I was fortunate to discuss saturated fat and its connection to heart disease with Dr. Jonny Bowden. Dr. Bowden is a board-certified nutritionist and author of 14 books including The Great Cholesterol Myth co-authored with cardiologist Stephen Sinatra. He explains that "I’m out to rehabilitate the reputation of saturated fat, a perfectly healthy fat that we collectively demonized when we wrongly believed it led to heart disease. Recent research has shown that there’s no connection between saturated fat in the diet and the incidence of heart disease. Instead of saturated fat and cholesterol, most leading edge experts are now looking at inflammation as a prime mover in the development of heart disease."
I want to share one take away point from our discussion.
Why is there so much news lately in regards to saturated fat and its connection, or lack of connection, to heart disease? Accordingly to Dr. Bowden, the media is finally catching up with what we’ve known for 15 years. Nothing has changed. It’s just becoming more difficult to ignore the mounting evidence. It never caused heart disease.
Dr. Bowden shed some light on why saturated fat was vilified in the first place.
Heart disease moved front and center for the U.S. when President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack in office in 1955. This brought significant interest to what became known as our #1 killer.
In the 1950s the ability to measure the quantity of cholesterol in the bloodstream was developed.
Researcher Ancel Keys traveled to Naples, Italy and used this new technology to compare cholesterol levels of workers (no heart disease) and the wealthy (heart disease). He presented his hypothesis to the World Health Organization stating a fatty diet raised cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, and heart attacks.
In the 1960’s, the American Heart Association released a report includuing Keys’ evidence strongly suggesting Americans should reduce the fat in their diet to reduce risk of heart disease.
This was followed by a 5 Country Study and then 7 Country Study conducted by Keys. These studies focused on countries with known differences in their saturated fat intake. For example, you have the US and UK with high levels of heart disease and saturated fat consumption compared to Japan with much lower rates of heart disease and saturated fat consumption.
Keys became convinced the Mediterranean diet clearly showed it was the saturated fat in the American diet causing high rates of heart disease. Now, over time, Dr. Bowden states significant holes have been poked in the conclusions of the 7 Country Study. However, at this point in time Keys voice was predominant and he recommended a diet consisting of 70% of calories from carbohydrates and 15% from fat.
The government was feeling extreme pressure to come out with guidelines in regards to heart disease and Keys managed to get his theories accepted by the American Heart Association and worked into public policy in the 1980’s.
Therefore, all the regulation and restriction recommended for saturated fat ever since.
In 2010, the Dietary Guidelines advisory committee recommended limiting saturated fat to less than 7% total calories.
Also in 2010, Siri-Tarino published research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It was a meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies and showed no significant evidence for concluding dietary saturated fat to be associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.
I understand how all the conflicting messages can be both confusing and frustrating.
We now have a $30 billion industry all geared towards lowering cholesterol and guidelines pointing towards low fat/low saturated fat diets. I’m not just referring to the pharmaceutical side of things. Think about the food industry. Vegetable oils and their use drastically increased. We have restaurants and grocery stores touting heart healthy menu items.
It’s very difficult to change the understanding that saturated fat (and fat in general) is not the cause of heart disease when you have so many $'s at stake. Industries profiting on the current system are in no hurry to shift.
Are you working to reduce your heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol levels? If so, sign up for the free ecourse “How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps”.
Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.