Top 9 Biggest Lies About Dietary Fat and Cholesterol
Here are the top 9 biggest lies, myths and misconceptions about dietary fat and cholesterol.
1. A Low-Fat, High-Carb Diet is The Optimal Human Diet
Back in 60s and 70s, many prominent scientists believed that saturated fat was the main cause of heart disease, by raising the “bad” cholesterol in the blood.
This idea was the cornerstone of the low-fat diet.
Because of a few bad studies and misguided political decisions, this diet was recommended to all Americans in the year 1977 (1).
However, there wasn’t a single study on this diet at the time. The American public became participants in the largest uncontrolled experiment in history.
This experiment didn’t turn out very well and we are still suffering the consequences. This graph shows how the obesity epidemic started at almost the exact same time the low-fat guidelines came out (2):
healthy foods like meat, butter and eggs, while eating more processed foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Even though there was little evidence at the time, the low-fat diet has actually been thoroughly studied in the past few years and decades.
It was put to the test in the biggest controlled trial in nutrition history, the Women’s Health Initiative.
In this study, 48,835 postmenopausal women were split into two groups. One group ate a low-fat diet (with the whole grains and all that) while the other group continued to eat “normally. ”
After a period of 7.5-8 years, the low-fat group weighed only 0.4 kg (1 lb) less than the control group and there was no difference in the rate of heart disease or cancer between groups (3, 4, 5, 6).
Other huge studies also found no advantages for the low-fat diet (7, 8, 9).
But it doesn’t end there, unfortunately the low-fat diet recommended by most nutrition organizations is not only ineffective, it may even be downright harmful.
In multiple human studies, the low-fat diet has actually made some important risk factors worse, raising triglycerides, lowering HDL (the good) cholesterol and making the LDL particles smaller (10, 11, 12, 13).
Despite miserable results in the studies, many nutritionists all over the world continue to recommend the low-fat diet that is hurting more people than it helps.
Bottom Line: There is no evidence that low-fat diets have any benefits. They do not cause weight loss in the long-term or reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Some studies show that they may even cause harm.
2. Cholesterol Rich Foods (Like Eggs) Are Bad For You
Nutrition professionals have had remarkable success with demonizing perfectly healthy foods.
Probably the worst example of that is eggs, which are among the healthiest foods on the planet.
Just think about it the nutrients in an egg are enough to turn a single fertilized cell into an entire baby chicken.
Even so because eggs contain large amounts of cholesterol, they were believed to cause heart disease.
However, studies actually show that the cholesterol in the diet does NOT raise the bad cholesterol in the blood. Eggs raise HDL (the good) cholesterol and are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).
What we’re left with is an incredibly healthy food loaded with vitamins, minerals and powerful nutrients that are important for the eyes and brain (19, 20, 21).
Keep in mind that almost all the nutrients are found in the yolk, the white is nothing but protein. Telling people to ditch the yolks may be just be the most ridiculous nutrition advice in history.
Bottom Line: Eggs were demonized because of the high amount of cholesterol, but new studies show that they don’t raise cholesterol in the blood or contribute to heart disease. Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet.
3. Your Total and LDL Cholesterol Levels Are Good Indicators of Heart Attack Risk
Probably the biggest mistake in modern medicine is focusing too much on Total and LDL cholesterol levels as indicators of heart attack risk.
Well it is true that elevated levels of both are associated with increased risk (22).
But the whole picture is much more complicated than that.
Total cholesterol actually includes lots of things, including HDL, also known as the “good” cholesterol.
Having high HDL actually raises your Total cholesterol number.
LDL cholesterol isn’t just LDL either there are subtypes.
We have the small, dense LDL particles (very bad) and then we have the large, fluffy LDL (good). The small particles are associated with heart disease, while the large ones are mostly benign (23, 24, 25, 26, 27).
Studies actually show that Total and LDL cholesterol are poor indicators of risk compared to other markers, like the Triglyceride:HDL ratio (28, 29).
One study found that out of 231,986 patients hospitalized for heart disease, half of them actually had normal LDL levels (30)!
There are also studies showing that high cholesterol can be protective. In old individuals, the higher the cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart disease (31, 32).
Not to mention that cholesterol levels that are too low are actually associated with increased risk of death from other causes, like cancer and suicide (33, 34).
Despite the weak predictive value of Total and LDL cholesterol, people with elevated numbers are often instructed to lower cholesterol by any means necessary including a low-fat diet (which doesn’t work) and statin drugs.
Right now, millions of people all around the world are taking cholesterol lowering drugs without needing them, unnecessarily suffering the risk of serious side effects.
Bottom Line: Total and LDL cholesterol levels are actually quite poor markers of heart disease risk. Many people are being unnecessarily medicated because doctors tend to focus on these numbers.
4. Processed Seed- and Vegetable Oils Are Healthy
For some very strange reason, processed seed- and vegetable oils became recognized as health foods.
Humans only started consuming them about a 100 years ago, because we didn’t have the technology to process them until then.
Yet, somehow the nutrition geniuses figured that these would somehow be very healthy for humans and certainly better than the “dangerous” saturated fats.
These oils, which include soybean, corn and cottonseed oils, are very high in polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acids, which are harmful in excess and can contribute to inflammation (35, 36, 37).
Despite these oils being recommended to reduce heart disease, there are actually multiple studies showing that they increase the risk (38, 39, 40, 41).
In a study that looked at common cooking oils on the U.S. market, they found that 0.56% to 4.2% of the fatty acids in them were highly toxic trans fats (42)!
However these oils are actually recommended by the beloved organizations that are supposed to be in charge of protecting our health.
This is one example of where blindly following the conventional nutritional wisdom can put you in an early grave.
Bottom Line: Processed seed- and vegetable oils are very unhealthy, loaded with Omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats that can contribute to disease.
5. Saturated Fat Raises Your Bad Cholesterol and Causes Heart Disease
The “war on saturated fat” has been a miserable failure.
It was initially based on flawed studies, but somehow became public policy (with disastrous consequences).
The worst part is the governments and health organizations have yet to change their position despite overwhelming evidence that they’ve been wrong all along.
Actually, saturated fat doesn’t really raise LDL that much. The effect is weak and inconsistent and appears to depend on the individual (43, 44, 45).
When saturated fat does affect LDL, it changes the particles from small, dense (very, very bad) to Large LDL, which is mostly benign (46, 47, 48).
Saturated fat also raises HDL cholesterol, which is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease (49, 50).
If anything, saturated fats actually improve the lipid profile, NOT the other way around.
In the past few years, many massive studies have examined the link between saturated fat and heart disease risk.
One of these studies included 347,747 participants and looked at data from 21 studies. The conclusion: there is no evidence that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease (51).
Many other studies confirm these findings. Saturated fat is harmless (52, 53).
The truth is saturated fat never has been and never will be proven to cause heart disease, because it simply isn’t true.
Bottom Line: Despite decades of anti-fat propaganda, saturated fat has never been proven to cause heart disease. In fact, saturated fat improves some of the most important risk factors for heart disease.
6. Saturated Fats and Trans Fats Are Similar
Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been chemically modified to be more solid and have a longer shelf life.
They are also known as partially hydrogenated fats.
The manufacturing process is very disgusting involving high pressure, high heat, a metal catalyst and hydrogen gas.
The fact that anyone thought these nasty fats would be suitable for human consumption is baffling.
Some of the major health organizations have started to confuse people by grouping trans fats together with saturated fats, calling them the “bad fats” (54).
However, like I outlined above, saturated fat is completely harmless, but the same can NOT be said for trans fats.
Trans fats are highly toxic and can cause insulin resistance, inflammation and significantly raise the risk of serious diseases like heart disease (55, 56, 57, 58).
Even though consumption has gone down, trans fats are still found in processed foods and the FDA still categorizes them as “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS).
If you want to avoid chronic disease then eat your butter, meat and coconut oil, but avoid trans fats as if your life depended on it (it does).
Bottom Line: Trans fats resemble saturated fat in consistency and shelf life, but the chemical composition is still very different. While saturated fats are harmless, trans fats are highly toxic and should be avoided.
7. Eating Fat Makes You Fat and High-Fat Diets Are Dangerous
Fat is the stuff that lodges under our skin and makes us look soft and puffy.
Therefore, eating more fat should make us store more of it. You are what you eat, right?
Well, it actually isn’t that simple.
Even though fat has more calories per gram compared to protein and carbs, foods that are naturally high in fat are very fulfilling and hard to overeat.
In fact, studies on diets that are high in fat (and low in carbs) show that these diets cause more weight loss than diets that are low in fat (59, 60, 61).
Low-carb, high-fat diets also lead to all sorts of other benefits increased HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, more abdominal fat loss and improved size of LDL particles (62, 63, 63, 65).
Despite this, many nutrition professionals still have the audacity to call low-carb diets harmful, then continue to peddle the failed low-fat diet that has been proven, time and time again, to be completely ineffective.
Bottom Line: Despite fat having more calories per gram than carbs or protein, studies show that high-fat (and low-carb) diets actually lead to more weight loss than low-fat diets.
8. Processed Margarine is Better Than Natural Butter
Because of the war on saturated fat, butter became recognized as an unhealthy food.
Food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started producing butter replicates like margarine.
Most margarines contain large amounts of processed vegetable oils, often with trans fats added to the mix.
It is hard to imagine how people could think that processed, factory made margarine would be healthier than butter, which is completely natural and humans have been eating for a long time.
The studies also do NOT support the idea that margarine is healthier than butter. In the Framingham Heart Study, margarine was associated with an increased heart disease risk compared to butter (66):
Many other studies have looked at high-fat dairy products and found no evidence that they contribute to any disease in fact, high fat dairy is associated with a lower risk of obesity (67, 68).
Despite all the fear mongering, high fat dairy products like butter are extremely healthy, especially if they are derived from grass-fed cows.
Bottom Line: Margarine is an unhealthy fake food produced in factories, usually containing trans fats and processed vegetable oils. Butter is a much healthier choice, especially if it comes from grass-fed cows.
9. Processed Low-Fat Foods Are Healthy Options
Because of the ridiculous low-fat advice, food manufacturers removed the fat from some of their foods.
But there was a major problem natural foods taste terrible without the fat.
The food manufacturers realized this and added a whole bunch of sugar to compensate for the missing fat.
For this reason, most “low fat” foods are actually loaded with sugar, which is seriously harmful (69, 70, 71).
If a food has “low fat” or “diet” on the label, then you will probably find sugar, corn syrup and various artificial chemicals on the ingredients list.
However, sales of these foods have skyrocketed because many nutrition professionals still advise people to eat them even though the normal fat alternatives are much healthier!
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This post was generously contributed by Kris Gunnars of Authority Nutrition.
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