HEART
March 10, 2014

Rethinking Saturated Fats

Several research studies say saturated fats may have gotten a bad rap. The real cardio culprits are sugars and...

You may want to rethink those supposedly heart-healthy low-fat foods you have been eating. Actually, you may want to rethink the whole “saturated fats bad, unsaturated fats good ” mantra. According to a recent editorial and several studies, we’ve been getting it all wrong.

“We need [the scientists who wrote the guidelines] to admit that they were wrong,” Dr. James DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist and author of the editorial, told TheDoctor. “We don’t have the evidence, and we never did, that saturated fat causes heart disease.”

When saturated fats, including trans fats, were replaced with vegetable oils, there was an increase in death due to heart disease.

His comments were written in response to research showing that saturated fat has gotten a bad rap, in particular a 2013 study that found when saturated fats, including trans fats, were replaced with vegetable oils high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as safflower oil and corn oil, there was an increase in death due to heart disease.

“The assumption that a low-fat diet reduces the ‘bad’ cholesterol (i.e., LDL) is an imprecise notion. While total LDL may be lowered with a reduced intake of dietary fat, if replaced with carbohydrate, this may increase sdLDL [small, dense low-density lipoprotein] particles [which are more dangerous to the heart]…,” he writes.

“We clearly have solid evidence now, with a randomized trial of 10,000 people, that says basically the complete opposite of what the dietary guidelines of 2010 are saying,” says DiNicolantonio. “So the dietary guidelines need to be updated.”

Demonizing saturated fat has had some unintended consequences. As lower fat foods were developed, sugars were added to make the foods taste better. DiNicolantonio points out that the consumption of carbohydrates and refined sugar is what has really increased since the 1970s.

It is that increase which has led to a corresponding rise in the rates of diabetes and obesity, he believes. Rather than cutting fats, we need to eat a diet that is lower in carbohydrates and refined sugar.

DiNicolantonio also believes that the switch from animal fats to vegetable oils high in omega-6 PUFAs has resulted in more heart disease because, when omega-6 PUFAs are used in cooking, and particularly cooking at higher temperatures, they are easily oxidized to free radicals that can cause atherosclerosis.

You should not cook with oils at very high heat. Instead DiNicolantonio recommends cooking food and scrambling eggs, for example, over low heat so that the PUFAs and cholesterol in the food are not oxidized.

“Cholesterol is not inherently bad at all, it is when you oxidize the cholesterol that is the issue,” he adds.

Omega-6 PUFAs, especially when they are used in cooking, and particularly cooking at higher temperatures, are easily oxidized to free radicals that can cause atherosclerosis.

DiNicolantonio does not favor any specific diet plan, “I am all for eating meat from animals that are raised in pasture that eat grass high in omega-3s, and organic fruits and vegetables that are not sprayed with pesticides.”

The Mediterranean diet, however, may be an option, “Everyone thinks the Mediterranean diet is high in red wine and low in red meat, but no one talks about how it is also low in refined carbs and processed foods,” he says. “That may be the reason that it is so beneficial.”

DiNicolantonio’s editorial was published recently in the journal, Open Heart.
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