- A low fat diet may be doing you more harm than good
- Why focusing on cholesterol is really missing the point
- New research shows that we need saturated fat – missing out risks your health
Unless you have been inhabiting a different planet for the last three decades you can’t have missed the constant stream of health advice saying that our number one health enemy is fat.
Skinny folk have been erecting gallows for sausages, pies and pork scratching across the land.
Butchers who insist that a nice bit of dripping with your beef is a good thing have been chased from their shops by pitchfork wielding health loons.
And in the night hooded groups have been forced to meet in secret to share a bit of real butter on their toast, whilst pretending to like margarine in their normal daily lives.
OK, maybe I have been a bit fanciful there but I think you know what I’m talking about.
The basis is that if you are still buying low or zero fat products because you’ve bought into the mainstream’s message that they will help keep your weight in check and your heart healthy?
Well, I’m afraid to say: You’ve been conned!
Unfortunately, the mainstream doesn’t differentiate between good fats and harmful fats, so giving dietary guidelines that prompt us to stock our kitchen shelves with low fat products, is slightly misleading… and it harms your health!
And the biggest victim of this misleading advice is saturated fat.
The case for real butter and other great tasting foods
Saturated fat has been the prime target of health experts and nutritionists for decades, a high presence of it in the blood stream – in the form of palmitoleic acid – is an indicator of high risk of obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome (the impaired processing of food), impaired glucose intolerance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and prostate cancer.
Because of this, and its tendency to raise cholesterol levels – another major indicator of health risk, dieticians and doctors have firmly recommended the consistent reduction of the intake of food containing saturated fats.
It is present in many meat projects as well as dairy (butter and full fat yoghurt for instance) and eggs along with chocolate and less obvious sources like palm oil and coconut oil, both extensively used in the commercial processing of food, and even cashews and Salmon.
But the latest research shows that far from being an unhealthy part of our diet these fats are a vital part of staying in top form.
In a meta-analysis of 21 dietary studies, researchers found no link between saturated fat intake and a higher risk of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, or stroke.
These findings are completely at odds with decades of official health advice telling us to cut down on our consumption of saturated fats.
But now it turns out that eating foods like butter isn’t bad for you at all. In fact, butter in particular is healthy when eaten in moderation, as it is high in vitamins, beneficial saturated fats, the sort of cholesterol that is vital for brain and nervous system development and various natural compounds with anti-fungal, antioxidant and even anti-cancer properties.
By eliminating saturated fats from your diet, you’ll also be missing out on plenty of health benefits.
For instance, saturated fats contain antiviral agents. They also help maintain cell membranes. Several key vitamins like D, E, K, and A are fat-soluble. They actually work more effectively with the help of saturated fats — the one thing you do NOT want to do is inhibit your body’s ability to utilise stores of vitamin D.
So instead of vilifying saturated fat, it would be far more helpful if the mainstream stated the differences between good and bad dietary fats… and told us to cut the bad fats from our diets, like vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats.
Hydrogenated fats (or trans-fats) are particularly bad for you because they are so dense that solid concrete couldn’t have done a better job of blocking your coronary arteries.
Trans-fats are produced during ‘hydrogenation’, a food manufacturing process where oils are changed from liquid to solid at high temperatures.
In addition, trans-fats raise levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in our blood, and also lower HDL (good) cholesterol… increasing the risk of clogged arteries and heart attacks even more. Latest research shows that cutting trans-fats in the English diet by just 1 per cent could prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.
Avoiding trans-fats in your diet can be a challenge because they aren’t always listed on food labels.
Common foods that contain trans-fats are: processed and cured meat, processed cheese and other processed dairy products, cakes, biscuits, pastries, tortilla chips and wraps, chicken nuggets, bought pies and some margarines. These foods are often high in calories too, so cutting down on them will not only be a positive step for your arteries but also for your waistline.
So where should the blame really lie, because undeniably we are getting fatter as a nation?
The real villain of the piece unveiled at last
There is no real surprise.
The undeniable cause of poor health, damaged cardiovascular systems and rising levels of metabolic diseases such as diabetes is sugar and other carbohydrates.
Food companies have been using higher and higher levels of sugar in their products to hide poor quality ingredients and create the sort of dependency that you thought only came with class A drugs.
So much research now shows that it is not about dietary fat increasing blood cholesterol levels but the amount of carbohydrates we eat that causes us to retain the damaging fat in our blood.
What the researchers found was that, even at three times the average daily intake, the consumption of saturated fats had no impact on the blood fat levels, in fact they went down, but with each increase of the proportion of carbohydrates this measure went up.
This adds credence to the claims by the Atkins and other low carb diets that the body will always look to burn carbohydrates for its energy first and only use fat when the carbs are unavailable.
It is also a timely reminder that it is not so much the type of food that we eat, but the overall combination of different sources of nutrition and energy that holds the key.
Editor, The People’s Doctor