For years, the mainstream medical and dietary establishments — think the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, etc. — have been counseling Americans to drastically reduce their intake of saturated fat in order to prevent cardiovascular disease and weight gain.
Now, new evidence is turning that conventional wisdom on its head.
Specifically, a large meta-analysis recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds no significant link between saturated fat and heart disease. More importantly, the meta-analysis (which looked at 21 studies involving about 350,000 people) finds that refined carbs and processed sugar are the real culprit when it comes to heart disease.
The problem with cutting out saturated fat is two-fold: Not only is saturated fat needed for a variety of biochemical functions within our bodies, including proper cell, nerve and brain function, but also, when people restrict saturated fat from their diets, they tend to replace it with refined carbohydrates.
“If you reduce saturated fat and replace it with high glycemic-index carbohydrates, you may not only not get benefits — you might actually produce harm,” David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the Obesity Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, recently said. He adds that when it comes to a piece of buttered toast, “butter is actually the more healthful component.”
A link to the meta-analysis is provided below, along with a few more helpful resources on the topic:
• “Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010)
• Science journalist Gary Taubes recommends looking at any of the recent clinical trials that compare diets low in carbs to diets low in fat because they show that heart disease risk factors are better when carbohydrates are cut. Here are two recent studies he recommends (“To me, these studies say it all,” says Taubes): “Weight and Metabolic Outcomes After 2 Years on a Low-Carbohydrate Versus Low-Fat Diet” (Annals of Internal Medicine, 2010); AND “Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet” (New England Journal of Medicine, 2008)
• “Carbs against Cardio: More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, not Fats, Threaten the Heart” (Scientific American, May 2010)
• “Cholesterol Reconsidered” (Experience Life, June 2009); Research disputes cholesterol’s reputation as the primary culprit behind heart disease. Here’s the real scoop on its role in the body, the right ways to bring it down naturally, and why cholesterol-lowering drugs may not be the cure-all we’ve been led to believe.”
• The Cholesterol Hoax by Sherry Rogers, MD (Prestige, 2008)
• Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol by Mary Enig, PhD (Bethesda Press, 2000)
• A slate of books by cholesterol researcher Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD: Ignore the Awkward! How the Cholesterol Myths are Kept Alive (CreateSpace, forthcoming Jan. 2010); Fat and Cholesterol Are Good For You (GB Publishing, 2009); and The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy That Saturated Fats and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease (New Trends, 2000)
• Two books by science journalist Gary Taubes: Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Anchor, 2008) and Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Knopf, forthcoming Dec. 28, 2010)
Anjula Razdan in an Experience Life senior editor.