The following is a blog post that I published a year ago. It is every bit as relevant today as it was then.
The other day, I read a syndicated newspaper column by The You Docs, Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, calling on people to avoid saturated fat and consume polyunsaturated fat instead. I pondered the advice, a rehash of the same line these apologists of mainstream medicine have been spouting for years, and drifted into fantasy land.
Wouldn’t it be great if one of the TV networks had a top executive with a mind inquisitive enough to think outside the box? This creative person would stare at the shelves in his local supermarket, and then notice the body makeup of a large number of shoppers. The dichotomy would strike him in an instant: The shelves are full of low-fat, reduced-fat and no-fat items, while most of the shoppers putting those items in their carts range from fat to obese. Into his head would pop those messages he’s read and heard from the government and medical organizations, by way of the media, that fats are unhealthy and should be avoided.
The Fat Fallacy
And so, back home or at his office desk, Mr. TV Administrator would Google something like: Are fats unhealthy? He would find lively discussions on the subject. No one disagrees these days that trans fats are deadly. But many so-called “authorities” argue that polyunsaturated fats are good, and saturated fats are bad. This notion originated circa 1960 with the junk science of a researcher named Ancel Keys. Many studies through the years have contradicted his severely flawed and biased findings, but the myth has prevailed, and the TV guy would find it promoted online by the esteemed Mayo Clinic and others. Only in recent years has it been seriously questioned. Here’s what else TV guy would find:
The New York Times reported in October on a heated congressional debate over the reliability of government nutritional guidelines. “It started,” the Times observed, “when Nina Teicholz wrote an article in a respected medical journal, BMJ, arguing that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that advises the agriculture department isn’t using good research to make its decisions.” Teicholz, whose weight loss from eating foods high in saturated fat during a stint as a reviewer of high-end restaurants, authored The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.
The Times, mostly supporting her arguments, said, “Much of what we know about nutrition is based on small, sometimes flawed, short-term studies … But every once in a while, good research does occur that can truly inform our thoughts and decisions on nutrition policy. The problem is that such research is often ignored.
“Most of the committee’s thinking seems to be that (1) saturated fat intake is related to cholesterol levels and that (2) cholesterol levels are related to heart disease. It therefore makes the leap that saturated fat intake is related to heart disease … That’s not nearly as clear as many say.” The Times noted that Teicholz cited two meta-analyses “that show that the evidence against saturated fats might be weaker than assumed.”
Evils of saturated fat debunked
In fact, those huge analyses, in 2011 and 2014, showed no difference in heart disease between low and high consumers of saturated fat. The findings confirmed the positions of many, if not all, highly credentialed alternative doctors and researchers. Among them are Uffe Ravnskov, the Danish research physician and author of The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy That Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Cause Heart Disease, and the more recent Fat and Cholesterol Are Good For You. “The idea that too much animal fat and high cholesterol are dangerous to your heart and vessels is nothing but a myth,” he writes. He offers reasons for his conclusion, and says, “Many of these facts have been presented in scientific journals and books for decades but are rarely told to the public by the proponents of the diet-heart idea … The reason why laymen, doctors and most scientists have been misled is because opposing and disagreeing results are systematically ignored or misquoted in the scientific press.”
Teicholz said, and the Times concurred, that studies often are compromised by self-interest of the studies’ operators.
The inquisitive TV big shot might be inspired to search further, and discover that a host of alternative doctors whose opinions and research are rarely acknowledged hold the same positions. A tiny sampling: Dr. David Brownstein, author of a dozen books; Dr. Al Sears, an anti-aging expert; bariatric Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, authors of the best-selling Protein Power; and the late Mary Enig, Ph.D., a renowned lipid biochemist.
History of a lie
In his online perusal, the TV man would come across an essay in Authority Nutrition: An Evidence-based Approach. Tracing the history of the argument against saturated fat, the website’s author noted that the following assumption was made: “If saturated fat raises cholesterol (A causes B) and cholesterol causes heart disease (B causes C), then this must mean that saturated fat causes heart disease (A causes C).” However, the website said, “this was not based on any experimental evidence in humans.”
Authority Nutrition said further: “This hypothesis (called the ‘diet-heart hypothesis’) was based on assumptions, observational data and animal studies. The diet-heart hypothesis then turned into public policy in 1977, before it was ever proven to be true. Even though we now have plenty of experimental data in humans showing these initial assumptions to be wrong, people are still being told to avoid saturated fat in order to reduce heart disease risk. Bottom Line: Saturated fats have been assumed to cause heart disease by raising cholesterol in the blood. However, no experimental evidence has ever directly linked saturated fat to heart disease.”
Discovering all of this information contradicting establishment medicine, the TV executive might toy with the idea of presenting a prime time program in which panels upholding the traditional views debate those challenging these views. What a great health benefit this would be for the millions of viewers that the show likely would attract. It would counteract the thoroughly misguided advice on fats that hordes of newspaper readers digest in columns by Drs. Oz and Roizen.
In the latest column, they reference two studies that purportedly showed consumption of trans fat caused heart disease. As if we all didn’t know that already. But, in a confusing conflation of carbohydrates with saturated fat, they also condemned that fat, and recommended consumption of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats instead.
Mono can be healthy, but poly are loaded with omega 6’s, which our diets are overloaded with, leading nutritionists and alternative doctors say. They hold that diets with excessive omega 6’s contribute to inflammation, the true cause of heart disease because it causes cholesterol to become trapped in the arteries. What we need are more omega 3’s to get the ratio closer to the 1:1 that prevailed in the pre-industrial days. Authority Nutrition advises: “Animal sources of Omega-3 like fish and grass-fed animals are best.”
Further, the website says, “Several studies that replaced saturated fat with polyunsaturated vegetable oils showed that more people in the vegetable oil groups ended up dying.”
That TV program probably will never happen. In the meantime, a good guide to healthy eating might be: Read Drs. Oz and Roisen, and do the opposite of what they advise.