Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stop Blaming Saturated Fat

From Men's Health today.

Saturated Fat
Stop Blaming Saturated Fat
The research is clear: Carbohydrates, not fats, are the foe in
America's battle against heart disease and obesity
By: Adam Campbell & Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D.

The recent news that the Atkins low-carb diet works well and improves
health has some people scratching their heads.

If Atkins means eating lots of meat, eggs and cheese, won't all that
saturated fat wreck your cholesterol levels and put you on the road to
heart disease?

Well, no. There's no good evidence of that. And there's plenty of
evidence that the opposite is true--that eating more saturated fat
lowers the risk for heart disease. That's what a recent Harvard
University study found: People who had the highest saturated fat
intake also had the least plaque buildup on their artery walls. The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition described the findings as an
"American Paradox."

In the Stanford University study that made recent headlines, women on
the "fatty" Atkins diet ended up with the healthiest cholesterol
levels and the best blood pressure readings, compared to those on
other diets, notably the famous Ornish low-fat diet.

Here are a few bullet-points summarizing the current research on
saturated fats.

--We typically eat more than a dozen kinds of saturated fat. Some have
zero effect on cholesterol. Some raise bad (LDL) cholesterol, but all
of them raise good (HDL) cholesterol to a greater extent. That's a net
gain in heart health.
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--The nation's top health organizations have for decades called
saturated fat one of the main culprits for diet-related diseases,
including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Problem is,
this blame stems from research that is now seen as incomplete. For
instance, a famous 1953 study took data from six countries,
overlooking 16 countries whose numbers provide contradictory evidence.
(Like France, for instance, or native cultures in Africa and Canada
where high amounts of fat and saturated fat are eaten but heart
disease is practically unknown.)

--Since the 1970s, American men have decreased their saturated fat
intake by 14 percent and increased their carbohydrate intake by 23
percent--yet rates of obesity and heart disease are increasing. You
might say that carbohydrates make people fat, which leads to heart
disease. Or that more carbohydrates you eat, the greater your risk for
a heart attack.

--But these simple numbers only suggest a cause. To prove something,
you need a controlled experiment. There have been many such clinical
trials, and not one has shown has shown that cutting back on saturated
fat reduces heart disease risk.

--When you look at the effect of saturated fat on health, you must
also look at the intake of carbohydrates. Many studies have shown that
if you replace carbs with fat, your triglycerides levels go down and
your good cholesterol goes up. And your bad (LDL) cholesterol
particles get bigger, which means they're less harmful.

--Here's a paradox for you: A high saturated fat intake decreases
blood levels of saturated fat. How can this be? Here's how: The
saturated fat in your blood comes from both the food you eat and from
your liver, which produces saturated fat. The more carbs you eat, the
higher your insulin levels climb, which signals your liver to produce
saturated fat. If you go on a low-carb diet, your insulin levels drop,
and so does production of saturated fat.

--A bonus: with low insulin levels, your body can burn more fat for
energy, decreasing your sat-fat levels even more.