How a now-discredited diet theory became a national mania
The most striking thing about North America’s fear of food is how markedly ideas about food’s healthfulness have changed over the years. Chemical preservatives went from being triumphs of modern science to poisons. Whole milk has swung back and forth like a pendulum. Yogurt experienced boom, bust and revival. Margarine went from “heart-healthy” to artery-clogging. And now we are told that salt, historically regarded as absolutely essential to human existence, is swinging the grim reaper’s scythe.
And then there’s the story of fat. One wonders what would have happened if the fats in our food and blood streams had been called by their scientific name, lipids. Would avoiding the off-putting term “fat,” with its connotation of obesity, have mitigated much of the fear of fats in food? Perhaps, but probably not. In retrospect, the wave of lipophobia — fear of dietary fat — that has swept over middle-class Americans since the 1950s was simply too powerful to overcome.