By Dr. Mercola
A new study from the Netherlands has aroused a great deal of interest, especially as it comes immediately in the wake of an ill-conceived Danish tax that unfairly targets saturated fats.
The study found that dietary intake of saturated fatty acids is associated with a modest increase in serum total cholesterol -- but not with cardiovascular disease.
However, replacing dietary saturated fats with carbohydrates is associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease risk.
Let me repeat that:
Replacing saturated fats in your diet, like those from healthy grass-fed beef, raw organic butter, and other high-quality animal foods, with carbohydrates like bread, bagels, pasta, rice and doughnuts will increase your risk of heart disease.
Saturated Fats Are GOOD for You
I can't stress this point enough, as I realize it may take some of you reading this by surprise.
Unfortunately, this is the result of misguided and downright incorrect information that has been widely circulated from public health agencies, as well as further "cemented" in people's minds with the introduction of saturated fat replacements like trans fats and vegetable oil, which are far worse for your health.
Consider this: most would agree that human breast milk is likely the ideal human food for infants and their developing bodies. Breast milk contains 54 percent saturated fat. This is not a mistake; it's there in such high quantities because it plays a crucial role in your body's development and day-to-day functioning, even as an adult. In fact, your body cannot function without saturated fats! Saturated fats are needed for the proper function of your:
✓ Cell membranes
✓ Bones (to assimilate calcium)
✓ Immune system
✓ Satiety (reducing hunger)
✓ Genetic regulation
As this latest study shows, you eliminate saturated fats from your diet at your own peril, as doing so will actually increase, not decrease, your risk of heart disease, particularly if you replace them with carbohydrates, which are the true dietary villain you need to be avoiding.
The Truth About Saturated Fats and Heart Disease
Do you long for a meal of a butter-drenched, rare steak but pass it up because you equate it with a "heart attack on a plate"? Well, I have good news for you, and that is you can enjoy a rare-cooked, butter-drenched steak without guilt, assuming it is grass-fed steak and raw organic butter -- it's good for you!
Heart disease is so common today, it's hard for people to remember that a mere 100 years ago this disease was really uncommon. Today, a number of indigenous tribes around the world are living proof that a high-saturated-fat diet equates to low mortality from heart disease. These include:
So why, then, does the most recent food chart issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in December of 2010 recommend reducing your saturated fat intake to a mere 7 percent of caloric intake -- down from its previously recommended 10 percent?
The demonization of saturated fat began in 1953, when Dr. Ancel Keys published a paper comparing saturated fat intake and heart disease mortality. His theory turned out to be flimsy, to say the least, but the misguided ousting of saturated fat has continued unabated ever since.
Keys based his theory on a study of seven countries, in which higher saturated fat intake equated to higher rates of heart disease. However, he conveniently ignored data from 16 other countries that did not fit his theory. Had he chosen a different set of countries, the data would have shown that increasing the percent of calories from fat reduces the number of deaths from coronary heart disease.
When you include all 22 countries for which data was available at the time of his study, you find that those who consume the highest percentage of saturated fat have the lowest risk of heart disease.
The nutrition community of that time completely accepted Keys' hypothesis, and encouraged the public to cut out butter, red meat, animal fats, eggs, dairy and other "artery clogging" fats from their diets -- a radical change at that time that is still very much in force today. Most of the experts I know believe that Dr. Keys' research was pivotal for perpetuating the flawed low-fat approach to health. This is a major part of the solid science you will need to know if anyone seeks to disagree with you when you share this information; this study is really the foundation that triggered the massive emphasis on low-fat diets and the flawed belief that cholesterol and animal fats are so pernicious.
The Latest Research Proves Saturated Fats are Not Your Enemy
Fortunately, the truth is finally starting to come out, as medical scientists have begun to seriously question Keys' findings. Research is now pouring in that the conventional dogma demonizing saturated fats is simply wrong:
• A meta-analysis published last year, which pooled data from 21 studies and included nearly 348,000 adults, found no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.
• A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a reduction in saturated fat intake must be evaluated in the context of replacement by other macronutrients, such as carbohydrates.
When you replace saturated fat with a higher carbohydrate intake, particularly refined carbohydrate, you exacerbate insulin resistance and obesity, increase triglycerides and small LDL particles, and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol. The authors state that dietary efforts to improve your cardiovascular disease risk should primarily emphasize the limitation of refined carbohydrate intake, and weight reduction.
Several other key studies used to support the demonization of saturated fats have also been debunked in recent years, even though the media has not been picking up on this. For instance, take the Framingham Heart Study, which is often cited as proof of the lipid hypothesis (the idea that saturated fat causes high cholesterol and heart disease). This study began in 1948 and involved some 6,000 people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts who filled out detailed questionnaires about their lifestyle habits and diets. The study is credited with identifying heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and high cholesterol.
The cholesterol link was weak, as researchers noted those who weighed more and had abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were slightly more at risk for future heart disease, but widely publicized. What you don't hear about is the fact that the more cholesterol and saturated fat people ate, the lower their cholesterol levels.
In a 1992 editorial published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. William Castelli, a former director of the Framingham Heart study, stated:
"In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person's serum cholesterol. The opposite of what… Keys et al would predict…We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active."
Other studies often used to justify a low-fat diet, including The U.S. Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT) and the Lipid Research Clinics Coronary Primary Prevention Trial (LRC-CPPT), are also misleading examples that used omissions of key data and statistical lies to "prove" their points. You can read the full details of these flawed studies here.
Carbs are the Real Public Health Enemy: Top Two Dietary Truths Revealed
It's frustrating, to say the least, that the U.S. dietary guidelines have long advised Americans to fill their plates with grains while limiting saturated fats, as this is the opposite of what most people need to stay healthy.
Most studies that have linked the so-called "Western diet" to an increased heart disease risk simply confirm that sugar and refined carbohydrates are harmful to your heart health. Because although the Western diet is high in red and processed meats and saturated fats, it's also alarmingly high in sugar and refined carbs like bread and pasta. And, as concluded in the latest study, when you reduce saturated fat and increase refined carbohydrates, you end up promoting heart disease, not to mention obesity and diabetes.
Gary Taubes has done an excellent job of explaining the connection between carbs and obesity and its related health issues in his book Why We Get Fat: and What to do About It. I believe there are two primary dietary recommendations that could make all the difference in the world for most people, leading to a swift reversal in the horrific disease trends we're currently facing:
- Severely restrict carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet
- Increase healthy fat consumption (saturated fats, omega-3 fats, monounsaturated fats)
I recently wrote about this recommendation in-depth, so for more details please see This Substance Fools Your Metabolism - and Tricks Your Body into Gaining Pounds. If you want to shed excess pounds and maintain a healthy weight long-term, and RADICALLY reduce (and in many cases virtually eliminate) your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, then get serious about restricting your consumption of fructose to no more than 25 grams per day, with a maximum of 15 grams a day from fresh fruit.
If you're already overweight, or have any of these diseases or are at high risk of any of them, then you're probably better off cutting that down to 10-15 grams per day, fruit included.
That's the first step. My nutrition plan lays out the rest in a simple to follow, step-by-step manner. In a nutshell, eating saturated fats will not increase your risk of heart disease … but excess carbohydrates will.