Home' Nova National : NOVA NATIONAL NOVEMBER 12 Contents Saturated Fats:
Truth & Lies
With cholesterol drugs and polyunsaturated fats and oils huge earners for big industry,
we owe it to ourselves to examine the research into saturated fats and their supposed
links with heart disease. Peter Dingle PhD presents his findings with acknowledgements to
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We are, without a doubt,
facing a nutritional crisis in
Australia and the US. One
manifestation is confusion
as to what constitutes sound nutritional
principles 1,2. Recent scientific advances
have not led to consensus, but rather to
substantial disagreement among experts
and further uncertainty for the public.
People are confused. One such area
of uncertainty is that there really is no
credible scientific evidence that saturated
fat causes heart disease or, more generally,
cardiovascular disease. Although we are
constantly told that saturated fats are
"bad" and that margarine is better than
butter (which it is not), there is no
evidence to support this "bad fat" myth.
Unfortunately there are many myths
perpetuated by certain members of the
food and drug industry. as well as so-called
reputable groups who have strong vested
interests in margarine. For example, the
position paper by the Heart Foundation 3
'Saturated fatty acids (SFA) intake is
associated with coronary heart disease
Replacing SFA with omega-6 PUFA
(vegetable oils) to achieve a ratio of PUFA
to SFA of greater than 1 will reduce the
risk of CHD.'
The foundation also states, "Our
position on dietary fats and dietary
cholesterol was developed from a review
of the latest scientific evidence and
incorporates recommendations from our
previous papers." In truth, though, all of
this is out of date and absolutely wrong.
The first thing to note is that this evidence
is based on research from 1999 that has
never been updated. All the research over
the past decade and even more recent
findings, including our own research
below, has shown exactly the opposite
of these claims. Most importantly, if you
look at our evolution it just does not make
Despite half a century of rigorous
research, dietary advice from govern-
ments and doctors alike, and public
campaigns urging the reduction of dietary
fat, cardiovascular disease is still the leading
cause of death in developed countries 4.
We have consistently heard that saturated
fat increases the risk of cardiovascular
disease, while polyunsaturated fats like
vegetable oils and margarine have a
protective effect in reducing fat overall
(in particular, saturated fat) and, as such,
are supposed to be good for our health.
During the past 40 years, the dietary
instructions from governments and other
authoritative bodies have told us to avoid
all animal fats. Average fat consumption
has decreased, average blood cholesterol
levels have decreased, but the rate of
heart disease and the cost of its treatment
have continued to rise. Replacement
of saturated fat by polyunsaturated or
monounsaturated fat lowers both LDL
and HDL cholesterol. However, over-
whelming research shows that cholesterol
is not the public enemy it has been
made out to be; it is just a warning that
your liver (and body) are under stress and
you need to take some action to reduce
that stress, not the warning signs.
By contrast, replacement of cholesterol
with a higher carbohydrate intake,
particularly refined carbohydrates, can
exacerbate the build-up of plaque in
the arteries (atherosclerosis) associated
with insulin resistance and obesity that
includes increased triglycerides, small LDL
particles, and reduced HDL cholesterol.
Dietary efforts to improve the increasing
burden of CVD risk associated with
atherosclerosis should primarily emphasise
the limitation of refined carbohydrate
intakes and a reduction in excess adiposity.
Unfortunately, poor studies and vested
interests have led us astray. For example,
some older broad-based (ecological) studies
found, through cross-examining per capita
intake of saturated fatty acids and other
dietary fat items, a correlation with the
death rate from coronary heart disease 4.
However, in some studies, equally as
strong coefficients were found in the
number of radio and TV licences, and
almost equally as strong as the number
of registered motor vehicles, suggesting
the implausibility of ecological-based
study conclusions 4. The evidence against
saturated fat, at best, has always been
circumstantial. That is, saturated fat was
said to elevate blood cholesterol and
elevated blood cholesterol was said to
cause heart disease; therefore saturated
fat would cause heart disease. There
has never been any direct evidence that
cholesterol or saturated fat cause heart
disease or even of a mechanism whereby
heart disease would occur.
Bias very likely exists in the findings
of the studies, with researchers choosing
particular countries or data sets to
indicate a preferred result 4. An example
of this is the early work of Dr Ancel Keys,
which launched this attack on saturated
fat and, at the same time, introduced the
cholesterol myth back in the 1960s. In
the Seven Countries Study, Keys looked at
Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Netherlands,
Finland, the United States and Japan,
reporting a strong straight-line relation-
ship between saturated fat intake, heart
disease and cholesterol levels 5. He chose
to ignore 14 countries that had good
data available. Choosing another seven
countries -- Finland, Israel, the Nether-
lands, Germany, Switzerland, France and
Sweden -- shows the exact opposite results
and thus reveals the bias in the early
When we review these studies, we
find no relationship with saturated fat and
heart disease of any type. When we review
updated data, this lack of relationship
is shown in Figure 1 (next page). The
top seven consumers of saturated fats
(France, Switzerland, the Netherlands,
Iceland, Finland, Austria and Germany),
with saturated fat energy percentage
ranging from 15.5% to 13.7 %, all have
a lower death rate from CHD than the
seven bottom consumers of saturated fats
(Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova,
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