Sunday, October 27, 2013

Catalyst Program on Cholesterol and Saturated Fat: What to Believe?

Regular Janes and Joes who watched the TV program Catalyst: Heart of the Matter on saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease are probably confused now. What is this idea that saturated fat is good for you and that sugar and inflammation may cause heart disease? Everybody knows that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad, right?

Regular Janes and Joes don't need to be doctors or scientists to consider some of the evidence for themselves. Or in this case, the lack of evidence. For forty years, and using hundreds of thousands of people, researchers have been trying to prove that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. The result, according to Dr. Robert Grenfell of the National Heart Foundation of Australia:

When you ask that question of 'Do dietary fats increase heart disease?', you're sort of trying to negate all the other risk factors that, in fact, actually also cause heart disease. So, to imagine creating a study that would prove that conclusively is virtually impossible.

To see this answer for what it is, let's ask a slightly different question: if someone sticks pins in your voodoo doll, will it give you heart disease? The answer would be,

When you ask that question of 'Do voodoo dolls increase heart disease?', you're sort of trying to negate all the other risk factors that, in fact, actually also cause heart disease. So, to imagine creating a study that would prove that conclusively is virtually impossible.
No, you're not trying to negate anything, you're asking a question you can put to a test. If you'd tested the effects of voodoo doll curses for forty years and the results were mixed and inconclusive, why not just say no, play with voodoo dolls all you want if it floats your boat. Australia's leading lipid expert, Associate Professor David Sullivan, is ready with an answer:

I think there are some very telling pieces of evidence which have been used to establish the importance of avoiding voodoo dolls saturated fat. If saturated fat is completely benign, if it's actually beneficial, where's the evidence in support of that? Where's the evidence of an alternative cause? We are particularly keen to get some dietary advice, because otherwise what do we offer people?

How about avoiding those things that Dr. Grenfell says "actually also cause heart disease," like smoking and diabetes. But what about saturated fat? Is it really harmless or beneficial? A little knowledge of metabolism is helpful here. The three macronutrients in the human diet are protein, fat and carbohydrate. You need protein for repairs and maintenance of your body, but you can't burn it (much) for energy. You can run on fat or carbohydrate.

For most of human history, going back 2.5 million years, our ancestors ran mostly on fat. Until 10,000 years ago, the climate was generally colder and drier than it is now, fruit was seasonal, and the technology to gather and cook grains in any meaningful amount was unknown. Only babies drank milk. What did humans and our ancestors eat? According to paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and his colleagues, a substantial part of the human diet was meat. (See this, this and this.) For 2.5 million years, our digestive system, pancreas, teeth and especially our brain have adapted to running on fat. Why would one organ--the heart--be adapted to running on something else?

If you're still not sure about fat vs. carbohydrate, just consider how much fatter and sicker English-speaking populations have gotten since we reduced the fat in our diets from forty years ago. It's not only common observation, but the effect of carbohydrate on metabolism is in medical textbooks. For some people, running on carbohydrate is more like putting gasoline in a diesel engine because we know, from medical textbooks on hormones, that too much carbohydrate can lead to weight gain and diabetes. (See this and this.) Unlike cholesterol levels, diabetes is a well established risk factor for heart disease. It's also common sense (at least it used to be) that diabetics shouldn't eat sugar. All those carbolicious foods that heart organizations put their stamp of approval on (for a fee) quickly break down into glucose, which diabetics already have too much of.

Certain vitamins require dietary fat for good absorption--vitamins A, K2, E and D--and the term "essential fatty acids" is well known. These are good indications that fat is an important part of the human diet. But it's not up to skeptics to prove an idea wrong. The fat-phobes have been trying to prove for forty years that fat is bad for us, and they've failed. They've told us to eat less fat (i.e., more carbohydrate) and our collective health is failing. But they'll never admit their "science" is nothing more than voodoo. It's time to ditch the low-fat diet for common sense, real science, and for the win.


Lowcarb team member said...

Great article Lori - it deserves more than 'great article' but apparently (according to husband Eddie) I was saying these two words out loud, whilst reading the posting.

I thought 'what the heck' I'll repeat them again.

Great Article

All the best Jan

Lori Miller said...

Thanks, Jan. I'm looking forward to the next episode.

Lisa said...

Have a look at the Heart Foundation's Facebook page

It went into damage control after hundreds of Australians watched the program and demanded they stop spreading lies about their version of a healthy diet.

Lori Miller said...

I'm not on Facebook, but that's what I heard. As the song goes,

"They ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles, and they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go. They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em, down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico."