2021

Article originally published on Ketovangelist.com on 5/15/18. It has been lightly edited for re-publication.

For anyone not familiar with the name Ancel Keys, let's introduce you. Dr. Keys was an influential physiologist from the University of Minnesota, who lived from 1904 – 2004. He was an avid proponent of the Mediterranean Diet, and is almost solely responsible for popularizing the hypothesis that saturated fat causes heart disease.

He was also known for decimating the reputation of Dr. John Yudkin, who hypothesized (more accurately) that sugar, not saturated fat, was responsible for heart disease. This is well documented, and you can read more about the disagreement between Dr. Keys and Dr. Yudkin here and here.

Following Flawed Data

Many researchers today have re-examined Dr. Keys’ famous Seven Countries Study, and have strongly suggested that Dr. Keys manipulated the study by cherry-picking the countries whose data supported his hypothesis, and ignored other countries whose data did not. France and Germany, for example, were excluded from his study, perhaps because both populations consumed lots of saturated fat, yet had low levels of heart disease.

You can read more about modern criticism of Dr. Keys’ research here, here, here and here. Many researchers now believe that Dr. Keys’ conclusions were not justified, and upon closer examination of the research, many believe that Dr. John Yudkin was correct in vilifying sugar instead of saturated fat.

There are several problems with what Dr. Ancel Keys did. Not only did he promote a hypothesis with highly questionable data and unethical methods, but he publicly maligned, ridiculed and belittled the intelligence of those who dared disagree with him. He questioned their credentials, and if they had good credentials, he attacked their methodology, and then questioned their motives. Dr. Yudkin was certainly qualified, but perhaps his disagreement was paid for by the beef industry, and his methodology was sloppy. Or so Dr. Keys convinced the masses.

Societal Consequences

Yet Dr. Keys was wrong the entire time, Dr. Yudkin was right, and the masses followed Dr. Keys' unproven hypothesis. The wrong conclusion has, unfortunately, influenced public food policy in several leading countries for the past 40-50 years, to the detriment of world-wide public health. Heart disease is more prevalent than ever, yet statistics prove that we eat more fruit and vegetables, and less saturated fat than we have historically.

What would have happened if people had listened to Dr. Yudkin, and really looked at the validity of his studies? What would have happened if we ignored the noise of Dr. Keys’ ridicule and mockery of his opponents, and looked at solid science instead of political influence? After all, influence has very little to do with whether your information is accurate. And the loudest voice is not always the voice of reason.

Repeating the Mistakes

If we were around 50 years ago with the information we have available to us today, would one of us stand up to Dr. Keys, and challenge him? Or would we remain silent, for fear of being ridiculed and maliged as was Dr. Yudkin?

You may think that these questions are irrelevant, since we cannot go back in time. Yet this is most certainly relevant to us today. Dr. Keys’ tactics have survived, and unfortunately the Ancel Keys Playbook is very much still in use.

As has been alluded to in this space before, the internecine Keto Wars have been well under way for some time. We have no desire to malign any specific group or individual. Suffice it to say that there are those who are so dogmatic in their approach that they believe, and very vocally state, that those not following their methods are actively harming people by adhering to different ketogenic approaches.

Now this is not to criticize any specific approach. Ketogenic Success is very firmly in the high fat/moderate protein camp and we make no secret of that, but we openly acknowledge that other methods may work for some people, and that’s great for them, if that’s the case. 

What we do not care for is that a very vocal portion of these folks use the Ancel Keys Playbook, and resort to maligning and mocking those who disagree with their approach. What if we eat more plate fat than protein, and it works? What if you lose weight by listening to your body and you don’t count calories? As sad as this is, there are people who would not congratulate any of us for finding what works best. No. They would insult us, belittle us, questions our credentials, our methodology, and our motives. Anything from the Ancel Keys Playbook to get people to listen to them. Respectful disagreement does not exist in their dojo. Unfortunately, social media tends to bring out the worst of this behavior, and many of our readers may have found themselves targeted.

The Ancel Keys Playbook has often been used historically to dismiss what is now generally considered to be truth. Galileo, Newton, and any other scientist who dared challenge popular belief were always subject to the ridicule of the greater scientific community. If social media had been around back then, there would be entire Facebook groups dedicated to making fun of Copernicus. But Galileo, Newton, and others did not let mockery hinder them. They prevailed in their work, and ultimately won.

Throwing Out that Playbook

At Ketogenic Success, we do not play by the Ancel Keys Playbook. We encourage people to research, research, research, experiment, pay close attention to how food affects your body, and find out what works for you. If what works for you is different than what works for one of us, that's OK! We don’t mind one bit.

As long as everyone has their own unique biochemical makeup, we will all continue to have different reactions to different foods. This means that science will always– always- observe different conclusions from one person to the next, even with the exact same methodology. If your results differ from another's, and you ate the same things, that’s normal and there is nothing to ridicule.

What should you do with people who pull out the Ancel Keys Playbook?

If it happens in a Ketogenic Success Facebook group, please do not engage. Report it to an admin, and an admin will take care of it. We do not condone or tolerate the use of the Ancel Keys Playbook in our groups. One of our primary rules is "don't be a jerk." This includes resorting to mockery and ridicule of someone you disagree with.

If it happens elsewhere, as it likely will, we suggest that these people should be ignored. They will not listen to reason. They only want to be right in their minds, even if it is to the detriment of your health. There is no reason for you to try to appease them, be accepted by them, or become one of them. People who do this are neither trying to improve your health, nor are they thinking of your well-being. Dismiss them. Concentrate on people that do want to improve your health, and will think of your well-being. Read blogs, watch videos, and be influenced by people who inspire you to be better. Ignore the rest, move forward and succeed in what works for you.

Thank you for reading. Keto on, friends!

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