It has become “settled science” that fat is bad for us. We hear it all the time. Yet despite the push for low fat diets and low fat foods from health authorities, the same authorities keep telling us we are losing the “war” on obesity and that rates of illnesses associated with diet are increasing.
So what if there is a hole in the story? What if we have been led up the wrong path? It is so ingrained that fats are bad and that fatty foods are unhealthy that to even suggest something like this will provoke outrage in some quarters.
Two major reviews published on PubMed, which is part of the National Institute of Health, throw a massive question mark over our assumptions. A review of 500 trials published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (The Journal of The American Medical Association) showed NO correlation between dietary fat intake and Coronary Heart Disease. A second analysis of nearly 350,000 people over 23 years showed no association between dietary fat intake and either heart disease or stroke!
That’s right! Despite all the years of study and all the claims by authorities that going low fat is good for the heart-there is not actually any evidence to support this.
So how has it come to this? US author Garry Taubes has written extensively on this subject. In essence a 1950’s paper by a Dr Ancel Keys suggested that saturated fats and cholesterol were linked to heart disease. In the 1960’s work was done on lipoproteins, which carry cholesterol in the blood stream. By the 70’s the notions of good and bad cholesterol became established but in fact this was shorthand for “good and bad” lipoproteins as the cholesterol is actually the same.
The most famous study on heart disease was the Framingham study but like many famous works it has been misquoted. We are led to believe that cholesterol is a major risk factor in heart disease and must be lowered and that “bad cholesterol” is, of course, bad and must also be lowered.
In fact the study found that “total cholesterol per se is not a risk factor for coronary heart disease at all” and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) is a marginal risk factor.
By this stage the idea that fats in general and saturated fats in particular were bad for us has become accepted. Hence because saturated fats raised LDL it was assumed that saturated fats are bad. In turn LDL is bad because it is raised by saturated fats. In fact this is a circular argument much like saying it is wet because it is raining and it is raining because it is wet. Maybe it is wet because the hose was left on!
Two major studies in 2008 comparing cholesterol lowering medications, showed that the one which lowered cholesterol more did not lower heart disease or death by any more. In other words just lowering cholesterol made no difference in real outcomes as against blood test measurements. This leads to the whole problem of medicine treating to target rather than treating people, but that is for another day.
So what are we to make of this? A sensible diet comprises a number of different things of plant and animal origin (and yes it is OK not to have animal based food if that is your choice). Fats are not bad and saturated fat is not intrinsically bad either. It is a problem to have too much as it is to have too much carbohydrate too. The biggest problems are with trans fats, which are to be avoided-so read the labels.
Good fats include fish oils, (which have also been shown to be good for babies when taken in pregnancy) avocado, nuts, organic eggs, coconut oil, organic butter and grass fed meats. Please be aware that the fat in farm animals is changed when they are fed grain instead of grass.
The fat is bad industry is worth billions so do not expect it to give up without a fight. For those of you wanting to be in charge of your health you can include some fats, including saturated fats, in your diet and not have to worry about it.