Sign up FAST! Login

The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease

Stashed in: #health, Science!, Fitspo, Awesome, Fat!, Nutrition!, Diabetes, Heart, Health Studies, Things that should get eaten

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Really good overview of the history of the idea that saturated fat does or does not cause heart disease. Seriously, if your doctor still subscribes to these older ideas you might want to look into getting a new doctor because science.

"People on diets high in vegetable oil... were more likely to die from violent accidents and suicides. Experts now speculate that certain psychological problems might be related to changes in brain chemistry caused by diet, such as fatty-acid imbalances or the depletion of cholesterol"

Thank you for sharing this article.

Once again the real culprit is carbohydrates:

One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according to the best available government data. Translation: Instead of meat, eggs and cheese, we're eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Even seemingly healthy low-fat foods, such as yogurt, are stealth carb-delivery systems, since removing the fat often requires the addition of fillers to make up for lost texture—and these are usually carbohydrate-based.

The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease.

The real surprise is that, according to the best science to date, people put themselves at higher risk for these conditions no matter what kind of carbohydrates they eat. Yes, even unrefined carbs. Too much whole-grain oatmeal for breakfast and whole-grain pasta for dinner, with fruit snacks in between, add up to a less healthy diet than one of eggs and bacon, followed by fish. The reality is that fat doesn't make you fat or diabetic. Scientific investigations going back to the 1950s suggest that actually, carbs do.

Surely the culprits are Data Selection and Cognitive Biases. What's so worrying is that how some bad science has now affected our entire food and health supply chains. It would be interesting to see an Infographic of how this theory evolved prior to Dr. Keys' analysis, and then to show how that theory turned into lore which turned into medical advice, AHA guidance, medical practice, food company product strategy, advertising and marketing messages, food eating habits, restaurant and catering menus, symptoms of ill-health, diagnoses and false diagnoses, healthcare costs. Eek, that;s a long chain of events. 

"Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study. For one, he didn't choose countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs, including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy. Excluded were France, land of the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where people consumed a lot of fat yet didn't suffer from high rates of heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany. The study's star subjects—upon whom much of our current understanding of the Mediterranean diet is based—were peasants from Crete, islanders who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr. Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative period of extreme hardship after World War II. Furthermore, he made the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when they were forgoing meat and cheese. Dr. Keys therefore undercounted their consumption of saturated fat. Also, due to problems with the surveys, he ended up relying on data from just a few dozen men—far from the representative sample of 655 that he had initially selected. These flaws weren't revealed until much later, in a 2002 paper by scientists investigating the work on Crete—but by then, the misimpression left by his erroneous data had become international dogma." 

I agree that that would be an interesting infographic.

One strange thing about America is that misinformation tends to stick around way too long.

How many articles like this have to be written before repeating this message is no longer needed?

The AHA and the USDA share a lot of the blame for spreading misinformation for decades:

Sticking to these guidelines has meant ignoring growing evidence that women on diets low in saturated fat actually increase their risk of having a heart attack. The "good" HDL cholesterol drops precipitously for women on this diet (it drops for men too, but less so). The sad irony is that women have been especially rigorous about ramping up on their fruits, vegetables and grains, but they now suffer from higher obesity rates than men, and their death rates from heart disease have reached parity.

Seeing the U.S. population grow sicker and fatter while adhering to official dietary guidelines has put nutrition authorities in an awkward position. Recently, the response of many researchers has been to blame "Big Food" for bombarding Americans with sugar-laden products. No doubt these are bad for us, but it is also fair to say that the food industry has simply been responding to the dietary guidelines issued by the AHA and USDA, which have encouraged high-carbohydrate diets and until quite recently said next to nothing about the need to limit sugar.

Indeed, up until 1999, the AHA was still advising Americans to reach for "soft drinks," and in 2001, the group was still recommending snacks of "gum-drops" and "hard candies made primarily with sugar" to avoid fatty foods.

Our half-century effort to cut back on the consumption of meat, eggs and whole-fat dairy has a tragic quality. More than a billion dollars have been spent trying to prove Ancel Keys's hypothesis, but evidence of its benefits has never been produced. It is time to put the saturated-fat hypothesis to bed and to move on to test other possible culprits for our nation's health woes.

One big issue with the studies about red meat has been that 30y ago, there was no distinction made between corn-fed beef (higher in fat) vs. grass fed (lower, with more of the good stuff like amino acids etc), and nitrates in meats (bad) vs. none. There is no evidence that grass-fed beef without nitrates cause heart disease or other circulatory issues.. there is evidence that corn-fed beef with nitrates is quite dangerous. But they made no distinction until the Harvard meta-study pub. in 2010 that showed that corn-fed nitrate beef/pig/lamb etc is the problem. And it was based upon these studies 30y ago that the higher carb diet was recommended.. but the point of that was based upon studies that made no distinction between high fiber (very good for you) complex carbs (think quinoa, whole brown rice, buckwheat groats, etc) vs. just more simple carbs. High fiber is good, simple carbs are bad. And recently the USDA came out saying men should eat a max of 10 teaspoons of sugar a day, women 6. That's really hard.. but if you read the carbs on the nutrition label, and sugars comes up at 4.5, that the equivalent of 1 teasp. So.. no more than 45 a day for men, or 27 for women. It's really tough to do that under our current Industrial Food Complex.

You May Also Like: