Nutrition advice has performed some pretty spectacular flip-flops over the past few decades. First nuts were thought to cause heart disease, then eggs were banished from the breakfast table only to be welcomed back later. Margarine was first deemed healthier than butter—until researchers determined that the trans fats were much harder on the arteries.
Saturated Fat De-Villainized
Scientists universally accept that trans fats—found in many fast foods, bakery products, and margarines—increase the risk of cardiovascular disease through inflammatory processes. But “saturated fat” is another story. The mantra that saturated fat must be removed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has dominated dietary advice and guidelines for almost four decades. Yet scientific evidence shows that this advice has, paradoxically, increased our cardiovascular risks. Furthermore, the obsession with levels of total cholesterol, which has led to the overmedication of millions of people with statins, has diverted our attention from the more egregious risk factor of atherogenic dyslipidemia.
Saturated fats, like butter, provide essential nutrients
Recent studies have not supported any significant association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular risk. Instead, it has been found to be protective. The source of the saturated fat may be important. Organic butter is a great provider of vitamins A and D and there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.
Butter is a key source of the most easily utilized form of Vitamin A, required for support of skin and organs, including endocrine glands, the immune system and the brain. And butter is loaded with antioxidants! It contains vitamin E, good cholesterol (the type that is not oxidized) and is important for brain function. It is a natural source of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), which show promise in research for holding weight to a normal range and preventing diabetes.
Processed meats, not organic, pasture-raised dairy and beef, are dangerous…
Carbohydrates, especially processed ones may be a bigger risk factor for inflammation & heart disease.
Saturated fat may raise LDL cholesterol. But compared to carbohydrates, it also raises HDL cholesterol and lowers triglycerides. If we looked just at LDL, we would predict that saturated fat raises heart disease risk. If we looked at the effect of saturated fat on HDL and triglycerides, we would suppose that saturated fat lowers that risk. If we looked at the combination, we would predict that saturated fat is relatively neutral for heart disease risk compared to carbohydrates.
Dr. Malhotra’s editorial suggests the following:
- Low-saturated-fat diets cut levels of lower-risk large, buoyant LDL particles rather than the small, dense LDL particles thought to worsen cardiovascular disease.
- Dietary saturated fat may actually protect against cardiovascular risk.
- Low-fat diets promote an atherogenic pattern of blood lipids and worsen insulin resistance.
- Low total-cholesterol levels are “associated with cardiovascular death, indicating that high total cholesterol is not a risk factor in a healthy population.”
- Even in secondary prevention, no cholesterol-lowering drug besides statins has shown survival benefit, supporting the hypothesis that the benefits of statins are independent of their effects on cholesterol.
- The “Mediterranean diet” confers three times the survival benefit in secondary prevention, compared with statins; it led to a 30% improvement compared with a “low-fat” diet in the PREDIMED study.