Animal fats: Separating fact from fiction
FT. ATKINSON - Go ahead, enjoy a juicy steak and dollop butter on that baked potato. It's not just okay, it's actually good for you.
Saturated fats, including marbled meats, cheese and butter, have been unfairly vilified based on weak science, Nina Teicholz, New York Times best-selling author of "The Big Fat Surprise", told an international audience during the February Hoard's Dairyman Webinar.
Her presentation, co-hosted by Corey Geiger, Hoards Dairyman, and Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois, was sponsored by Hoard's Dairyman.
In fact, the idea that these fats cause heart disease has been thoroughly debunked, Teicholz said, but the delusion continues, in large part, because U.S. Dietary Guidelines still reflect the entrenched, inaccurate theory.
Bad rap for saturated fat
Teicholz, a technical investigative journalist, read over 10,000 scientific papers in the course of nearly 10 years researching dietary fats for her controversial book.
Saturated fat was denounced as bad for health after President Eisenhower had a heart attack, raising the question of what caused heart disease. Heart attacks were very rare in the early 1900s, Teicholz noted, but became the nation's #1 killer.
One theory, championed by influential nutrition scientist Ancel Keys, carried the day - the diet heart hypothesis that saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet led to elevated cholesterol in the blood, and that caused hear attacks.
In 1961, the American Heart Association published the first advice anywhere in the world to limit intake of saturated fats and cholesterol in order to prevent heart disease. Keys was a lead author. "This is where it all started," Teicholz said.
As evidence, the AHA cited the "Seven Countries" study conducted by Keys in the 1960s that appeared to show consumption of saturated fats correlated with cardiovascular death..
Teicholz spent six months tracking and tracing Key's pivotal study. She found he clearly cherry-picked the data, bypassing countries that did not fit his theory. "The 'Seven Country Study' came to be the bedrock of nutrition science, but it was deeply flawed," she said.
Because Keys' study only showed association, a large number of government-funded clinical trials were undertaken. The results of experiments lasting 1-12 years on over 75,655 people showed no effect of saturated fats on cardiovascular mortality.
"They could not prove Ancel Keys right and, even worse, many of the studies found the groups eating more polyunsaturated vegetable oils were dying at a higher rate from cancer," Teicholz said.
How could this happen?
The promotion of the flawed theory was politics winning out over science, Teicholz said, and the bias was preserved, in part, by ignoring trials that showed otherwise.
For example, a huge Minnesota clinical trial that found no differences between the study groups was published 16 years later in a minor journal. Additional data, found several years ago in a lead researcher's basement, actually showed the more the studied men lowered their cholesterol, the more likely they were to suffer cardiovascular death,
"These are what's called 'silent studies'. They are not talked about by nutrition scientists," Teicholz said. "This has been going on for decades."
In 1980, the U.S. government, heavily influenced by the AHA, launched the Dietary Guidelines and the Food Pyramid. Teicholz considers the response "extraordinary": overweight/obesity rates shot up, despite Americans following the guidelines.
"We are told we are fat and diabetic because we are gluttonous and lazy, but it is more complicated than people get fat by eating too much and exercising too little," she said.
There has been a major macronutrient shift in the U.S. From 1965-2011, she pointed out. Consumption of carbs has risen by over 30 percent, while fat is down by 25 percent and saturated fat down by 17 percent.
The past 15 years of real science have exposed four myths. The truth is:
1) Saturated fats do NOT cause cardiovascular disease or CVD death. "We're all afraid of saturated fat, but it actually appears to be good for us. This is a paradigm change," Teicholz said.
2) Eating cholesterol does NOT worsen blood cholesterol, a fact that crashes Ancel Keys' diet-heart hypothesis.
3) The low-fat diet does NOT work. Studies show it is not effective at fighting obesity, diabetes, heart disease or any kind of cancer. It actually increases heart disease risk. Although there has been no official announcement, there is no longer a "low-fat" recommendations, Teicholz pointed out.
4) Eating fat does NOT make you fat. Studies show higher fat diets are actually better for weight loss.
5) Fat does NOT cause cancer.
The emerging theory of what actually causes disease is that consuming carbohydrates leads to increased insulin levels which leads to obesity, and that continuous insulin spikes pave the path to diabetes.
Not all calories are the same, Teicholz explained. Carbohydrate calories are metabolized differently, due mainly to their insulin effect. That means gaining and losing weight is not as simple as calories in vs. calories out.
An increasing number of studies are showing that full-fat dairy is good/better for health. "These are good signs for dairy," she said, noting the AHA and USDA dietary guidelines no longer have caps on cholesterol.
However, caps on saturated fat remains. "It's a shame, but we won't see real change until we get government guidelines that are evidence-based," Teicholz said.
To that end, she has founded the Nutrition Coalition for Evidence-Based Nutrition Policy (www.NutritionCoalition.US), which is working toward getting scientific evidence into the guidelines.
"We have been taught the wrong nutrition for 50 years," Teicholz said. "It is time to change."