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Science as Culture
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Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High
Fat (LCHF) Movement and the Turning
of Science Popularisation Against the
Scientists
Andreas Gunnarsson
a
& Mark Elam
a
a
Department of Sociology , University of Gothenburg ,
Gothenburg , Sweden
Published online: 21 Feb 2012.
To cite this article: Andreas Gunnarsson & Mark Elam (2012) Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/
High Fat (LCHF) Movement and the Turning of Science Popularisation Against the Scientists, Science
as Culture, 21:3, 315-334, DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2011.632000
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09505431.2011.632000
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Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/
High Fat (LCHF) Movement and the
Turning of Science Popularisation
Against the Scientists
ANDREAS GUNNARSSON & MARK ELAM
Department of Sociology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
ABSTRACT Science popularisation is widely recognised as having its political uses and
as serving as a conventional means for buttressing the epistemic authority of the institutions
of science in society. By separating the work of producing new knowledge from its
dissemination, popularisation promotes public understanding and appreciation of
science placed beyond public reach and inuence. However, simply by insisting upon
such a separation, so popularisation remains vulnerable to capture by skilled and
resourceful communicators intent on turning it against the established authority of
scientists. This is a phenomenon which can be analysed in relation to the communicative
strategies pursued by a collection of general practitioners, diabetics and self-styled
dietary experts in Sweden championing a low-carbohydrate/high fat (LCHF) dietetics
akin to the Diet Revolution initiated by Robert Atkins in the early 1970s. By dedicating
themselves to achieving an overwhelming public presence in the propagation of
simplied accounts of dietary science, the LCHF movement has been able to fashion
science popularisation into a weapon capable of being turned back upon established
dietary expertise in Sweden. In this effort they have proceeded on two fronts; rstly by
debunking established dietary advice for failing to live up to idealised standards of
sound science, and secondly, by effectively mobilising the personal testimony and
endorsements of dieters themselves in order to publicly conrm the authenticity and
trustworthiness of the LCHF regimen.
KEY WORDS: Science popularisation, low-carbohydrate diet, LCHF, Sweden, authentic
testimony
Science as Culture
Vol. 21, No. 3, 315334, September 2012
Correspondence Address: Andreas Gunnarsson, Department of Sociology, University of Gothenburg, Box 720,
Gothenburg, SE-405 30, Sweden. Email: andreas.gunnarsson@sts.gu.se
0950-5431 Print/1470-1189 Online/12/030315-20 #2012 Process Press
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09505431.2011.632000
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Introduction: Dietary Advice and Popularisation
The best-known low-carbohydrate diet is, without doubt, the Atkins diet. Going
against conventional dietary advice, this urges and invites dieters to lose weight
by steering clear of carbohydrates while continuing to take pleasure in fat.
Weigh less by eating more luxuriously is the tempting message. Cardiologist
Robert Atkins rst published his Diet Revolution in 1972 (1972/2002) and in
various editions, and revised versions, this has sold more than 16 million copies
worldwide. The Atkins diet delivers a critique of established dietary advice for
not recognising the harmful effects of carbohydrates. After the death of Atkins
in 1993 this criticism has been further elaborated upon by, for example, the
science journalist Gary Taubes (2007) and Atkins earlier co-writer Dr Mary
C. Vernon (Atkins et al., 2004).
Given the popularity of the Atkins diet and variants upon it, proponents of low-
carb regimens are regularly found in public disagreement with established insti-
tutions of dietetic authority. Here we shall address the heightened level of
public debate and controversy that has arisen between established nutritional
expertise and low-carb advocates in Sweden since 2004. Rallying under the
acronym LCHF (Low-Carb, High Fat), a diverse collection of general prac-
titioners, dieters and diabetics have launched a series of attacks on established
dietary expertise in Sweden through both the print and broadcast media, as well
as through the Internet. In these attacks the LCHF movement has been uncompro-
mising in its willingness to accuse the Swedish National Food Administration
(NFA) of founding its dietary recommendations on fraudulent and unsound
science, and thereby putting the public health of the nation at risk.
This has led to some notable acts of retaliation by ofcialdom, as for example,
in December 2005, when LCHFs leading spokesperson, MD Annika Dahlqvist,
was accused of turning her back on science and proven practice and endangering
her patients when urging them to follow the LCHF diet. However, after an inves-
tigation by the National Board of Health and Welfare, Dahlqvist was acquitted in
January 2008, and LCHF was ofcially acknowledged as, at least in some cases,
valid in the treatment of obese individuals suffering from type 2 diabetes (e.g.
SVD, 2008; DN, 2008). Arguably, this constitutes the movements biggest
public victory so far, further consolidated after the National Food Administration
announced that while the LCHF diet is not a healthy alternative for everyone, it
might be benecial to some under certain circumstances under close medical
supervision (Livsmedelsverket, 2008).
Howhas the LCHF movement achieved a level of public credence and credibility
while continuing to lack an established science base for its dietary advice? While
not signicantly contributing to intra-scientic discussion and debate, and currently
lacking the resources to initiate long-term research programmes, LCHF has,
through its blogs, recipe books, TV appearances and newspaper articles, still
been able to create the impression that is has science on its side in public debate.
316 A. Gunnarsson & M. Elam
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By analysing the followers of the LCHF movement as inventive popularisers of
science, we wish to discuss how the separation of the production of scientic
knowledge from its public communication, enacted through traditional forms of
science popularisation, not only serves to insulate science from external criticism,
but also to render its public voice vulnerable to capture by skilful communicators.
Because the dominant approach to popularisation accepts and enacts the eld as
one dedicated to producing appropriately simplied accounts of science, lacking
in intrinsic scientic value (Hilgartner, 1990; Elam, 2004, p. 232), so popularisa-
tion continually risks being wrested out of the hands of mainstream popularisers.
As shall be discussed below, proponents of the LCHF movement have been able to
turn the work of science popularisation to their own advantage by using it to
expose the inability of established food scientists to live up to the idealised
images of sound science regularly found in the popular media. In other words,
while science popularisation has been characterised as a political tool used by pro-
fessional scientists to further an uncritical and celebratory image of their science
(Irwin and Wynne, 1996), it remains a tool open to appropriation by non-scien-
tists intent on publicly depicting established science and expertise as wanting.
The materials drawn upon in our discussion correspond with what Raymond
Williams described as recorded culture (Williams, 1961, p. 62). That is, the
recorded traces left by cultural activities in the form of texts and other sources.
Three types of cultural traces left by the LCHF movement during the period
20042010 stand particularly in focus in our discussion. Firstly, we refer to tra-
ditional printed materials and a collection of books and pamphlets on nutrition
and dietetics, including richly illustrated LCHF cookbooks and associated pro-
motional literature produced rstly by Optimal Publishers in Sweden.
1
Secondly,
we draw on press coverage of the LCHF movement in leading newspapers in
Sweden as well as radio and television coverage. Finally, we discuss the
notable online presence of the LCHF movement, primarily in the form of ve
popular web logs (blogs) connected to leading spokespersons of the movement
also creating public space for the personal testimony of individual LCHF
dieters.
2
In summary, the materials primarily belong to the particular discourse
of science popularisation, characterised by Greg Myers as texts about science
that are not addressed to other specialist scientists (Myers, 2003, p. 265).
The relative success of the LCHF movement in turning the popularisation of food
science against the regulatory food scientists in Sweden is, we believe, highly
context dependent. The vast majority of the materials we draw upon in our discus-
sion are written and/or published in Swedish. While these texts make extensive
reference to international debate and discussion of dietary matters, they are them-
selves only intelligible to those with a command of the Swedish language. There-
fore, while scientists attached to the Swedish National Food Administration are
able to present themselves as defending dietary recommendations in tune with inter-
national expert opinion, they still nd themselves standing relatively alone in the
context of Swedish public debate. Once again, the conventional division between
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 317
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the production of scientic knowledge and its public communication traditionally
accepted and enacted through the work of science popularisation becomes more
accentuated when the language of science (English) is other than the language of
popularisation (Swedish). As the journalistic principle of even-handed reporting
has come into play in relation to discussion and debate between the LCHF move-
ment and government food scientists, so the location of the seat of dietetic authority
has become harder to distinguish for the Swedish public. This is a situation which
has already been commented upon in a report in the Lancet entitled: Fad diets in
Sweden, of all places. Authored by two New Zealand based nutritional experts,
this report prefers to point to a potentially misguided mass media as having con-
tributed to the surprising following won by the LCHF movement in a country which
has otherwise helped to pioneer cardiac rehabilitation and preventive cardiology
(Mann and Nye, 2009, p. 768).
Popularised Science
In order to get to grips with how the Swedish LCHF movement has been able to
use science popularisation to bring conventional dietary science into question, an
expanded understanding of what constitutes popularisation is required. While tra-
ditionally popularisation has been connected with the transmission of ofcially
sanctioned versions of ready-made science to lay audiences (cf. Bucchi, 1998),
we wish to argue that the persuasive appeal to scientic authority implicit in popu-
larisation can, on occasion, be made by individuals and groups lacking rm ties to
basic scientic research.
Thus, part of the dominance of the dominant approach to popularisation (Hil-
gartner, 1990) may be possible to ascribe to uses made of it by groups in
society who are, strictly speaking, in no position to exploit it. In our case,
despite the paucity of scientic evidence supporting their dietary claims, the
LCHF movement portrays itself as the true guardian of science tasked with expos-
ing National Food Administration experts for not living up to conventional stan-
dards of scientic praxis.
As Stephen Hilgartner (1990) discusses, science popularisation conventionally
implies a two-stage model where scientists rst produce the genuine scientic
knowledge that popularisers subsequently disseminate through simplied
accounts. Envisioned in this fashion, popularisation is imagined as an activity
intended to narrow the gap separating those in command of scientic knowledge
from those ignorant of it (Bensaude-Vincent, 2001). Thus, popularisation can
appear tailor-made to buttress the epistemic authority of scientists by taking for
granted genuine scientic knowledge as belonging to a realm which is inaccess-
ible to the public and the exclusive preserve of scientists (Hilgartner, 1990,
p. 530). Science is seen as inhabiting a walled citadel (Martin, 1998) located
at the pinnacle of society and culture. However, while appearing to help insulate
scientists from outside challenges to their authority, the desire to strictly separate
318 A. Gunnarsson & M. Elam
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the production of scientic knowledge from its public communication can also be
seen as rendering science and scientists more vulnerable to external challenge.
Such a separation supports a certain complacency on the part of scientists who
are discouraged from seeing public communication as belonging to the core of
their professional concerns.
Again, according to Hilgartner (1990, p. 531), popularisation is a eld where
scientists can exercise considerable discretion over the public presentation of
knowledge presumed rstly beyond public reach and comprehension. However,
because science is conceived as too abstruse for direct public consumption, a
recurring anxiety for popularisers is that new mysticisms masquerading as
science will take hold of society. For this reason, it is common to nd popularisers
of science devoting a considerable amount of time and energy to redrawing anew
the dividing line between science and non-science. Dedicated to standing on the
ramparts of citadel science in society, popularisers are prone to portray science
as under siege. Thus, we nd them repeatedly doubling as science sceptics who
present themselves as forced to give priority to the work of debunking pseu-
doscience prior to providing further elucidation of the nature of true science
itself (Hess, 1993; Forstorp, 2005). As shall be discussed below, the proponents
of the LCHF movement present themselves as classic popularisers of food
science who, due to the force of current circumstance, are obliged to assume
the role of science sceptics tasked with debunking the politically and commer-
cially tainted science of the National Food Administration.
Thus, while widely criticised for being a political tool of incumbent scientic
authority, science popularisation also deserves recognition as a eld where the
credibility of science is continually left surprisingly open to challenge. Through
its broad appreciation as a eld where nothing intrinsically scientic is going
on, popularisation becomes a eld where the credibility of science is left highly
dependent upon powers of cultural representation (cf. Gieryn, 1999, p. 27). By
dedicating itself to transforming popularisation into a eld of cultural contestation,
the LCHF movement has succeeded to some degree in turning a conventional tool
of incumbent scientic authority into a weapon to be turned back against this
authority.
Extending this analysis of the dependence of scientic authority upon powers of
cultural representation, the work of Nik Brown and Mike Michael (2001) is highly
informative. In their mapping of the strategies deployed by proponents of xeno-
transplantation (XTP) as a promising new medical technology, they describe
and detail the discursive repertoires used in order to curry public support. In par-
ticular, they note how proponents of XTP switch back and forth combining discur-
sive repertoires of authority and authenticity in order to achieve both distance and
proximity in relation to their public audiences.
Brown and Michael point out that while the boundary work performed through
the dominant model of popularisation is meant to empower scientists as the most
qualied in natural hermeneutics (Brown and Michael, 2001, p. 12), it still leaves
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 319
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them unequipped to speak with authority about accompanying ethical issues.
Here, they see the proponents of XTP seeking to win advantage by switching
back to employ a non-expert-popular discourse in which they include them-
selves within an idealised public identity (p. 13). In switching between things
they claim to know better, and things they experience the same way as anyone
else might, the proponents of XTP draw on two different rhetorical repertoires,
one of scientic fact, the other of shared cultural understandings. The alternation
between them is crucial. Not only does it enable the proponents to second-guess
what the public might take issue with, it also allows some questions to be
framed as ones demanding public discussion, while others can continue to be
treated as closed and already settled beyond dispute.
Therefore it is possible to present scientic authority in society as the result of
simultaneous claims to epistemic authority and cultural authenticity. In Brown and
Michaels example, claims of authenticity and moral justication are connected to
the suffering of individuals who might gain future relief through XTP. Thereby,
the epistemic authority of the proponents of XTP is connected with the present,
while their claims of cultural authenticity are connected to the future (Brown,
2005, pp. 349352). This is not the case with the LCHF movement, which
argues instead that the solution to obesity is already at hand.
Nonetheless, the generation of public expectations plays a crucial role in the
claims of authenticity made by the LCHF movement compensating for the
current absence of a rm science base for its proponents dietary advice. What
the LCHF movement shuttles between in its popularisation work is the debunking
of a corrupt dietary establishment combined with personal testimony afrming its
diet as a successful and authentic way to improve health. As Peters (2001) argues,
and Brown and Michael (2001) corroborate, lay testimony rooted in the experi-
ence of pain and torture has, for centuries, been seen as a cultural touchstone
for truth. Thus, by publicising the before-and-after stories of its dieters, the
LCHF movement seeks to offer an authentic image of the torture imposed by con-
ventional dietary recommendations and the salvation offered by conversion to the
LCHF regimen.
LCHF and the Swedish National Food AdministrationReverse
Recommendations
Underlying the conict between the LCHF movement and the Swedish National
Food Administration lies growing concern over what the World Health
Organization have labelled a global obesity epidemic today (WHO, 2011).
While the nature and reality of this epidemic is not the focus of this article, its per-
ceived existence cannot be ignored when taking account of the heightened tone of
public debate and discussion. Achieving recognition largely through epidemiolo-
gical research, the obesity epidemic has redened governmental concerns over
food and nutrition in recent decades. From a focus on combating malnutrition,
320 A. Gunnarsson & M. Elam
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the primary concern is now reducing the health risks associated with overeating. In
the context of the obesity epidemic, responsibility for healthy nutrition has also
broadly shifted, so that it is rstly individual citizens who are expected to
inform themselves about the components of a healthy diet and reform their
eating habits accordingly (Petersen and Lupton, 1996, pp. 4755). What is
required, therefore, is no longer measures assuring access to basic nourishment
so much as unbiased information enabling rational consumer choice (Reith,
2004, pp. 285286). Whether or not the obesity problem is on the scale it is
claimed to be, its depiction in epidemic terms has led to new associations being
drawn between individual dietary choice and the incidence of chronic disease
(cf. Gard and Wright, 2005; Gilman, 2008).
While the LCHF movement and the National Food Administration disagree
over both the causes and the cures for obesity, consensus exists over the
growing scale of the problem and the need for concerted societal action. Here,
the LCHF movement is prepared to present itself as a fully-edged public
health movement claiming that the Swedish population as a whole would
benet from converting to a low-carb, high fat lifestyle. Therefore, far from
being merely devoted to carving out a niche market, the LCHF movement is
arguing for a new generalised dietetic regimen. In this way, its followers wish
to present themselves as forming the foundations of an alternative national food
administration.
Ofcial dietary recommendations in Sweden are very much in line with the
international consensus on health and nutrition and do not deviate in any signi-
cant way from the recommendations given throughout Europe and in North
America. So the space for controversy appears limited, and yet, the LCHF move-
ment still wishes to argue that current recommendations in Sweden are not simply
wrong, but also based on fraudulent science.
The Swedish recommendations are summarised in a document called Swedish
Recommendations on Nutrition (Svenska naringsrekommendationer). Closely
co-ordinated with the recommendations provided in other Nordic countries,
they are designed to offer the general population the best available advice
founded on the most reliable scientic evidence (Livsmedelsverket, 2005,
p. 4). Fat is recommended to make up 2535% of energy intake, while saturated
fats are identied as a risk factor for coronary heart disease requiring that their
intake be generally reduced. On the other hand, carbohydrates are said to be vital
to health and should account for 5060% of energy intake, including the con-
sumption of 2535 g of dietary bre per day. This is recognised as promoting
a general increase in both carbohydrate and roughage consumption for most
members of the population compared with current eating habits (Livsmedelsver-
ket, 2005, p. 6). This largely conventional outlook on what constitutes a
balanced and healthy diet is directly at odds with a low-carb regimen which
supports a reverse understanding of the macronutrients responsible for the
production of fat.
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 321
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According to the Atkins diet and the LCHF movement, dietary fat is in itself
harmless and does not cause body fat. The formation of body fat is instead the
result of increased blood sugar, which in turn is caused by the consumption of carbo-
hydrates. Therefore, in order to lose weight, it is argued that one should limit the
intake of carbohydrates in all forms, while generally increasing fat consumption.
That fat is such a high energy food is considered beside the point, energy intake
per se is not the problem since fat does not raise blood sugar levels, and does not
lead the body to store fat (cf. Atkins, 1972/2002; Taubes, 2007).
3
The LCHF Movement Proponents as Sceptics Seeking to Rebuild the
Citadel of Dietary Science
In order to challenge the National Food Administration and their recommen-
dations, the LCHF movement mobilises conventional images of what sound
science should be in order to nd current regulatory science wanting. For
LCHF spokespersons, science should be, as in the dominant view of popularisa-
tion, the fortressed high ground of culture, or what anthropologist of science
Emily Martin labels citadel science (cf. Martin, 1998, pp. 2630). Placed
above society, citadel science is imagined as able to legitimately look down on
the world and objectify what it sees. Landscaping science and society relations
in this way, leading LCHF proponents like Annika Dahlqvist paint a negative
picture of the dietary establishment as citadel science deled. Fortressed like
citadel science, the establishment has usurped the authority of science. Dahlqvist
denes this establishment as follows:
The Establishment: An expression I often use. Im talking about the dietary
establishment. In authority in Sweden sit the professors at the National Food
Administration and the professors at the obesity units and other clinical
directors. Over them are the professors at WHO, who are controlled by
the professors in the USA. Then there are the professional dieticians. And
then you have the rest of the health care systemthe doctors, nurses and
other health care workers. And then the health advisors, the tness people
and so on (Dahlqvist, 2008, p. 194our translation).
This establishment is accused of basing its understanding of the obesity epi-
demic on shaky science which has won acceptance as incontestable truth only
due to the shared long-term investments made in this soft science by an alliance
of researchers, politicians and journalists. Assuming a position outside of this
scientically unreliable global alliance, LCHF proponents present themselves as
daring to speak out and expose the false authority which is currently ruling over
dietary policy (Dahlqvist, 2006).
In their criticism of the international dietetic establishment, the LCHF move-
ment bears a family resemblance to other cadres of science boundary workers
322 A. Gunnarsson & M. Elam
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and the type of sceptical movements described by Hess (1993) in the US, and by
Forstorp (2005) in Sweden. What all such movements have in common is their
shared cultivation of visions of sovereign science under threat due to the
advance of malign forms of pseudoscience in society. In their principled
defence of science and rationality, sceptical movements are prepared to declare
cultural war on what they see as unjustied claims to scientic authority, suspend-
ing the normal rules of scientic engagement in order to debunk fraud and pseu-
doscientic communities (Hess, 1993, pp. 8593). The LCHF movements
attacks on the dietary establishment bear many similarities to the righteous out-
pourings of sceptics defending citadel science against the fraudulent knowledge
claims of fringe scientists.
To show how the establishment obscures scientic ndings and manipulates the
results of studies, LCHF spokespersons profess to represent a more complete body
of research, supposedly censored by the current inhabitants of the corrupted
citadel. Any study or list of studies presented as evidence by the establishment
in support of their claims is scrutinised and derided as incomplete and tailored
to t biased conclusions. A typical example of this line of attack emphasising
incompleteness is provided by Eenfeldt:
The study was based on a single questionnaire about diet, made 12 years ago,
and thereafter followed up only through registered deaths, without any
contact with the participants. . . . Personally I think its doubtful if any con-
clusions at all can be drawn from the study. The fact that a larger, better con-
ducted study has produced contrary results is also damning (Eenfeldt, 2008,
pp. 168169our translation).
Like other popularisers assuming the guise of sceptics, the LCHF movement
accuses the dietetic establishment of wilfully misleading the general public (ima-
gined gullible, overly trustful and vulnerable) in order to protect their shared per-
sonal interests. Sceptical movements vary, however, depending upon how
complete they imagine the rule of fraudulent authority. In this respect, the
LCHF movement resembles more closely climate sceptics than the debunkers
of dowsers and telepaths. Proponents present themselves as the true defenders
of science who are currently locked out of a corrupted citadel, not the gatekeepers
of an existing scientic order dedicated to holding pseudoscience at bay. This has
led to a situation where the more conventional association of gatekeeper-style
sceptics in Sweden, Vetenskap och Folkbildning (VoF), aligned with the US Com-
mittee for Sceptical Inquiry, have been provoked into targeting the credibility of
leading LCHF spokespersons. Thus, Annika Dahlqvist was named Public Decei-
ver of the Year in 2009 by VoF for her use of a high level of public visibility to
propagate questionable and poorly-supported scientic claims (Vetenskap och
Folkbildning, 2009our translation).
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 323
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As Hess (1993) points out, sceptics tend to be much more concerned with pub-
licly discrediting fraudulent knowledge, than with clarifying and exemplifying
further what constitutes sound science. Nonetheless, in order to successfully
expose fraudulent science, some indication of what constitutes good scientic
practice must be articulated. Thus, we can nd representatives of the LCHF move-
ment attempting to offer some measure of insight into the superior dietary science
they represent. One example of this can be found in Dr Uffe Ravnskovs recent
book Fat and Cholesterol is Healthy! On Old and New Cholesterol Myths (Fett
och kolesterol ar halsosamt! Om gamla och nya kolesterolmyter) (2008). In
seeking to expose the impure science propagated by the cholesterol campaign
in society, Ravnskov (founder of The International Network of Cholesterol Scep-
ticsTINCS), sketches the Scientic Method that should rightfully reign over
dietary science. As it turns out, what is offered is nothing more surprising than
an eulogy to the Popperian ideal of falsication:
To see if [a hypothesis] is correct we test it in all possible ways, or as we say,
we try to refute it . . . A real scientist is . . . just as interested in observations
that overthrow his or her hypothesis as in those that conrm it (Ravnskov,
2008, p. 4our translation).
Thus, a conventional abstraction of scientic practice is offered as a guarantee of
both the scientic integrity and the societal relevance of the LCHF movement.
Popularisation as the Debunking of the Dietary Establishment
Drawing on iconic images and programmatic statements regarding how true
science should be pursued, the LCHF movement has set about trying to publicly
discredit the orthodox fat is harmful view. One of the prime targets of LCHF cri-
ticism has been the comparative dietary research conducted by Ancel Keys in the
1950s. Viewed by the LCHF movement as the starting point for the defamation of
fat, showing inconclusiveness and implying wilful manipulation of research
results on Keys part is seen as a means of attacking the foundations of the
dietary establishment. A focus of criticism is Keys comparative Seven
Countries research, which established a correlation between high intake of satu-
rated fat and coronary heart disease (Keys, 1970, 1980).
Keys eventually became highly inuential, and like so many others with an
interest in the effects of diet on health, promoted his own version of a healthy
diet, usually referred to as the Mediterranean diet (McLaren, 1997). According
to Uffe Ravnskov, Keys studies are unreliable, due to the selection of country
data designed to coincide with underlying assumptions:
At this time there existed relevant data available from 22 countries. The
explanation is that if all these data were included the clear link [between
324 A. Gunnarsson & M. Elam
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dietary fat and cardiovascular disease] would disappear. Mortality in for
example Finland was seven times higher than in Mexico, despite fat con-
sumption in the two countries being on the same level (Ravnskov, 2008,
p. 24our translation).
Another LCHF proponent, Lars-Erik Litsfeldt, continues the assault on Keys by
directly imputing fraudulent practice:
Perhaps Keys had decided upon the result he wanted to reach, sacricing his
reputation for seriousness. Had all 22 countries been included, any primary
school pupil could have proved that the less fat consumed in a country, the
larger the number of heart attacks suffered. All one would have had to do is
to take your eraser and remove the dots that dont match the curve you want
to show (Litsfeldt 2007/2008, p. 95our translation).
However, the accusations launched against Keys by LCHF spokespersons do not
end with those of science fraudhe is also seen as responsible for founding an
unscientic myth or lie that has endangered public health globally for
decades. Different LCHF proponents have christened the supposedly false
claims underlying received dietary thinking in different ways; for Ravnskov the
public has been a victim of the cholesterol myth, while for Litsfeldt people
have been subject to the fat scare; Dahlqvist on the other hand prefers to talk
of the establishment view. For all of these LCHF proponents, however, the
current Swedish Recommendations on Nutrition are seen as directly drawing on
the unreliable foundations for dietary policy that Keys was so instrumental in
establishing.
By pointing to the existence of missing or excluded countries from Keys
research, the LCHF proponents seek to reintroduce a higher degree of uncertainty
into the current science base of dietary thinking. Combined with the tactic of rein-
terpreting the science underlying the establishment view, showing that it actually
lends some degree of support for a low-carbohydrate diet, proponents of the LCHF
movement can also be seen as attempting to set themselves up as the preferred
popularisers and summarisers of past research. Lacking the resources and oppor-
tunity to amass a science base of its own, the LCHF movement appears intent on
hijacking to some extent the science that has previously been publicly presented as
speaking against what they recommend.
Of the leading LCHF spokespersons, Uffe Ravnskov has gone furthest in his
efforts to debunk conventional dietary science. He has done this by achieving pub-
lication as an independent researcher in two professional journalsthe British
Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. As in his
popular writings, Ravnskovs tactic has been to carry out critical reviews of
past research in order to expose the cholesterol myth. For example, in his
BMJ article, Ravnskov compares frequency of citation with the outcome of all
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 325
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controlled cholesterol lowering trials using coronary heart disease or death, or
both, as end point. By comparing all the available studies, Ravnskov can con-
clude that lowering cholesterol does not reduce mortality and that [c]laims of
the opposite are based on preferential citation of supportive trials (Ravnskov,
1992, p. 15). This ploy has been repeated in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology
in 1995 to reveal again quotation bias in reviews of the diet heart disease associ-
ation (Ravnskov, 1995). This has then enabled him to publish a further time in the
latter journal questioning more generally the role of saturated and polyunsaturated
fatty acids in heart disease (Ravnskov, 1998).
Exposing Collusion Between Dietary Science and the Food Industry
Another style of attack made upon the dietetic establishment by the LCHF move-
ment is to present all relations of connection between dietary science, government
authority and the food industry as malign. In similar fashion to the way in which
tobacco industry funding of research into smoking and health has been broadly
attacked for giving rise to science tainted with industry interests, so LCHF spokes-
persons choose to identify any connection between dietary science, and in particu-
lar National Food Administration experts, and the food industry as capable of
exposing their false authority.
Ofcial recommendations on nutrition are seen as directly supporting the food
industrys mass marketing of new ranges of light and low-fat products. Further-
more, LCHF spokespersons are prepared to condemn the food and pharmaceutical
industries alike for setting the agenda for dietary research through established
webs of science, government and industry ties. So for example, both Ravnskov
and Dahlqvist wish to suggest that the prot deriving from cholesterol reducing
statins, and various brands of margarine, remains the primary reason for continued
industry funding of research capable of heightening public anxiety over cholesterol
intake and risk for cardiovascular disease (Dahlqvist, 2008, pp. 150153, 156157;
Ravnskov, 2008, pp. 145155). Following this line of attack, Dahlqvist (2008) has
devoted time to outlining what she calls the ruling conditions for research where
scientic and pecuniary interests are presented as closely intertwined:
The large-scale dietary studies are nanced by the wealthy food industry, and
they are expected to award their sponsors a high economic return. An ever-
decreasing share of dietary research is nanced through public funds. If the
results of research are not to industrys liking then it is best to refrain from
publishing (Dahlqvist, 2008, p. 145our translation).
According to Dahlqvist this leads to conformism in dietary science, where even
those interested in alternative and original explanations must turn to industry
to beg for funding (Dahlqvist, 2008, p. 145our translation). This damming
summary of the current constraints on research is intended to discredit existing
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research while also providing an explanation for the continuing shortfall of
research subjecting the relative virtues of low-carb diets to closer investigation.
Thus, when the National Food Administration in Sweden evokes the accumu-
lated weight of scientic knowledge and experience in support of its nutritional
guidelines, the LCHF movement already has the rhetorical means at hand to
bring this apparently unassailable evidence base into public question. By interpret-
ing the existence of policy networks and alliances, bringing together represen-
tations from science, government and industry, as proof of the corruption of
existing citadel science, LCHF proponents can portray themselves as the true stan-
dard-bearers of science in society. By emphasising their exclusion from the diete-
tic establishment, and by working hard to alienate themselves even further from
this establishment, proponents of the LCHF movement seek to take advantage
of the conventional imagery of science and society as separate spheres. Only
through their visible estrangement from the dietetic establishment does the oppor-
tunity arise for proponents of the LCHF movement to portray themselves as the
true guardians of the citadel of dietary science. This citadel, however, also risks
taking on mythical proportions in the process. It remains a science rooted rstly
in abstract and programmatic statements in support of the scientic method
rather than real and existing alternative bodies of evidence.
Public Voices as Authentic Testimony: The LCHF Movement Among Its
Followers
When not criticising the dietetic establishment for failing to live up to idealised
standards of scientic practice, the LCHF movement concentrates on developing
its identity as a popular movement by privileging the voices and experiences of
those who claim to have beneted, and found new health by converting to an
LCHF diet. In this way, the movement seeks not only to represent the true auth-
ority of citadel science, but also the everyday lives and experiences of those
with most to win or lose in controversies over dietary advice. These lived experi-
ences provide the basis for an alternative evidence base informally testifying to the
authenticity of the dietary advice the LCHF movement offers.
With the established expertise and scientic research on the relationship
between diet and health cast into doubt, the LCHF movement sets about creating
public space for the voices and experiences of those taking and living by its dietary
advice. In this way the public is not only conceived of as an audience to be com-
municated with, but also as including individuals capable of supplying living
proof of the virtues of the dietary regimen being advanced.
In the concerns that the LCHF movement seeks to raise about the relationship
between diet and health, not only are carbohydrates recast as the villains rather
than fat; diabetes is substituted for coronary heart disease as the chief illness to
worry about. Therefore, type 2 diabetes sufferer, Lars-Erik Litsfeldt, is able to
speak from experience when he charts the dangers of carbohydrates in his book,
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 327
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Scared Off Fat (Fettskramd). Having regained his health through an LCHF diet,
Litsfeldt sees himself obliged to publicly clarify the nature of the problem he
has overcome. As he explains: The body cells get hungry as they are prevented
from assimilating glucose. The cells ownerthe patientalso gets hungry and
eats more and so accelerates the course of the disease as more fat building
insulin is released (Litsfeldt, 2007/2008, pp. 5461 quotes from pp. 54 and
56our translation).
Based on this purported interplay between carbohydrates, blood sugar, insulin
and body fat, Litsfeldt can conrm, rstly on the basis of his own corporeal experi-
ence, that the most effective way to reduce excessive body fat is to limit the intake
of carbohydrates. Since dietary fat can then be largely freed of blame for causing
ill-health, it becomes available to be reconceived as the macronutrient best suited
for replacing harmful carbohydrates.
Before-and-After: LCHF as the Path to Personal Salvation
Given that many of the leading spokespersons of the LCHF movement are general
practitioners, we nd them exploiting this situation to publicise the experiences of
patients, who after having tried an LCHF diet, have found new health. The two
LCHF proponents Dr Eenfeldt and Dr Dahlqvist have, for example, initiated
what are currently (April 2010) the two most visited private blogs on health and
medicine in Sweden (Aftonbladet, 2010). Here we can nd what is advanced as
anecdotal evidence, where individuals who have experienced improvements in
health through an LCHF diet bear witness. Such testimony is collected under
sub-headings like: Overweight (and type 2 diabetes), type 1 diabetes and
other improvements in health. The typical style of presenting and commenting
upon testimony is as follows:
My name is Lars Pekkala and I am newly retired . . . I suffer from type 2 dia-
betes. In July 2006 I discovered Annika Dahlqvist . . . Started eating according
to LCHF and after two days I could start phasing out my insulin injections
down froma level of 50 units a day. Today I take no medicine for my diabetes
. . . I have lost 12 kg in weight. It is going to be very difcult to persuade me
that LCHF is a bad/dangerous diet (Eenfeldt, 2010our translation).
This particular testimony is followed directly by a comment from Dr Eenfeldt
where he informs that not all type 2 diabetes sufferers can expect to be able to
stop taking insulin so quickly, or at all. However, he also conrms that it is
normal after switching to an LCHF diet to be able to reduce insulin doses immedi-
ately. Under the sub-heading type 1 diabetes a link is provided to an article in
Diabetes Voice by the former Vice-President of the International Diabetes Federa-
tion where he recommends a much reduced carbohydrate dietary intake as a key
element of diabetes management.
328 A. Gunnarsson & M. Elam
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In Dahlqvists 2008 book on LCHF as a means of weight control and a path to
better health, public testimony is again privileged. Interspersed between the main
chapters are what Dahlqvist calls reports of the health benets gained by hundreds
of people. The path to low-carb salvation repeatedly follows the same courserst
there is a before, typically a prolonged period of chronic pain and suffering: I
have been feeling unwell for almost 20 yearsbromyalgia, stomach problems
and anxiety and so on (Dahlqvist, 2008, p. 121our translation). During this
period several remedies have usually been experimented with, before the discovery
of a low-carbohydrate diet which usually occurs through chance encounter with new
dietary advice. Despite initial doubts and the scepticism of friends and relatives,
positive results are typically experienced within a short period of time as a new
life or an after begins to take shape. As one account proceeds:
In my mind I wondered how I could possibly do without fruit, sugar and
candy but realised after a few days that I no longer needed anything
besides the food. I am full but not stuffed after an LCHF-dinner and comple-
tely satised (Dahlqvist, 2008, pp. 3637our translation).
Like Eenfeldt, Dahlqvist is quick to disclaim the scientic import of these personal
testimonies, while still insisting that they constitute evidence of another kind
regarding benets to health: These reports are not scientic evidence, but
they are immediate proof that a great many have already improved their health
through this diet (Dahlqvist, 2008, p. xxviour translation). Thus, the accumu-
lated evidence of science can be contrasted with the immediate experiences of
individual dieters. These may be unique and impossible for others to experience
in the same way, but their existence demonstrates how an LCHF diet is
working for a steadily growing number of people. Due to their connection with
primary health care, general practitioners like Dahlqvist and Eenfeldt can
present themselves as siding with those willing to publicly conde the benets
they have derived from an LCHF diet. Together with these newfound condants,
Dahlqvist and Eenfeldt can then launch renewed criticism against a distanced and
detached establishment which seeks to deny and belittle the relief from suffering
experienced by so many beneciaries of an LCHF regimen.
Corporeal Witnessing: Building Trust
The types of before-and-after tales of personal salvation related above are impor-
tant rhetorical devices for the LCHF movement in its struggle against the dietetic
establishment. They can be presented as an alternative form of empirical truth to
be contrasted with the allegedly fraudulent science upon which the dietary estab-
lishment rests. The personal salvation stories can appear undistorted because they
are apparently unsolicited and freely volunteered. It is the bodily experience of the
dieters that provokes them to go public and conde to the world what they have
experienced. The leading LCHF proponents then simply create the space for these
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 329
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personal stories to be heard. In turn, the making public of these private stories can
be interpreted as an act of public kindness to those who may be able to learn from
them in order to escape suffering.
The corporeal foundations of personal testimony can also be seen as enhancing
its public credibility and trustworthiness, thus further strengthening the LCHF
movements claims to authenticity. In Peters (2001) mapping out of the nature
of witnessing, suffering bodies are awarded a special signicance. From torture
to martyrdom, bodies in pain have been seen as supplying the material foundations
for authentic testimony. Even the testimony of those who might otherwise be con-
sidered deceitful, can be received differently when it is delivered out of pain.
Therefore, just because the anecdotal evidence highlighted by Dahlqvist and
Eenfeldt shows the transformation of suffering bodies into bodies freed of pain
it can be seen as anchoring further the claims of the LCHF movement in reality.
Whether juxtaposing pictures of oneself as at rst overweight and in despair,
and then slim and joyful, or posing in now ridiculously oversized pants, the
bodies of dieters are instantly striking and credible through their demonstration
of unquestionable transformation. They showcase not only the alleged efcacy
of a low-carb diet, but also the unreliability of establishment statements on
healthy diets. Where the popularisations of the XTP proponents described by
Brown and Michael (2001) strived to align authority and authenticity, the
LCHF movement holds up before-and-after images as authentic testimonies com-
pensating for a lack of established scientic authority.
Through before-and-after imagery an alternative style of science popularisation
and public truth-telling is advanced. It is a form of truth-telling just as capable of
speaking against existing scientic authority as for it. Also in stark contrast to gen-
eralised dietary recommendations, the before-and-after testimony of individual
dieters is equivalent to personal dietary recommendations with greater direct
appeal. While generalised recommendations carry no remaining trace of personal
dietary experience, before-and-after testimony invites individual members of the
public to share in personal dietary knowledge and experience. Rather than striving
to comply with generalised recommendations authored by impersonal authority, the
privileging of personal testimony has enabled the LCHF movement to translate
dieting into a community-based activity. By promoting a participatory culture
around an LCHF diet, leading gures like Dahlqvist and Eenfeldt encourage
dieters to showeach other the way to achieving a healthier low-carb lifestyle. There-
fore, rather than through impersonal exhortations, the leaders of the LCHF move-
ment are dedicated to coaching the already converted as to how to go about
converting others to a low-carb lifestyle.
Conclusion
Proceedingontwofronts, the science popularisationpractices of the LCHFmovement
are concerned with both debunking established dietary science and authenticating an
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alternative source of dietetic authority. Simply because science popularisation as a
eld of cultural endeavour builds on an assumed division between the work of produ-
cing scientic knowledge and that of publicly communicating it, so the LCHF move-
ment has been able to partly compensate for its limited participation in basic research
by dominating the popularisation of dietary science in Sweden.
In order to propagate its alternative dietary regimen, the LCHF movement has
been able to become highly adept at shuttling between claims to authority and
authenticity in debate. Like the leading bioscientists depicted by Brown and
Michael (2001), the most prominent LCHF spokespersons seek to gain control
over the boundary between science and society; not redrawing it anew from one
side alone but rather moving back and forth across a new science and society
divide in the making. However, while Brown and Michael observe bioscientists
taking advantage of their existing authority in order to raise hopes and expec-
tations for the biomedical future, we see the LCHF movement attempting to
make progress from the opposite position. The movements science is more or
less exclusively a popularised science presented in cookbooks, newspaper articles
and blogs, but it is a dietetics, its proponents argue, that will soon win the scientic
authority it deserves. Thus, rather than from authority to authenticity, the LCHF
movement publicises true life stories of low-carb salvation in order to strengthen
its claim to a dietary authority it sees itself deprived of. Far from the conventional
view of science popularisation as a practice subservient to established science, the
LCHF movement deploys it as a way to challenge current authority by means of
authentic testimony and the critical scrutiny of established research.
With their strategy of publicly debunking the false epistemic authority of the
establishment based on an understanding of themselves as the true defenders of
citadel science, the proponents of the LCHF movement are intent on shaping
their public image in a number of ways. The alleged corruption of the existing
citadel of dietary science can be used to help explain why a solid evidentiary
base has never been assembled in support of the LCHF movements dietary
claims. Apparently hindered from amassing hard evidence in support of their
claims, proponents of the LCHF movement can also present themselves as
thrown into a natural alliance with those having most to immediately gain from
following their dietary advice. While advertising their overriding faith in the epis-
temic authority of science, they portray themselves as obliged to privilege individ-
ual experience as, for the time being at least, the most reliable guide to the
relationship between diet and health.
It is through abstractions of sound science and its principled defence that the
LCHF movement lays claim to authority. The LCHF movement wishes to be pub-
licly understood as the next National Food Administration-in-waiting. Unable to
wield the resources needed to build up a conventional science base in support
of their dietary claims, LCHF spokespersons present themselves as the banished
experts determined to debunk and eventually overthrow false dietary authority.
By publicising the worldly connections of the reigning dietary experts, LCHF
Food Fight! The Swedish Low-Carb/High Fat Movement 331
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proponents seek to portray themselves as holding the keys to the pure and unpol-
luted citadel of dietary science.
Ultimately, while they currently have no amassed body of scientic evidence at
their disposal, the proponents of the LCHF movement can parade the personal
experiences of dieters as an alternative evidence base. They can show hopes
already fullled and individuals seemingly empowered to take their lives into
their own hands and deliver themselves out of suffering. Those who have learnt to
manage their diabetes through an LCHF diet can publicly stand side-by-side with
the general practitioners who have acted as their dietary counsels and form a
united front in support of a generalised shift in dietary regimen throughout
society. In this way, the LCHF movement is attempting to portray itself as already
possessed of authenticity and rightfully destined for scientic authority in society.
The reliance of the LCHF movement on the personal testimony of dieters to
advance its cause can be linked to the prominence of general practitioners in the
vanguard of the movement. Making the contrast again with Brown and Michaels
proponents of xenotransplantation, the LCHF movement is founded rstly upon
the skilful public sociology of general practitioners, not the path-breaking research
of medical scientists. It is through the sophistication of this public sociology that
science popularisation has been transformed into a weapon capable of being
turned against the Swedish dietary establishment. While this establishment has a
seemingly more solid and consensual dietary science on its side, its relative shortfall
of sociological savvy in the Swedish context has left it at the mercy of an unlikely
band of low-carb crusaders.
Assuming and enacting a strict separation of the production of scientic knowl-
edge from the actions leading to its public dissemination, the dominant approach
to the popularisation of science opens the way for a competing range of voices in
popular culture to lay claim to a rm connection with science. In the case of the
attacks launched by the LCHF movement on the dietary recommendations of the
Swedish National Food Administration, uncertainty over the location of the seat of
dietetic authority has been exacerbated by the fact that the rst language of scien-
tic discussion and debate (English) is other than the rst language of popularisa-
tion (Swedish). In the case detailed here, science popularisation reveals itself as a
eld of practice just as amenable to challenging as buttressing the epistemic auth-
ority of established science.
Notes
1
Key volumes referred to include Dahlqvist (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), Litsfeldt (2007/2008,
2009a, 2009b), Ravnskov (2008, 2010) and Wikholm and Wikholm (2010).
2
The blogs in question are Annika Dahlqvists Doktor Dahlqvists Blogg, Andreas Eenfeldts
Kostdoktorn, Anders Tengblads Diabetes.doc, anonymously run low-carb blog Fatlies
FETA LO

GNER, and Kolhydrater iFokus administered by online signature Margareta.


3
The reasoning behind this idea lends credibility from a primitivist reading of human history.
Most low-carb diets, including the Swedish LCHF variant, combine ideas about the health of
332 A. Gunnarsson & M. Elam
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our distant ancestors and the health of indigenous people, mainly the Masai and the Inuit, as
examples or parables of healthy lifestyles based on diets that include very little carbohydrates.
There are many issues to be had with this reasoning and it has attracted some scholarly interest
lately, mainly with regards to its tendencies towards racism and its romanticism of what is inac-
curately thought of as more original ways of life (cf. Knight, 2005). The focus of this text
however is on the processes of popularisation, and even though primitivism is part of the stra-
tegic arsenal of the LCHF movement it will be left for others to disentangle.
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