The Truth About Saturated Fat

Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat- soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes.

Politically Correct Nutrition is based on the assumption that we should reduce our intake of fats, particularly saturated fats from animal sources. Fats from animal sources also contain cholesterol, presented as the twin villain of the civilized diet.

The Truth About Saturated Fat

The Lipid Hypothesis

The theory-called the lipid hypothesis-that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease was proposed by a researcher named Ancel Keys in the late 1950’s. Numerous subsequent studies have questioned his data and conclusions. Nevertheless, Keys’ articles received far more publicity than those presenting alternate views.

The vegetable oil and food processing industries, the main beneficiaries of any research that found fault with competing traditional foods, began promoting and funding further research designed to support the lipid hypothesis.

The “Evidence” Supporting The Lipid Hypothesis

These “experts” assure us that the lipid hypothesis is backed by incontrovertible scientific proof. Most people would be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, very little evidence to support the contention that a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat actually reduces death from heart disease or in any way increases one’s life span. Consider the following: Before 1920 coronary heart disease was rare in America; so rare that when a young internist named Paul Dudley White introduced the German electrocardiograph to his colleagues at Harvard University, they advised him to concentrate on a more profitable branch of medicine.

The new machine revealed the presence of arterial blockages, thus permitting early diagnosis of coronary heart disease. But in those days clogged arteries were a medical rarity, and White had to search for patients who could benefit from his new technology. During the next forty years, however, the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically, so much so that by the mid fifties heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans.

Today heart disease causes at least 40% of all US deaths. If, as we have been told, heart disease results from the consumption of saturated fats, one would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet. Actually, the reverse is true. During the sixty-year period from 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%, and butter consumption plummeted from eighteen pounds per person per year to four.

During the past eighty years, dietary cholesterol intake has increased only 1%. During the same period the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils increased about 400% while the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased about 60%.

The Framingham Heart Study is often cited as proof of the lipid hypothesis. This study began in 1948 and involved some 6,000 people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. Two groups were compared at five-year intervals-those who consumed little cholesterol and saturated fat and those who consumed large amounts. After 40 years, the director of this study had to admit:

“In Framingham, Mass, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol… We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” The study did show that those who weighed more and had abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were slightly more at risk for future heart disease; but weight gain and cholesterol levels had an in