Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Saturated fat off the hook at last

Most people understand a football fanatic getting pumped about scoring a winning goal or a foodie raving about a new restaurant. It seems strange to me that the average person doesn’t fully appreciate my excitement about nutrition research. I am hoping that you, my readers, will be able to share in my delight about the recent findings on saturated fat.  I was practically jumping for joy when I read the 18/03/14 Annals of Internal Medicine journal article debunking the myth that saturated fat is evil.  What I (and many other likeminded people) have been saying for years has finally been shown to be correct. Yippee! 

This study by Rajiv Chowdhury and his colleagues is a massive meta-analysis.  What this means is that instead of relying on a single study, a group of researchers have collated a large number of studies from 18 countries, including over 600,000 participants, to come to a much more reliable conclusion than any one investigation could easily produce.

The researchers discovered that when comparing people who ate the greatest and the least amounts of saturated fat, there was no significant difference in their risk of heart disease. This is actually not a new finding. In 2010 another large meta-analysis was published by Siri-Tarino et al., in which they concluded that saturated fat is not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.

Despite the research, it takes a long time to change the thinking of whole populations, not to mention governments and health professionals. For those who have been espousing low saturated fat consumption for so long, change doesn’t come easily. The main criticism leveled at Chowdhury et al’s findings relates to the fact that the authors failed to discuss the type of food that replaced the saturated fat. However, The New York times has quoted Chowdhury as saying "It's the high carbohydrate or sugary diet that should be the focus of dietary guidelines…If anything is driving your low-density lipoproteins in a more adverse way, it's carbohydrates."

Why do I find this research so exciting? Because it means that people can finally eat whole food, goodness and all, without the guilt. No more low fat this and that, replace fat with sugar for flavor, eat man made margarine instead of the real deal (yes butter is okay), avoid the eggs, take off the skin…just eat the food how nature intended. And my beloved coconut is finally off the hook and can be appreciated as the wonderful food it really is.

Before you start a feeding frenzy there are of course a couple of caveats I need to point out. Firstly, bear in mind that fat of any sort is a very energy dense (high calorie) food. Secondly, as with anything, moderation is the key. Whilst I do not have any problem with fat as part of a whole food, much saturated fat is consumed in the form of manufactured foods. These 'foods' also usually include large amounts of the stuff we really should be avoiding; sugar and refined carbohydrates. Also, bear in mind that the composition of animal fat has changed a lot with modern farming. Whilst we usually associate animal products such as beef, chicken, eggs and dairy with saturated fat, they also include significant amounts of unsaturated fat. This unsaturated fat is part omega 3 (the good fat) and part omega 6 (the fat we usually have too much of). When you choose grass-fed, free-range products you massively increase the ratio of omega 3 in relation to omega 6 (because the grain feed is much higher in omega 6 fat than the grass), which greatly benefits your health. So not only are the animals happier, but you will be too.

The bottom line in my opinion is to eat whole foods, fat and all, sensibly and in moderation. And although some saturated fat is fine, also include fat from fish, nuts, seeds (especially unheated flaxseeds and chia seeds), avocado and olive oil. And with all the talk about fat, don't forget your veges.

May you be full of beans and whole foods (fat and all),


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