Saturated Fat: Good References and Bad References

The thinking behind this post started when I read the following article on the Science Based Medicine (SBM) website: Eat Fat, Get Thin? The article focuses on debunking statements made regarding saturated fats by cardiothoracic surgeon Donald W. Miller, Jr., M.D. in an article and Youtube video titled Enjoy Saturated Fats, They’re Good for You!. I would make comments on the SBM website, but comments are closed for this post.

I saw red flags when the author began his attack with criticisms of Dr. Miller’s oral presentation skills and of some of his views that are unrelated to saturated fats. Then there was this:

‘He [Dr. Miller] begins by attacking the lipid hypothesis: the idea that fat in the diet causes elevated blood cholesterol which causes cardiovascular disease. This no longer needs attacking: mainstream recommendations have followed the evidence and have evolved from a low cholesterol diet to a low fat diet to a low saturated fat diet to avoidance of trans-fats and of excess calories from fat.’

This has an authoritative tone and there is some truth to it. Mostly, though, it is nonsense. Evidence has not led to any such evolution and recommendations to minimize saturated fats are still being made by governments and institutions. For instance, the USDA’s Supertracker website suggests restricting saturated fats. It appears to me that, since the SBM author could not point to valid science showing that saturated fats are unhealthy, he resorted to obfuscation.

The author also states: ‘The consensus of experts who have reviewed all the published evidence is that high blood LDL cholesterol is a major risk factor for CVD and that lowering it reduces risk…’

It must feel safe and responsible to promote the consensus of experts, but I am more interested in not having the average health profile of a population that dies mostly from heart disease. Americans in general eat less fat and exercise more than we did in the 1970’s while diabetes and heart disease remain as two of our biggest health problems. Consider this article from the American Heart Journal:

Lipid levels in patients hospitalized with coronary artery disease: An analysis of 136,905 hospitalizations in Get With The Guidelines

The CAD patients had an average LDL of 104.9 mg/dL and this value is 137.5 for the average American. You can read more about this in a post from The Fat Emperor Blog: LDL – It’s not the “Bad Cholesterol” – That’s Simplistic Foolery in Light of 21st Century Science. Other studies show low LDL in people with dementia. Extremely high LDL does indicate that something is wrong, but Dr. Miller makes valid points regarding cholesterol. The fact is that LDL level is not a particularly useful indicator unless it is at an extreme level.

Science Based Medicine is a nonprofit organization that operates a quality website about “exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine”. There is much worthwhile information published there, but this article about saturated fat does more harm than good. It is an example of cognitive dissonance. This would not be such a big deal if the subject did not affect people. However, perpetuating the high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) is healthy myth can prolong and worsen the health crisis of chronic diseases.

Here is a point of reference. According to Encyclopedia Britannica: ‘The body of a healthy lean man is composed of roughly 62 percent water, 16 percent fat, 16 percent protein, 6 percent minerals, and less than 1 percent carbohydrate, along with very small amounts of vitamins and other miscellaneous substances. Females usually carry more fat (about 22 percent in a healthy lean woman) and slightly less of the other components than do males of comparable weight.’

A fat is categorized as saturated when its molecules have the most hydrogen bonds possible within its structure, making it chemically stable. It is a solid at normal room temperatures. Animal fats and coconut oil are common dietary sources. It is often termed “bad” because it is proven to raise blood cholesterol and there is a belief among many that it contributes to cardiovascular disease. This is why the suggestion to severely limit dietary saturated fats has become institutionalized. However, there are no scientific studies that show meaningful correlation of saturated fat consumption to mortality risk. I believe this is why the SBM author resorted to unrelated criticisms and spin to refute Dr. Miller’s claim that saturated fats are good for you. He might as well have also cited the guy in the video, LCHF is the Shit (linked below) who says “Everybody knows that saturated fat is bad!”.

Another point of reference is basic common sense. Most people have more fat in their body than the other essential macronutrient (protein). At least most of this fat is saturated. I know this from my experience of witnessing a human autopsy at a normal room temperature. Considering the fact that the human body has evolved to store saturated fat, how likely is it that saturated fat causes heart disease? The video makes this point too, although I am guessing that Science Based Medicine would not be impressed with this reference.

My favorite reference is my personal health record that shows really good blood lipid metrics and a generally good health profile from a diet that includes saturated fats. After a few months of restricting carbs, while eating as much of real foods as I wanted, my weight and waist size effortlessly went down to healthy levels. I am nearing 60 years old on a LCHF diet and I know I can run further now than I could when I was a HCLF eater at age 30. Given enough evidence I would change my thinking on this, but it is not enough that a consensus of experts believes HCLF is healthy.

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