The cover of the June 23 issue of Time magazine is definitely provocative. “Eat Butter,” the headline proclaims. “Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.”
The story by Bryan Walsh is an interesting treatise on how fat has been vilified in the American diet. “We have known for some time that fats found in vegetables like olives and in fish like salmon can actually protect against heart disease,” he states. “Now it’s becoming clear that even the saturated fat found in a medium-rare steak or a slab of butter – public health enemies Nos. 1 and 2 – has a more complex and, in some cases, benign effect on the body than previously thought.”
Walsh’s article is well worth the read. He pointed out that historical records of Americans’ food consumption are not really available if you try to go further back than the mid-20th century, but that the average consumption of meat during the 19th century is similar to the amount we currently eat now.
He also described the complexity of trying to analyze fat consumption. For instance, experts have communicated how saturated fat increases the level of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), which is associated with the risk of heart disease. However, Walsh points to research that found that saturated fat can increase the levels of HDL (good cholesterol), thus potentially balancing out the increased LDL levels. And researchers have found that there are different types of LDL, one of which is considered mostly harmful. Furthermore, sources of fat (milk vs. meat) seem to vary in their protective qualities in the body.
While this news makes me feel less guilty for enjoying an occasional hamburger this summer, I’m still hesitant to just start consuming a lot of steaks, butter and full-fat dairy products since researchers continue to identify hazards from eating a lot of saturated fats. For instance, a new study out of Columbia University focused on whether eating omega-3 fats instead of saturated fat in high-fat, high-cholesterol diets could slow atherosclerosis or even prevent it.
The researchers created five groups of mice. One group consumed a regular diet with only saturated fat (specifically coconut oil). A second group ate a diet with only omega-3 fats (specifically menhaden oil). A third group ate a diet in which 75 percent of fats were saturated fats and 25 percent were omega-3 fats while a fourth group’s fat consumption was 50-percent saturated fats and 50-percent omega-3 fats. The fifth group was a control group that consumed a low-fat diet.
The researchers found that after 12 weeks, mice that ate omega-3 fats had much fewer macrophages, which are white blood cells linked to atherosclerosis, than did the group of mice that ate only saturated fats as well as the mice in the control group. Additionally, the group that consumed omega-3 diets had a reduction in lesions related to atherosclerosis; these results were comparable to the mice in the control group. The analysis found that the mice that consumed only omega-3 fats had the greatest change, which involved either small fatty streaks or no streaks in their aortic arteries.
Furthermore, the mice whose dietary fat was comprised of only omega-3 fats had the lowest cholesterol levels. Mice that consumed the diets that included both omega-3 fats and saturated fats also were found to have substantially lower cholesterol. Additionally, the mice that ate the saturated-fat diet had 50-percent higher levels of triglycerides as compared to the mice that ate the low-fat diet.
So while I’ll enjoy a hamburger – okay, make that a cheeseburger – this summer, I plan to continue following a Mediterranean diet. This diet has been found by researchers to be good for the brain as well as the heart, which is important to me since my mother’s side of the family has a propensity for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. That way I can enjoy the occasional steak, but also know that I’m taking the appropriate actions to protect my health.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Lukits, A. (2014). The research report: Our brains are made for enjoying art. The Wall Street Journal.
Walsh, B. (2014). Don’t blame fat. Time Magazine.
Published On: June 18, 2014