This Thanksgiving, go ahead and enjoy all that deliciously rich dark meat on your plate. Saturated fat and all!
The U.S. government says you should limit saturated fat to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk. But now we know this advice is completely wrong. And even dangerous. As I’ll explain in a moment.
The government first demonized saturated fat after Ancel Keys published the “seven countries” study in 1970. This study observed a statistical “association” between coronary heart disease and cholesterol. As I’ve said before, these studies that show statistical “associations” are the weakest kinds of studies. Yet, 40 years ago, this flimsy connection led to the incorrect conclusion that cutting saturated fats would cut cholesterol. And this, in turn, would cut heart disease.
Soon after the Keys study, the U.S. government became completely obsessed with total cholesterol levels in the blood. This eventually led to the overmedication of tens of millions of people worldwide with dangerous statin drugs. And tragically, it diverted attention away from more important, proven risk factors.
Today, you’ll still hear many “health experts” say to limit fat intake to 30 percent of total calories. And to limit saturated fats to just 10 percent of calories. You’ll also see many well-intentioned adults following low-fat diets. They avoid red meat. Skip the butter. And would never think of touching a piece of bacon. Even the nitrate-free variety.
Well, some experts knew better. Even 30 years ago. They just happened to work in a different building from the human heart specialists.
In fact, in the 1970s during my medical training, I well remember how this cholesterol advice befuddled veterinary pathologists. Even at that time, they had done very careful dietary studies on primates. (Scientists could never conduct these highly controlled experiments on humans.) And they found no correlation between dietary saturated fats and cholesterol. Nor any correlation between blood cholesterol and heart disease. The vets I knew couldn’t understand why human doctors would give such poor advice based on flimsy science to their human patients. Too bad more of my med school classmates did not cross the street to talk to the vets, as I did.
So, in the ensuing 40 years, men and women tried to do the right thing and follow their doctors’ advice. They prepared low-fat, meatless meals. And they opted for margarine instead of butter.
But following that advice didn’t make things better. In fact, it made things worse. And killed many innocent people of heart disease.
Today, we have much better evidence than the 1970s Keys study. And the science shows that men and women who avoid or overly limit saturated fats actually increase their cardiovascular (CV) disease risks!
In fact, more recent prospective cohort studies show no association whatsoever between saturated fat intake and CV disease. Instead, saturated fats may protect you from CV disease somewhat.
Dietary saturated fat does seem to increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. Yet, when you reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood by eating less saturated fat, this only impacts the larger, lighter Type A LDL.
But now we know that the smaller, denser Type B LDL cholesterol causes problems with CV disease.
And any guess what type of food influences Type B LDL cholesterol?
You got it: carbohydrates.
Simply put, saturated fats simply aren’t the enemy. And we all need some of them in our diet. Remember, dietary sources of saturated fats are generally good sources of protein too.
Plus, eating some saturated fat also gives you natural, fat-soluble nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, and E. And these important nutrients are extremely difficult to get in low-fat diets.
In addition, eating foods with some saturated fat gives you calcium and phosphorus. As well as other important minerals, like magnesium. Science also shows that magnesium may help prevent high blood pressure–a very real risk factor for CV disease.
Now, research does link processed meats with heart disease. And with Type II diabetes. But this connection may come from the nitrates, sulfites, and other chemical preservatives found in many processed meats. So avoid most processed meats like lunch meat and hot dogs. Yes, you can also find nitrate-free lunchmeat in the grocery store these days. But better yet, opt for a real slice of roast turkey on your sandwich. Hopefully, you’ll have plenty of leftovers from today’s meal.
There is one type of fat you should always avoid: trans fat. Research shows that this type of fat does increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Scientists believe this result can happen because trans fat increases inflammation and affects the immune system. You find trans fat in fast foods, baked goods, margarine, and many other processed foods. You don’t want to be eating any of these foods anyway, with or without trans fats.
So, my advice this Thankgsiving?
Skip the margarine. Skip the processed, store-bought baked goods. But go ahead and sauté those pearled onions in butter and olive oil. Add a little sausage to your stuffing. And enjoy the dark meat from the turkey.