Stupid fear of cholesterol and obesity

Fear of cholesterol and obesity

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Today I saw a great TED talk about how millions books from the last two centuries are now scanned and searchable, courtesy of Google. You can see how different words become more or less usual in printed books over time.

I decided to search for cholesterol and obesity (blue and red line above). The timeline is from the year 1800 to 2010. Notice how the fear of cholesterol was hot in the 1980s, like other things that are now unfashionable.

Unfortunately fearing cholesterol makes people avoid fat and eat more of something else. Often bad carbohydrates. Is it a coincidence that “obesity” became a hot topic about two decades after the fear of cholesterol? I don’t think so.

The good news is that the fear of cholesterol is now becoming obsolete. Does that mean the prevalence of obesity may soon start dropping again? I think so. But it will take a lot of education and hard work.

More examples

After publishing this post I got an email right away:

Hi Andreas,

Small world! Last night, I had actually Ngram’d precisely that – cholesterol and obesity. I’m not sure if at some point in time the public focus shifted from ‘cholesterol’ to ‘HDL/LDL’ and the nomenclature changed etc.

Anyway, Ngram is a marvelous tool, which I use the hell out of. Here are some things from it that might help:

  • the obesity and anorexia nervosa trends are correlated – disordered body image. LINK
  • If you put in all the commodity foods which are also common nutrient sources, you actually see a modern disinterest in these – LINK – compared to the two spikes around WWI and WWII.
  • however, if you put the macronutrients in, they’re completely different – LINK
  • and probably the most telling – LINK

all the best,

James AJ Heathers
Ph.D. Cand., M.Sc., B.Ec.

Interesting stuff. James Heathers blogs at ThePsychoPathologist.


Search Google books for words and phrases


  1. Nina
    'The good news is that the fear of cholesterol is now becoming obsolete.'

    Oh really? So the latest fat tax in Copenhagen is a sign of this?


  2. Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, MD Team Diet Doctor
    No. It's a sign that the Danish government is behind the times. Nothing unusual of course, politicians are rarely updated on the latest science.
  3. I see the Danish fat tax as a meaningless sort of circle-the-wagons thing. Well, politicians pandering to an influential circle-the-wagons segment which is what politicians do.
  4. Type in "obesity", "overweight", "lard" and "tallow". Something decisive happened in 1968, apparently. Especially entertaining is that lists those terms as synonyms for "fat" - I should try typing in "are" and "eat" ;)
  5. That's funny; health and food seem to have an inverse relationship ;)
  6. JAUS
    The timeline is from 1800 to 2008, not 2010. It's not possible to search through newer books than that with Google books.
  7. JAUS
    If you change the timeline to between 1950 and 2008 and smoothness to 1 and take a look the last year then you'll see that the word obesity already has surpassed cholesterol in popularity.
  8. Robert S.
    Hi ! Sorry if I'm asking in the wrong place... I would just like to know if someone having diabetes AND kidney problems, meaning that the person has to do a dialysis on a daily basis, could be somehow cured or brought to a better condition by following an LCHF/ paleo diet. It would a lot any form of answer. Thank you !
  9. @Robert S.
    I think we have to be very careful about the use of the word "cure" But if we think about a better quality of life and less reliance on medication then there are people working on this idea. See this link.
    Low-carb, high-fat diet could replace dialysis
  10. Robert S.
    Yes, maybe "cure" is too much. I'm just asking in the idea that, maybe, this person could have a better life and ease the complications she's currently going through.
    Thank you very much for the link, Ted !
  11. @Robert, my father has had T1 diabetes for 30 years. Since going paleo he has eliminated quick-release insulin and reduced his dose of 24-hour insulin from 25 units to 5.
    My uncle, with juvenile onset T1D, died recently of heart failure during dialysis after his third kidney failure. I will check out Ted's link with interest.
  12. The danish tax is just a way to get more money. When creating new taxes it is clever
    for the politicians to make it look like it is meant to benefit people. The saturated-fat-is-evil thinking is still big in Denmark, so fat was an obvious candidate.

    A dane.

  13. tam
    I have a question. If you aren't getting grass-fed animal products, won't all this corn-fed animal fat be omega 6 and bad for you?
  14. Diane
    As an American it seems so strange they would tax butter. Even in America they wouldn't tax a staple food like that. They'd tax something that had some kind of value added to it. Snack food, for example. But they have a hard time taxing snack food because it's impossible to draw the line between snack food and "real" food. So they stick to banning vending machines in school or limiting what can be sold in them.
  15. @ tam won't all this corn-fed animal fat be omega 6 and bad for you?
    I think you are forgetting that when the demands of appetite are reduced, LCHF people naturally eat less in total. So while the percentage of fat in the diet may be higher the total amount of food consumed is less. Because we are eating less food in total (natural reduction rather than restriction) we can afford to spend more on better quality.
  16. Could it be that Statin drugs that are being pushed on us are removing the fear of cholesterol. In other words, "here take this pill and you won't have to worry about anything.."

    Unfortunately, the sad tale is that it wasn't cholesterol afterall that we had to worry about, but carbs - and hence the obesity numbers have been climbing. And millions are on Statins who probably shouldn't be on them. What a mess...

  17. Milton
    Diane, you are correct that they probably will not tax butter or fat. But as they are doing here in NYC, they may simply try to ban it outright or require producers to restrict how much they use in their products. Much the same way they are trying to restrict salt usage. It's particularly annoying when the drive to reduce salt intake is being spearheaded by a salt-o-holic mayor...
  18. Tangerine
    Hi Doc,

    After switching to a LCHF lifestyle in early 2011, my husband and I each lost 25+ pounds and our waist lines continue to shrink. We feel great and aren't too concerned that our cholesterol numbers went up.

    But what about triglycerides? Should we be concerned with very high triglyceride numbers? I hate to say it, but we don't really trust his pill-pushing doctor to answer this question. If triglyceride is fat in the blood, then it seems like very high numbers (1000+) could mean trouble...

    Thanks for your terrific website and commitment to re-educating people about modern diets!

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