The Fight Against Fat Falls Apart

Posted by on Jun 23, 2014 in Uncategorized |

Last week, the cover of Time magazine read: “Eat Butter”. It’s about time (sorry no pun intended!) Study after study has shown that eating good fats – think butter, full fat milk, avocado, olive oil and coconut oil – are necessary parts of butter2a healthy diet and not the villains that promote chronic disease as we’ve been previously told.

So how can it be that for 30 years or more we’ve been told exactly the wrong thing? Part of the problem stems from a flaw in the original study used to support the belief that all fats were harmful. Dr. Ancel Keys’ landmark Seven Countries Study found that people who ate a diet low in saturated fat had lower levels of heart disease. The Western diet, heavy on meat and dairy, correlated with high rates of heart disease. That study helped land Keys in 1961 on the cover of TIME, in which he admonished Americans to reduce the fat calories in their diet by a third if they wanted to avoid heart disease.

Turns out though that he was rather choosey about which countries to include and made some assumptions that became the foundation of the fight against fat. For example, he left out France and West Germany that had high-fat diets but low rates of heart disease. It didn’t support his theory and therefore wasn’t included. Keys highlighted the Greek island of Crete, where almost no cheese or meat was eaten and people lived to an old age with clear arteries. But Keys visited Crete in the years following World War II, when the island was still recovering from German occupation and the diet was artificially lean. Even more confusing, Greeks on the neighboring isle of Corfu ate far less saturated fat than Cretans yet had much higher rates of heart disease. “It was highly flawed,” says Dr. Peter Attia, the president and director of the Nutrition Science Initiative, an independent obesity-research center. “It was not on the level of epidemiology work today.”

The other problem, which has only recently been discovered, is that simply looking at the level of LDL cholesterol (typically known as “bad” cholesterol) in the blood doesn’t tell the complete story.  Scientists now know there are two kinds of LDL particles: small, dense ones and large, fluffy ones. The large ones seem to be mostly harmless–and it’s the levels of those large particles that fat intake raises. Carb intake, meanwhile, seems to increase the small, sticky particles that now appear linked to heart disease. “Those observations led me to wonder how strong the evidence was for the connection between saturated fat and heart disease,” says Dr. Ronald Krauss, a cardiologist and researcher who has done pioneering work on LDL. “There’s a risk that people have been steered in the wrong direction by using LDL cholesterol rather than LDL particles as a risk factor.”

Armed with this better understanding of blood chemistry, we can better determine who is really at risk for heart disease and providing education on healthy diet and lifestyle choices. Next time you have your cholesterol checked, ask your doctor to look at the LDL particles and not just the overall LDL number.

One word of caution: This information should not lead you to smother your morning bagel with butter. But you can feel free to enjoy some butter on your vegetables or milk in our coffee (as long as you aren’t allergic to diary)!


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