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Sweet News: You Can Start Eating Fat

I started my career as a medical reporter. During that time, I learned a lot about research–especially how to evaluate whether or not a study holds merit. For example, retrospective studies are less reliable than prospective studies, because it’s easy for  researchers to look back at history through the lens of the hypothesis they want to prove, biasing the results. I learned that double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are considered the most accurate because they prevent the researcher from knowing which study subjects are in which group–another way to prevent bias.

I also learned that studies whose results are bought and paid for are highly suspect.

Last September, news surfaced about one particularly shady study that misdirected science for decades, and may have killed thousands of people as a result. I’m referring here to the recently uncovered “Project 226,” wherein the Sugar Association paid Harvard researchers today’s equivalent of $48,900 to publish study results concluding that reducing cholesterol and saturated fat were the only dietary interventions needed to prevent heart disease. The researchers “overstated” the role that fat played, while downplaying evidence implicating sugar as a cause of heart disease.

After those results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, nutrition scientists and health officials became obsessed with reducing saturated fat, not sugar, to prevent heart disease. Who knows how many thousands of people died because they followed their well-meaning physicians’ recommendations to lower fat intake, happily munching away on high-sugar, low-fat foods all the way to the grave?

Because people are so attached to the “truths” that have become ingrained in them, it’s hard for them to shift their beliefs to truer truths. We’re still in that zone of “trust lag,” which is why your doctor still probably hasn’t given you the great news about steak yet. We’re so used to vilifying cholesterol and fat, we’re afraid to change.

But I’m here to tell you that it’s time to relax and break out the butter. Three of the largest, most comprehensive studies have recently blown the connection between saturated fat and heart disease out of the water.

In 2014, a massive review of 76 studies with a total of over 650,000 participants found no link between saturated fat consumption and the risk of heart disease or death. Last year, in a study that followed 59,000 people, researchers found no statistically significant effects of reducing saturated fat, in regard to heart attacks, strokes, or all-cause deaths. Another 2015 review of 73 studies, with 90,500–339,000 participants in each, concluded that saturated fat intake was not linked to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, or dying of any cause.

By now you may convinced that saturated fat isn’t the killer you may have thought it was. But it goes beyond that:

  • Fat increases satiety, keeping you fuller longer than high-carb or high-protein/low-fat foods do. So eating fat may actually help you keep calories down–useful if you’re trying to lose weight.
  • Calories are a zero-sum game. Eating less fat usually means eating more carbs. And carbs are heavily implicated in the development of diabetes and insulin resistance, both of which are associated with heart disease and increased risk of death.
  • Some fat is necessary to burn fat. Too little fat may convince your body that this macronutrient is scarce, so it may conserve stored body fat, just in case.

The number-one reason to start eating fat again? Bacon.

Mic drop.

 

3 thoughts on “Sweet News: You Can Start Eating Fat”

  1. So no need to get a cholesterol test ? The FDA is taking statins off the market ? I can ignore my doctor’s advice ! Break out the butter and whole milk ! Wait a sec… Where are the citations for this article ? I better hold off. I eat plenty of fat anyway – who am I kidding ? Sorry I missed your smoked Turkey !

    1. Well… Actually, it turns out that while saturated fat raises “bad” cholesterol, it also raises “good” cholesterol. So it’s kind of a non – starter. I can refer you to citations if you want–the studies I refer to in this blog post. Additionally, studies are showing that taking statins does not correlate with longer survival. In other words, people who take them do not, statistically speaking, live longer. So, personally, I quit taking mine. In fact, the risks of the drugs themselves might be more significant than the effects of not taking them. Lastly, the evidence seems to suggest that your risk of heart disease has a much greater correlation to the amount of sugar and carbs (all types of bread, pasta, etc… Not just white flour, either…they all turn to sugar in your body). These sugars may actually be the cause of plaque buildup, because they make stuff kind of “stick” to your arteries. Primitive humans survived almost exclusively on animal protein and fat. It appears that is our natural diet. That said, above all of the science and recommendations, one clear fact seems to emerge…eating any whole, natural food is much better for your health than almost any processed foods, regardless of its macronutrient composition. At the end of the day, however, I’m not a doctor, and will not presume to prescribe any particular eating regimen for you. But I’ve kicked sugar, grain, and simple carbs and am losing weight, no longer have high blood pressure, and am no longer pre-diabetic, which I was. So, that seems to be what’s working for me. We missed you at Thanksgiving. I called the house and left a message. But dad didn’t answer. Love you!

    2. Here’s an interesting review of statins and survival–showed “postponement of death” of only about ONE MONTH compared to placebo: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/9/e007118.full . This JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) study looked at survival in women taking statins, and also found that in women without coronary heart disease (but with high cholesterol), statins fail to lower both CHD and overall mortality, while in women with CHD, statins do lower CHD mortality but increase the risk of death from other causes, leaving overall mortality unchanged: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/198731. This ALLHAT study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/allhat/qckref.htm) found that among people with CHD or considered to be at high risk for CHD, the effect of statins on the incidence of CHD mortality is virtually none. So…there’s that. When you combine this evidence with those from the studies I quoted that found no statistically significant relationship between saturated fat intake and heart disease, it definitely makes one question the conventional knowledge. No?

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