Experience Life Magazine

Heart News

Refined carbs and processed sugars — NOT saturated fat — drive heart disease.

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.

2 Comment to Heart News

  • Sifter says:

    Let’s look at the research. In a meta-analysis of 35 randomized trials using diet and/or medication for every 10 percentage points of cholesterol lowering, CHD mortality was reduced by 13% and total mortality by 10%.
    - A. Lawrence Gould, PhD; Jacques E. Rossouw, MD; Nancy C. Santanello, MD, MSc; Joseph F. Heyse, PhD; Curt D. Furberg, MD Cholesterol Reduction Yields Clinical Benefit. Circulation. 1995;91:2274-2282.

    Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause and cause-specific mortality” by Fung et al published in 2010. A high-meat diet with about 20% saturated fat had 43% greater all-cause mortality and than an Eco-Atkins diet with 12% saturated fat. This was not an uncontrolled study; even though it’s observational it’s carefully controlled for the relevant variables. The high-meat group ate the same or less trans fat, omega-6 and refined carbs so there’s no reason to think something other than the meat caused them to do poorly.

    Last but not least elevated LDL is essential to the mechanism of atherosclerosis. Apo B lipoproteins (mostly LDL) diffuse into the artery wall that has been damaged by hypertension (coronary arteries have the highest blood pressure) , smoking or alcohol. They become oxidized and cause inflammation which attracts macrophages. Macrophages devour oxidized LDL and become foam cells which form plaque and produce more inflammatory chemicals. They grow and eventually rupture depositing cholesterol crystals in the plaque. The crystals penetrate the artery wall causing even more inflammation. Elevated LDL also impairs endothelial function, reduces nitric oxide production and promotes platelet aggregation which promotes clotting. There are other factors besides elevated LDL that contribute to heart disease like smoking, hypertension, diabetes, abdominal obesity, stress, inflammation, homocysteine, sedentary lifestyle and excess sucrose but according to the INTERHEART study the ratio of apo-B (mostly LDL) to apo-A1 (HDL) can account for 50% of the risk.(16,17,18)

    16. Badimon L, Storey RF, Vilahur G. Update on lipids, inflammation and atherothrombosis. Thromb Haemost. 2011 Apr 11;(Suppl. 1).
    17. Abela GS. Cholesterol crystals piercing the arterial plaque and intima trigger local and systemic inflammation. J Clin Lipidol. 2010 May-Jun;4(3):156-64.
    18. Miller M, Beach V, Sorkin JD, Mangano C, Dobmeier C, Novacic D, Rhyne J, Vogel RA. Comparative effects of three popular diets on lipids, endothelial function, and C-reactive protein during weight maintenance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009

  • D says:

    There absolutely no/very little validity to this argument. First, most of the “evidence” is coming from medical doctors, who do NOT have a full nutritional education and thus are not qualified to give nutritional advice. Second, the studies given do not prove that saturated fat is not related to high cholesterol levels. The patients in the study were already obese, so any risk of heart disease already preexisted. Doctors should not be coming out with claims like this when they do not have a full nutritional education and cannot have fool-proof studies.

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