As of late, I have run across information that demonizes dietary fat intake. Not that this is new. Yet, I’m still shocked at the amount of material that continues to criticize dietary fat. In this article, a discussion on dietary fat, specifically saturated fat, will be the focus. Is it good or bad? Or is it more complicated than that?

 

Here I am enjoying a typical meal of eggs and bacon, cooked with butter. The two pretty girls by my side belong to two of my hardest working clients. We work hard and eat well!

Here I am enjoying a typical meal of eggs and bacon, cooked with butter. The two pretty girls by my side belong to two of my hardest working clients. We work hard and eat well!

 

I suppose I asked for it, as I have previously written about the scrutinizing becoming less. Along with that, there has been an abundance of “too much protein” talk as well but I’ll save that for a later time.

Americans, in general, suffer from a lack of energy. This is quite ironic to me because most Americans eat a diet high in carbohydrates, the body’s preferred energy source. As a whole, America is less active than ever, yet the intake of carbohydrates is higher than it’s ever been. Funny thing is: governing agencies recommended it that way.

This article is NOT intended to bash carbohydrates. Carbs have a purpose and definitely serve their place, but to recommend that carbs make up the majority of the diet is preposterous. It’s especially absurd to recommend a high carb intake among a mostly sedentary population.

Just think about this if you will. America’s obesity rate has grown every year for the past few decades. It can be almost 100% attributed to diet, either directly or indirectly. What are the recommendations of food intake? Glad you asked. They are as follows for adults and children older than 4, based upon a 2,000 calorie diet:

Macronutrient Amount (g) kcal
Carbohydrates 300g 1200
Protein 50g 200
Fats 65g 585

Check out the complete table [1] here.

Again, this is NOT a post to bash carbs. I find it humorous that arguably the least essential macronutrient is at the top of the list when it comes to intake.

Not to get too far off track here, but there are loads of research and data that help to explain what really happens in a high carbohydrate diet. I will be covering this in the future. Now, down to the business at hand.

The Origin of Demonizing Saturated Fat

In 1970, a study was published that is most commonly known as the “Seven Countries Study.” A total of 22 countries were studied but only seven of the countries are popularly referred to within the article. Many people misunderstand the actual reasoning behind the study which was to systematically examine the relationships between lifestyle, diet, coronary heart disease, and stroke among different populations around the world.

It ultimately showed that an individuals risk could change. Obvious speculation would attribute a decrease in risk by changing diet behavior. Having seen both sides of the argument, it is difficult to tell whether Ancel Keys purposefully left specific countries out in order to show a correlation between dietary fat and heart disease.

Nonetheless, word got out that dietary fat raised cholesterol and high “total” cholesterol resulted in greater increase in heart disease and stroke.

Yes, there was a significant correlation between total cholesterol and heart disease related deaths in several countries. However, there were also countries with a low dietary fat intake that also had a high tendency for heart disease. On the flip side, there were countries that demonstrated a decreased risk of heart disease with a high intake of dietary fat.

Clearly, there are more variables at play here.

But even before Keys’ study, many associated eating high amounts of saturated fat with high cholesterol levels. Many linked high cholesterol levels with an increased risk in disease (*mainly heart attack & stroke).

It’s a simple case of A (saturated fat) is related to B (cholesterol), B is related to C (heart disease/stroke), thus A is related to C, which is not the case. In fact, dietary intake of cholesterol has an indirect relationship with serum cholesterol. This means that the more you eat, the less your body makes. Your body has a pretty intelligent way of self-regulation. As we’ll soon discuss, increasing cholesterol is not always a bad thing.

(On a side note, cholesterol is produced and regulated in the liver. It is absurd to believe that a meal high in cholesterol will immediately put you at risk for clogged arteries.)

Primary data was based upon observational data which could be interpreted differently by different sets of eyes.

 

Here’s another meal I eat quite often. It consists of steak (w/ ketchup), eggs and avocado mixed with picante sauce with salt and pepper.

 

Saturated Fat: The Real Story

Dietary intake of saturated fat is not directly correlated to risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), or strokes. [2] This study which is a “study of studies,” a meta-analysis, looked at all of the existing data about saturated fat intake and it’s correlation to disease. They found no significant evidence to conclude that dietary saturated fat was associated or caused CHD or CVD.

Tartino et al consulted 21 different studies, that combined had 347,747 test subjects. Their objective was “to summarize the evidence related to the association of dietary saturated fat with risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD; CHD inclusive of stroke).”

If one looks, it’s not difficult to find loads of researched backed, and tested information about high fat diets. There is numerous data that dates back several decades, mainly in the context of ketogenic diets, which I am currently experimenting with and will be covering in upcoming posts.

Myth Debunking

1. Saturated fat raises Cholesterol

Point 1

People often have a negative connotation with cholesterol and many don’t fully understand it. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and found in certain foods. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substances that combines with proteins and are transported throughout the body. When joined, the cholesterol and protein form a lipoprotein. You may be familiar with the acronyms HDL and LDL.

HDL (“good”) = High Density Lipoproteins
LDL (“bad”) = Low Density Lipoproteins

LDL cholesterol has different subtypes. Two of interests to us are small, dense LDL (which can penetrate easily through arterial walls and increase risk of heart disease) and large LDL, which are bigger and do not penetrate artery walls. People with higher amounts of small, dense LDL are more likely to develop heart disease. [3]

As always, looking at a snap shot of one marker, doesn’t tell the whole story.

Point 2

There is even some convincing research that saturated fat intake causes change in LDL cholesterol from small and dense to the large form. Simultaneously, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) showed no associations in lipoprotein concentrations. [4] This suggests that saturated fats have some benefits over MUFA and PUFA.

Another study confirms that when saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat both LDL and HDL cholesterol is lowered. [5] In retrospect, to the total cholesterol picture, this looks like a good thing. However, we would like to maintain healthy levels of HDL while decreasing the small, dense LDL cholesterol. This ratio is of more importance than the total serum cholesterol number.

Point 3

When scientists first started making the connection between saturated fat intake and cholesterol, they measured total cholesterol. Total cholesterol takes into account HDL and LDL. Therefore, if your HDL (“good”) rose, it would increase your total cholesterol.

Cholesterol is critical in optimizing hormone levels and various other processes in the body. It’s necessary. It’s also necessary to have the proper balance of LDL and HDL in their respective subgroups.

Where the Problem Lies

In the case of heart disease and stroke, there is more than one villain to blame. Rather, it’s a combination of things. In the case of saturated fat, its accomplice is over-consumption of carbohydrates. A diet high in saturated fat and processed carbohydrates is a minefield of problems, biochemically speaking.

Whether it’s directly related to carbohydrates is still up in there air. However, there is enough data out there that would suggest the primary concern lies with carbohydrate intake.

Not to say that carbs are bad and you shouldn’t consume them, but the poison is in the dose.

It should go without saying, but I know better than to assume. When I speak about saturated fat, I’m talking about the saturated fat in meats (i.e. beef/turkey/pork), dairy (i.e. eggs), cheeses, butter, etc. I’m not talking about the stuff in the aisle that are rapped in plastic.

I suppose a future article will address this issue at large. Until then, I’m keeping it simple. If man created it or it’s in a box, probably best to avoid it for the most part.

Take Home:

1. Carbohydrates need to be well regulated and a priority placed on not eating in excess. No matter if they are “good” carbs or “bad” carbs, they need to be monitored and limited based upon need.

2. Saturated fat is quite useful in the body. A diet high in dietary fat and saturated fat with limited carbs and moderate protein intake, shows promise in helping to increase health markers (i.e. cholesterol) and body composition.

Bottom Line

We’ve been misled by cherry picked research information that has been spread by mainstream media whose goal is to generate views rather than spread relevant information. This piss poor info has been repeated ad nauseum until it is taken as truth and NOBODY challenges it.

I hope this opens your eyes and gets you thinking about status quo and cultural norms. Just because it’s common and most people follow it, doesn’t mean it’s right. Don’t just take my word for it though. Research it. I mean really research it. Look at peer reviewed journals, not forums and wikipedia. I’ll leave you with the following:

“Defense of the LF-HCarb diet [low-fat-high carb], because it conforms to current traditional dietary recommendations, by appealing to the authority of its prestigious medical and institutional sponsors or by ignoring an increasingly critical medical literature, is no longer tenable.” [7]

[1] Guidance for Industry: A food labeling guide. (2013). http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064928.htm

[2] Siri-Tarino, P.W., Sun, Q., Hu, F.B., and Krauss, R.M. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective of cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Society for Nutrition, 91, 3. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725

[3] Austin, M.A., Breslow, J.L., Hennekens, C.H., Buring, J.E., Willet, W.C, Krauss, R.M. (1988). Low-density lipoprotein subclass patterns and risk of myocardial infarction. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 260(13).
doi: 10.1001/jama.1988.03410130125037

[4] Dreon, D.M., Fernstrom, H.A., Campos, H., Blanche, P., Williams, P.T., Krauss, R.M. (1998). Change in dietary saturated fat intake is correlated with change in mass of large low-density-lipoprotein particles in men. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 67(5), 828-836. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/67/5/828.short

[5] Siri-Tarino, P.W., Sun, Q., Hu, F.B., and Krauss, R.M. (2010). Saturated fat, carbohydrate and cardiovascular disease. The American Society of Nutrition, 91(3) 502-509. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26285

[7] Weinberg, S.L. (2004). The diet-heart hypothesis: a critique. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, (43), 5, 731-733. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2003.10.034

Sources:

[1] Guidance for Industry: A food labeling guide. (2013). http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064928.htm

[2] Siri-Tarino, P.W., Sun, Q., Hu, F.B., and Krauss, R.M. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective of cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Society for Nutrition, 91, 3. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725

[3] Austin, M.A., Breslow, J.L., Hennekens, C.H., Buring, J.E., Willet, W.C, Krauss, R.M. (1988). Low-density lipoprotein subclass patterns and risk of myocardial infarction. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 260(13).
doi: 10.1001/jama.1988.03410130125037

[4] Dreon, D.M., Fernstrom, H.A., Campos, H., Blanche, P., Williams, P.T., Krauss, R.M. (1998). Change in dietary saturated fat intake is correlated with change in mass of large low-density-lipoprotein particles in men. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 67(5), 828-836. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/67/5/828.short

[5] Siri-Tarino, P.W., Sun, Q., Hu, F.B., and Krauss, R.M. (2010). Saturated fat, carbohydrate and cardiovascular disease. The American Society of Nutrition, 91(3) 502-509. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26285 

[7] Weinberg, S.L. (2004). The diet-heart hypothesis: a critique. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, (43), 5, 731-733. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2003.10.034

 

 

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