Ever since Ancel Keys started the epidemiological longitudinal “Seven Countries Study” in 1958, there’s been debate about the role of saturated fats on coronary heart disease (CHD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Keys’ study showed a strong relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease – that is, the more saturated fat people ate, the higher the rate of heart disease.
One criticism of the “Seven Countries study” is that other factors, including cigarette smoking and lack of physical activity, could be responsible for the higher rates of heart disease. But medical professionals and drug companies believe saturated fats are the true villain. The dissenters of the saturated fat CHD theory have been ignored and silenced. But an increasing number of dissenting researchers are expressing their belief that saturated fats are not linked to CHD.
Yesterday, the meta-analysis report “Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids with Coronary Risk” was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Meta-analysis is a statistical method of combining results from different studies. The basic conclusion of this study from the University of Cambridge is that “current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”
A senior author of the study, Dr. Emanuele Di Angelantonio, states that there’s no strong evidence to justify current cardiovascular guidelines concerning saturated fats, and there’s a need for further studies to explore this issue, according to Medscape.
There are a few criticisms of this new study. Dr. Eric B. Rimm of Harvard stated in the Medscape article, “CV Risk and Saturated Fats: The Debate Roils On,” that there’s a serious mistake in the study’s review of polyunsaturated fatty acids that will change the results of the study substantially. He also stated that the study’s conclusion about saturated fat has no context, because it compared heart disease risk of eating saturated fats with eating white bread – in other words, saturated fat consumption is no better or worse than eating white bread. Low-fiber carbs like white bread are now known to spike blood sugar and increase risks of CVD.
And Medscape states another criticism by Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein of Tufts University – “The majority of the evidence suggests that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces heart disease risk, whereas replacing saturated fat with carbohydrate does not. This new study only assessed one factor, an indicator of dietary fat, and not the whole picture, making the conclusions questionable.”
Dr. Di Angelantonio, however, believes these errors are minor, and doesn’t change the basic conclusion of the study.
In the WebMD article, “Fats and heart disease: Guidelines questioned,” the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, Professor Jeremy Pearson, states “This analysis of existing data suggests there isn’t enough evidence to say that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. But large scale clinical studies are needed, as these researchers recommend, before making a conclusive judgement. Alongside taking any necessary medication, the best way to stay heart healthy is to stop smoking, stay active, and ensure our whole diet is healthy – and this means considering not only the fats in our diet but also our intake of salt, sugar and fruit and vegetables.”
This isn’t the first meta-analysis to make this conclusion about saturated fats. In a March 2010 report, the conclusion stated that there is no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
In addition to the “Seven Countries Study,” however, the “Nurses’ Health Study” and the “Health Professionals Follow-up Study” show women who eat more unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats have fewer heart problems.
Based on my own experience and research, this is what I believe to be heart healthy. Cultures that experience long and healthy lives have these things in common:
- They eat a lot of high-fiber fruits and vegetables
- They eat meat rarely. It’s reported that the people of the Greek island Ikaria eat only four servings of meat a month. Many Americans eat that much in a day.
- When they do eat meat or dairy, it’s from animals who freely graze on wild grasses
- Water is the primary fluid they drink with a modest amount of red wine
- They eat a lot of nuts and seeds
- They eat a lot of legumes
- They use extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
- They use raw, wild honey as an occasional sweetener
- They stay physically active
- And they’re not overweight
Let the scientist argue. If you follow the example of people who live healthy and long like the people of Ikaria, you too can increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.