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Blaming saturated fat for heart disease: Is it time to stop?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Stop blaming saturated fat for heart disease, says cardiology specialist

Aseem Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist at Croydon University Hospital, London says it's time to stop the myth that we have to remove saturated fat from the diet to stop cardiovascular disease.

Malhotra, publishing an editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), contends saturated fat's role in heart disease has never been proven - yet for four decades we've been given dietary advice to avoid it. He continues by saying we may even been missing out on the heart protective qualities of saturated fat.

How saturated fat could protect the heart

Malhotra points out the following:

  • The type of saturated fat we eat might be important. Dairy foods says Malhotra, "...are exemplary providers of vitamins A and D. As well as a link between vitamin D deficiency and a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular mortality, calcium and phosphorus found commonly in dairy foods may have antihypertensive effects that may contribute to inverse associations with cardiovascular risk, “cited in 3 separate studies.
  • Telling patients to stay away from saturated fats has failed to reduce heart disease and has resulted in the food industry adding other dangerous substances to our food including sugar and trans-fats; leading to higher rates of obesity.
  • Statins that have dangerous side effects have been prescribed to millions, yet trends in rates of cardiovascular disease remain the same. One caveat for taking the drugs is those who have already had a heart attack. Cholesterol lowering drugs are shown to stabilize plaque in the arteries and prevent a second coronary event.
  • Three-quarters of patients admitted to the hospital with heart attack do not have high cholesterol.
  • Consuming a diet that is low in saturated fat eliminates cardioprotective LDL cholesterol that is implicated in heart disease. Without saturated fat large buoyant LDL particles known as "Type A" LDL decrease in the blood stream.
  • The Mediterranean diet that includes saturated fat with low red meat intake has been shown repeatedly to lower rates of heart disease.
  • Weight loss success is shown to come from diets that are comprised of 90 percent fat, 90 percent carbohydrates and 90 percent protein, which Malhotra also cites in studies.

Some studies have even linked low cholesterol levels to other health dangers such as cancer, loss of muscle mass and depression.

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The notion that saturated fat causes heart disease developed in the 1970’s and came from results of the Framingham Heart Study.

There was a correlation between total cholesterol and risk for coronary artery disease. But it has never been proven that total cholesterol levels had to be lowered to prevent heart attacks.

Added sugar raises obesity and heart risks

Malhotra says it is not saturated fat causing heart disease. Instead, sugar is the culprit raising our risks of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

"It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease and wind back the harms of dietary advice that has contributed to obesity,” Malhotra concludes in his editorial.

He advocates eating a Mediterranean diet. Foods without sugar, additives and trans-fats and consuming dairy and unprocessed meats in addition to fruits, vegetables and fish could lead to lower rates of heart disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome; not diets low in saturated fat.


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