By Dr. Mercola
Another nail has been driven into the coffin of the low-fat diet. Three articles have recently appeared in prominent medical journals elucidating the fallacy of the saturated fat myth.
For nearly four decades, you've been urged to replace your dietary saturated fats with carbohydrates and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in order to improve your metabolic profile and lower your cardiovascular risk.
Yet scientific evidence clearly shows that this advice has raised your heart attack risk, as well as your chance of developing a number of other life-threatening chronic diseases.
Studies have consistently failed to support any significant association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular risk. In fact, saturated fat has been found to be cardioprotective if you are consuming the right kind.
Still, the government continues its mission to vilify cholesterol, largely fueled by the pharmaceutical industry for which statins have been among the most profitable drugs ever made.
Never mind what the research actually says about what's beneficial for your health. The real culprit behind cardiovascular disease is not saturated fat, but rather excess dietary sugar, and omega-6 fats, mostly from vegetable oils.
British Cardiologists Do Some Saturated Fat Myth-Busting
Interventional Cardiology Specialist Registrar in London Aseem Malhotra wrote an excellent scientific review in the British Medical Journal about what is known to date about saturated fat intake and heart disease, explaining how recent studies have not supported any significant association between saturated fat and cardiovascular risk.1
Malhotra reports that two-thirds of people admitted to hospitals with acute myocardial infarction have completely normal cholesterol levels. He also mentions a recently published randomly controlled trial that was stopped early after it showed that, in high risk people, the Mediterranean diet achieved a 30 percent improvement over a low-fat diet in terms of cardiovascular events. He concludes:
"The greatest improvements in morbidity and mortality have been due not to personal responsibility but rather to public health. It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease and wind back the harms of dietary advice that have contributed to obesity."
These findings were further crystallized by an international research team headed by University of Cambridge, which analyzed data from 72 separate studies about heart risk and fatty acid intake. This massive meta-analysis included data from 600,000 participants in 18 different countries.
The team concluded that saturated fat is NOT linked to coronary disease risk.2 They pointedly state that the science does not support the common nutritional guidelines for heart health, the mantra heard far and wide—a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats will reduce your risk for heart disease. This is a myth—and a deadly one.
Replacing Your Saturated Fats with Carbohydrates and Vegetable Oils May Be a Death Sentence
In an excellent editorial in the journal Open Heart, research scientist and doctor of pharmacy James J. DiNicolantonio reviews the cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.3 His points are summarized in the table below.
Potential Harms of Replacing Saturated Fat with Carbohydrates Shift to overall atherogenic lipid profile (lower HDL, increased triglycerides and increased ApoB/ApoA-1 ratio) Increased small, high-density LDL particles Increased oxidized LDL Reduced HDL Impaired glucose tolerance, higher body fat, weight gain, obesity, and diabetes The potential harms associated with replacing saturated fat with omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, which include increased risk of coronary disease and death4 Increased inflammation Increased thrombogenic markers Increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular events, and death from heart disease and increased overall mortality (all causes) Increased risk for cancer
Two Essential Fats That Must Be in Balance: Omega-3 and Omega-6
In January 2009, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a "scientific advisory" recommending that you consume more omega-6 fats (mostly refined vegetable oils) and fewer saturated fats, as part of the "heart healthy" low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. In spite of ALL scientific data to the contrary, this is the rubbish still being recommended.
The AHA and other health authorities continue to ignore the fact that the standard American diet is overloaded with omega-6 fats (and poor-quality ones at that), while being severely deficient in critical omega-3s.
One of the primary problems with all oils derived from vegetable seeds is that they are major sources of omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory and contribute to insulin, leptin, and resistance, altering your mood and impairing learning and cell repair.
The science is loud and clear: the correct balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is essential if you want to be the healthiest you can be. There are actually two problems related to how these fats are being consumed by most Westerners today.
Omega-3 fats are the ones that are present in fish and krill oil and some seeds like flax, chia, and hemp. These are the essential fats that have EPA, DHA, and ALA fats that are present in your brain and cell membranes. Omega-6s are oils are high in other plants like corn, soy, safflower, and sunflower oils. All of these oils are required to be healthy, but largely due to processed foods and the use of industrialized oils most of us are consuming far too many omega-6 fats compared to omega-3 fats. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats likely ranges from 1:1 to 1:5, but the typical Western diet is between 1:20 and 1:50.
Most of us consume far too many omega-6 fats — AND the wrong ratio of these fats. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are PUFAs and they are essential to your health, but when omega-6 is consumed in excess, it becomes problematic — and even more so if it's damaged through processing. One of the problems with PUFAs is that they are very chemically unstable, and highly susceptible to being altered and denatured by what's around them. When you eat too many PUFAs, they are increasingly incorporated into your cell membranes.
Because these fats are unstable, your cells become fragile and prone to oxidation, which leads to all sorts of health problems, such as atherosclerosis. I believe a lack of omega-3 combined with an excess of industrialized omega-6 oils is a profoundly important and simple shift in diet that you need to address. High omega-6:3 ratios have also been associated with an increase in cancers, like melanoma. Bear in mind that you need both plant-derived and animal-derived fats for optimal health. For a complete discussion of the differences between types of dietary fat, omega-3 versus omega-6, DHA, EPA, etc., please refer to our comprehensive fatty acids overview.
The Magic of the Omega-3s
The benefits of omega-3 fats are truly far-reaching. If you go to the omega-3 fat page on GreenMedInfo.com,5 you will see a long list of scientific studies supporting the benefits of omega-3 fats for hundreds of diseases, including drug-resistant cancer, bipolar disorder, autism, cystic fibrosis, hypertension, and atrial fibrillation—and those are just the tip of the iceberg. Omega-3 fats have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, proving extremely beneficial for inflammation-based disorders such as arthritis and bronchial asthma. Chronic inflammation is a major driver of so many of the diseases we see today, and omega-3 deficiency is a significant factor. Omega-3 deficiencies are associated with the following (which is far from an all-inclusive list):
- Inflammatory conditions: arthritis, stiff or painful joints, asthma, etc.
- Cognitive and emotional problems: depression, psychosis, learning disabilities, memory loss, poor concentration, etc.
- Metabolic dysfunction: weight gain, obesity, diabetes, food cravings
- Skin problems: allergies, acne, eczema, psoriasis, hives; dry, bumpy or flakey skin
- Heart or kidney problems, high blood pressure, or immune dysregulation
The Worst of the Worst: Canola Oil
Of all the processed oils, canola has probably done the most damage to America's health. Canola consumption has skyrocketed over the past few decades, representing an enormous source of excess omega-6 fat. Unlike olive oil, which comes from olives, and avocado oil, which comes from avocados, canola doesn't come from the canola plant, but rather crushed seeds. The word "canola" comes from "Canadian oil low acid," and is a genetically altered product of the rapeseed plant, part of the mustard family.
As discussed in a previous article by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD, a genetic manipulation technique involving seed splitting was used to create this variety of rapeseed, which is low in erucic acid and high in oleic acid. This invention initially became known as LEAR oil, which stands for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed.
Despite its GRAS status, no long term human safety studies have been done on canola oil. Meanwhile, animal studies on LEAR oil, "challenge not only the health claims made for canola oil, but also the theoretical underpinnings of the diet-heart hypothesis." In 1997, Canadian research showed that piglets fed milk replacement containing canola oil had signs of vitamin E deficiency, even though the milk replacement contained adequate amounts of vitamin E. Vitamin E protects cell membranes against free radical damage and is important for cardiovascular health.
A year later, the same research team found that piglets fed canola oil had decreased platelet count and an increase in platelet size. These results were reconfirmed in another study a year after that. Rats bred to have high blood pressure and being prone to stroke also had shortened life-spans when fed canola oil as the sole source of fat. Later research suggested the cause for this effect is the sterol compounds in the oil, which "make the cell membrane more rigid" and contribute to the shortened life-span of the animals. According to Fallon and Enig in "The Great Con-ola:"
"These studies all point in the same direction -- that canola oil is definitely not healthy for the cardiovascular system. Like rapeseed oil, its predecessor, canola oil is associated with fibrotic lesions of the heart. It also causes vitamin E deficiency, undesirable changes in the blood platelets and shortened life-span in stroke-prone rats when it was the only oil in the animals' diet. Furthermore, it seems to retard growth, which is why the FDA does not allow the use of canola oil in infant formula... Most interesting of all is the fact that many studies show that the problems with canola oil are not related to the content of erucic acid, but more with the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and low levels of saturated fats...
There are indications that monounsaturated fats in excess and as the major type of fat can be a problem. Overabundance of oleic acid (the type of monounsaturated fatty acid in olive and canola oil) creates imbalances on the cellular level that can inhibit prostaglandin production. In one study, higher monounsaturated fat consumption was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Even the dogma that monounsaturated fatty acids are good for the heart is at risk. According to a 1998 report, mice fed a diet containing monounsaturated fats were more likely to develop atherosclerosis than mice fed a diet containing saturated fat. In fact, the mice fed monounsaturated fats were even more prone to heart disease than those fed polyunsaturated fatty acids.
This means that the type of diet recommended in books like The Omega Diet -- low in protective saturates, bolstered with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and relying on monounsaturated fatty acids, whether from olive or canola oil, for the majority of fat calories -- may actually contribute to heart disease. Such diets have been presented with great marketing finesse, but we need to recognize them for what they are -- payola for the food companies and con-ola for the public."
The important point to remember about this is that the timing of the above events occurred BEFORE the widespread adoption of GMO canola oil. Now virtually all of the canola oil produced is glyphosate resistant and sprayed with one of the most toxic herbicides known to man. So now, not only do you have the concerns addressed above, but you have the additional health challenge of glyphosate residues to content with.
Best Food Sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats
The best way to improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and improve your heart health is to eat the following types of high-quality foods:
- Unprocessed organic oils such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil, and organic butter—or better yet, raw butter from grass-pastured cows.
- Raw nuts and seeds, such as fresh organic flax seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and English walnuts, which are also high in omega-3s (ALA). Spirulina is an excellent source of GLA (gamma linolenic acid, a beneficial omega-6).6
- Meat from animals that are free-ranging and/or grass-fed, which are higher in beneficial omega-6s, such as natural CLA. If you have access to them, game meats such as venison are also high in beneficial fats. The article "Better Beef," written by California rancher Dave Evans, gives a great in-depth view of the many benefits of grass-fed beef.
- My favorite omega-3 fat supplement is krill oil. Egg yolks from pastured hens are also rich in beneficial omega-3s.
- Coconut oil, while not an omega-3 or omega-6 fat, is an extremely beneficial dietary fat with an "embarrassment of riches" for your heart, metabolism, immune system, skin and thyroid. Coconut oil's health benefits derive from its special medium-chain fatty acids.