Saturday, January 5, 2008

Is saturated fat a health hazard?

If there's a doctrine that has achieved universal acceptance in the political arena, in public health, in medicine, and in the commercial sector, it's the idea that saturated fat is an artery-clogging health hazard.

Over the past five decades this idea has spread about the globe. Here in the USA it has both undermined the health of Americans and caused politicians to squander unimaginable sums of taxpayer dollars. Arguably, it is the major reason why vascular diseases remain the number 1 cause of death in many developed countries.

This doctrine is also largely responsible for the current epidemic of type 2 diabetes among young and old alike. As for obesity, fear of developing clogged arteries prevents many from consuming the amount and kinds of fats that would promote weight loss.

Who adheres to this doctrine? Just about everybody; all the major health organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Diabetes Association, federal government agencies such as the FDA, CDC, USDA, NIH, and HHS, the food manufacturing, sweeteners, and edible oils industries, vegetarian activists, and the CSPI. In addition, most schools of public health teach that saturated fat is a health hazard. Here is documentation from various websites:

Health Organizations

American Medical Association

"The Council is deeply concerned about any diet that advocates an 'unlimited' intake of saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods."

American Heart Association

"Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and/or cholesterol, such as whole-milk dairy products, fatty meats, tropical oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and egg yolks. Instead choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol."

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Be Heart Smart!
Eat Foods Lower in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol.

Why should you be concerned about saturated fat?

Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol the most. Over time, this extra cholesterol can clog your arteries. You are then at risk for having a heart attack or stroke.

Why should you be concerned about cholesterol?

Your body makes all the cholesterol you need. Eating foods high in saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol levels. The higher your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk for heart disease. Too much cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries. You are then at risk for having a heart attack, a stroke, or poor circulation.

American Dietetic Association: Nutrition standards ...

"Although intake of fat and saturated fat has declined, it still is consumed in amounts that exceed recommendations."

"Healthy, growing children need a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and/or legumes, and low-fat dairy products to achieve a dietary pattern that maintains appropriate blood cholesterol levels and optimal energy."

American Diabetes Association

"Everyone (emphasis mine) should eat less saturated fat. Saturated fat can raise your cholesterol level which increases your chances of having heart disease."

Government Agencies:

Food and Drug Administration

"Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol increase total and low-density (bad) blood cholesterol levels and, thus, the risk of coronary heart disease."

U.S. Department of Agriculture

"Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than other forms of fat. Reducing saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories will help you lower your blood cholesterol level."

Health and Human Services: New Dietary Guidelines

"Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol..."

Center for Disease Control

"Although the findings in this report indicate a decline in the mean percentage of total fat energy intake derived from total dietary fat and from saturated fat, these intake levels remain higher than the year 2000 objective."

"The findings in this report can assist in tracking progress toward achieving the goals of public health initiatives aimed at reducing and modifying total dietary fat and saturated fat intakes."

National Institutes of Health

"These are the biggest dietary cause of high LDL levels ("bad cholesterol"). When looking at a food label, pay very close attention to the percentage of saturated fat and avoid or limit any foods that are high. Saturated fat should be limited to 10% of calories. Saturated fats are found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats."

(Note: the above statement is blatantly false. Excessive refined carbohydrate consumption is the major cause of high LDL levels.)

Vegetarian Activists:

Physicians for Responsible Medicine

1. A Vegan Diet: Avoiding Animal Products
"Animal products contain fat, especially saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, and certain forms of cancer. These products also contain cholesterol, something never found in foods from plants."

"Well-planned vegetarian diets provide us with all the nutrients that we need, minus all the saturated fat, cholesterol, and contaminants found in animal flesh, eggs, and dairy products."

Center for Science in the Public Interest

"Senators Harkin and Murkowski plan to offer their school nutrition bill as an amendment to the Farm bill."

"Notably, the soft drink industry and many major food manufacturers are supporting, not opposing, the Harkin-Murkowski amendment. The amendment also is supported by 100 organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, American Dental Association, National PTA, American Association of School Administrators, and the American Federation of Teachers."

"The amendment also would set limits for calories, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in school snacks."

Public Health:

Harvard School of Public Health

"Saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol because they tend to boost both good HDL and bad LDL cholesterol. The net effect is negative, meaning it's important to limit saturated fats."

Public Health | Monroe County, NY

Trans fat is made when an otherwise healthful liquid (vegetable) oil is chemically changed to make a semi-solid product called "partially hydrogenated" vegetable oil. Food manufacturers began using these altered products a number of years ago because it was shown to increase shelf life, texture, and flavor and at the time it was thought to be a healthful alternative to saturated fat. Trans fat is commonly found in deep fried foods, baked goods, snack foods, and many processed foods.

All fats are not the same. There are "good" fats and "bad" fats. When we eat foods high in saturated fat or trans fat, it raises the bad (LDL) cholesterol in our blood. Having high LDL cholesterol increases the risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US, in New York, and in Monroe County. Trans fat is even worse than saturated fat because it actually lowers the good (HDL) cholesterol in the blood. Eating foods high in poly and monounsaturated fat have a good effect on cholesterol levels and are encouraged.

Federal guidelines recommend that total fat intake be 20-35% of total calories. Saturated fat intake should be less than 10%, and trans fat consumption should be kept as close to zero as possible.

Journals and mainstream press:

The Journal of Nutrition

"Saturated fat (SF) intake contributes to the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality."

Science Daily

"Dr. Carter emphasized he does not advocate strict low-carbohydrates for long-term weight management. Such diets may adversely overload the kidneys with protein and lead dieters to consume more artery-clogging saturated fats and cholesterol, he said."

Back to my comment:

Public health at the state level marches in lockstep with the federal government. For example, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services is still using the Cardiovascular Disease State Plan adopted and implemented during the Racicot administration. The main focus is toward reducing cholesterol levels. Here are some excerpts from the report:

On page 13 one reads, "In 1999, Montanans who participated in a CVD telephone survey and who had high cholesterol were asked how they planned to decrease their cholesterol levels.The most common responses were to reduce their fat intake and increase their exercise levels."

On page 22 one reads, "Educate patients who have high cholesterol or who have had a myocardial infarction about the AHA and National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines for managing high cholesterol."

Page 27 "HP2010 Objective - Fat intake: Increase to at least 75% the proportion of persons aged 2 and older who consume no more than 30% if calories from fat."

Page 28 "Promote 1% (milk) as the standard to be served in Montana Schools."

Since government agencies at the federal level are either controlled or heavily influenced by special interests such as the food manufacturing, edible oils, sweeteners, and beverage industries, it makes sense for public health at the state level to develop dietary guidelines and strategies for prevention of chronic diseases based on the best science available, not federal recommendations. In my state, current recommendations aimed at persuading Montanans to eat fewer calories (by restricting fat calories) and exercise more (MTNAPA) reflect an inadequate understanding of factors such as biochemical variability and fat and carbohydrate metabolism.

While the best science available regarding fat metabolism is not to be found in textbooks and government publications, the internet increasingly provides ready access to the truth about saturated fats. For example, view this webcast (The Quality of Calories: What Makes Us Fat and Why Nobody Seems to Care) of a recent lecture by science writer Gary Taubes delivered at the University of California Berkeley. I also encourage you to read the book (Good Calories, Bad Calories) which will take considerably more time as it consists of 550 pages of text and 100 pages of notes.


lowcarbarama said...

Congrats on the new site! I look forward to learning more about the Nutrition Education Project and the role saturated fats play in health.

TedHutchinson said...

Gary Taubes Dartmouth Lecture
For those who have not read the book this hour lecture provides a good summary of the main points.