“I am worried that the way you’re eating is going to have negative health consequences for you later in life, like heart disease and stroke, since you are clearly eating large amounts of food that cause high cholesterol and thus heart disease” Says the annoying and ignorant, but albeit caring, non-paleo friend/family member to their Paleo friend/family member.
I know there are many of you out there that get this response from people in your life, and no doubt it is absolutely exhausting to defend yourself against these people who just don’t get it. Unfortunately, we start at a disadvantage since the government and media for years now have stuffed the saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease myth down the public’s throat, and although it is in fact untrue, it is now simply taken as a fact that needs to be disproved before someone will even think about changing their opinion (and depending on the person, they will never change no matter the evidence provided). At the end of the day, what is really funny about this situation is that we are trying to disprove a “fact” to people that was never even proven in the first place. There was never any real concrete evidence that linked saturated fat and high cholesterol (as the public and medical community currently thinks of it) to heart disease in the first place.
I have heard this comment a few times over the course of the last 3 years and the most recent one that occurred this weekend, from a family member, finally put me over the edge. My frustration with this was mainly because this person has fully seen the benefits my wife and I have experienced over the past 3 years (like curing asthma and having bragging rights cholesterol numbers), and had even seen the evidence for herself when she pretty much cured her diabetes by trying paleo for a few weeks (why that didn’t last is beyond me). Luckily, I was able to restrain myself, just barely, and not blow up at them, but I definitely needed to release some pent up energy. I tried going to the park and doing a bar muscle up, that didn’t work. I tried doing a 360 lb deadlift, that didn’t work. I tried playing a round of golf, that didn’t work, and I tried eating a 1000+ calorie breakfast with 2 times the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol than what is recommended by the Canada Food Guide and the American Food Plate, that didn’t work (other than making my body radiate with amazingness). So the only thing left for me to do was write about it, and then refer anyone who asks about it in the future to my article. Ultimately, this way I can disengage from conversations involving the above, and let people read about it on their own; thus, I will reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease by limiting the stress said conversations would cause me to experience :-). By the way, you can feel free to do the same if you find this article helpful!
Saturated Fat & Cholesterol are Healthy – Resources
My goal for this article is not to recreate the wheel for the argument that saturated fat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease; no, that would be a huge waste of time since this has already been done more than enough times. My goal is to direct people to the resources they need to read and become familiar with so they can understand what a healthy diet actually looks like, and to realize the saturated fat and cholesterol are a couple of good old friends to our health. I hope that this becomes my most popular blog post and that it is shared with more people than I could even imagine. We need the medical community and media to jump on the truth and change the unfortunate, and actually, dangerous belief that currently stands in North America. So, without further ado, here is where you should start:
Chris has put a wonderful series together on the diet-heart myth, go check it out:
He also wrote some commentary on a wonderful study on the topic a little while back
Mark Sisson (The Primal Blueprint Author):
Mark has written a few times about saturated fat and cholesterol and here are a few of his posts:
Peter is a super smart physician and has wrote what I think is the most detailed explanation of cholesterol, and how it relates to heart disease, that I have found. It has been very informative for me and I learnt a great deal from it. Be warned, it is a 7 part series and it’s very scientific. However, I highly suggest you do your best to read through each part.
At the end of the day, you may be wondering why, in light of all the above evidence, would we have ever begun to fear saturated fat in the first place. Well, Peter has actually recorded a nice presentation on this topic. It’s about an hour long, but very informative if you are not familiar with the topic: How Did We Come to Believe that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol are Bad for Us
Saturated Fat and Cholesterol are Healthy – More Evidence
OK, so I said I wasn’t going to argue the fact that saturated fat and cholesterol are healthy by doing my own research, but I did a bit of research on my own anyway simply because it’s fun for me and that’s just how I roll from time to time. A meta-analysis (review) article from 2010 came to the conclusion, after review of the literature available at the time, that there was no significant evidence correlating saturated fat intake with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease (1). If you followed my above links, Chris Kresser also cited this article in one of his posts. An interesting read. Another study could not find evidence that palm oil, which contains higher amounts of saturated fat, would lead to an increase risk of cancer (2), the researchers were also smart to point out that most current recent evidence does not support that saturated fat has negative health consequences. Another study attempted to determine the effect that full fat dairy consumption has on cardiovascular health. Surprise surprise, they came to the conclusion that full fat dairy consumption actually reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease (3). Another interesting thing that can be taken from the study, if you read the full thing, is that excess dairy carbohydrate consumption seems to raise the risk markers for cardiovascular disease. Interestingly enough, the carbohydrate content of low fat and non-fat milk would have a greater metabolic impact since all the healthy saturated fat has been removed. If you are not aware, combined fat and carbohydrate intake reduces metabolic impact of the carbohydrates compared to if they were consumed on their own (ie. less blood sugar/insulin response). So, can we then say that low-fat and non-fat dairy is actually bad for us??
Saturated Fat and Cholesterol are Healthy – The Kicker!
Last but not least, actually this was the best one I came across. It was a more recent meta-analysis from 2013, and I will simply directly paste the conclusion the researchers came to (4):
Saturated fats are benign with regard to inflammatory effects, as are the MUFAs. The meager effect that saturated fats have on serum cholesterol levels when modest but adequate amounts of polyunsaturated oils are included in the diet, and the lack of any clear evidence that saturated fats are promoting any of the conditions that can be attributed to PUFA makes one wonder how saturated fats got such a bad reputation in the health literature. The influence of dietary fats on serum cholesterol has been overstated, and a physiological mechanism for saturated fats causing heart disease is still missing.
Various aldehydes produced in the oxidation of PUFAs, as well as sugars, are known to initiate or augment several diseases, such as cancer, inflammation, asthma, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and endothelial dysfunction. Saturated fats per se may not be responsible for many of the adverse health effects with which they have been associated; instead, oxidation of PUFAs in those foods may be the cause of any associations that have been found.
Pretty cool right! So not only are saturated fats not related to disease, polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are related to disease since they are very unstable and susceptible to oxidation. If you don’t know what PUFAs are, think omega 6 fats that can be found in industrial seed and vegetable oils like canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, peanut, and soy.
Saturated Fat and Cholesterol are Healthy – Population Trends
Another interesting point to make is that since the change in the American diet recommendations to favor low fat, high carbohydrate foods, there has been a population wide reduction in saturated fat consumption (5), but an increase in total calorie consumption (5). Weird, ever feel nice and full after a meal full of healthy saturated fat, but feel totally unsatisfied after a sugar packed high carbohydrate meal? I digress, the numbers also indicate that even with the dietary change, cholesterol medication usage has increased and high LDL cholesterol is still a major issue (5). Also, all of us clearly know that cardiovascular disease affects more of the population than ever. Simply based on this data, can we not argue that a reduction in saturated fat may have, in fact, lead to worse health? There are clearly many other factors that can play a role here, but it’s just something to think about.
Well, I hope the above resources and listed references ease any concerns that you or your friends and family may have about a diet high in saturated fat.
The Barefoot Golfer