Debunking the Myths: Saturated Fat is Your Friend

Dietary fats, specifically saturated fats, are not the demons they’ve been made out to be. Ever wonder how it got that way?

Bad Science and Lies…

In 1947 a researcher named Ancel Keys (remember that name) began a study on the high rate of cardiovascular disease appearing in Minnesota businessmen. His two main hypotheses were: 1) there was a correlation between cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease and; 2) there was also a correlation between cholesterol and dietary fat intake.

By 1953, Keys had amassed enough data internationally (22 countries’ worth of research!) to posit the following findings:

keys53graphNow Keys can’t be faulted for going into the study with a hypothesis, after all; that’s what scientists do. But what you’re about to see is one of the greatest nutritional hoodwinks ever pulled; Keys straight up lied in order to get the results he desired by omitting 15 countries (but that’s 2/3rds of the data!?!?) from the study.

Because no matter how many statistics classes you’ve taken, you just can’t draw a straight line through the above data points to show any type of correlation. Here are the “results” Keys published:

keys7nationsThat looks really neat and orderly, and definitely shows a positive correlation. This, in fact, was the graph that Keys presented to the world and this is the very reason we’ve all been taught to think that fats are bad because fats make you fat; and in this society we’re taught that fat people are bad, and we (should) know that that’s just not true. I’ll save fat-shaming for another post someday; but if you do that kind of thing to other human beings then shame on you.

Except the world believed Keys, and in 1956 representatives of the American Heart Association, armed with Keys’ bad science and lies, appeared on TV to warn the American public that a diet high in fat (especially butter, lard, eggs & beef) would lead to coronary heart disease.

But forget about all that for a minute, let’s keep looking at some other points of the graph isolated for some more depth:

keys7cleanHere’s a cleaned up version of the above graph; note the 7 countries that Keys used. When I think of those countries’ diets, I would basically rank them from healthiest to least healthy, and that’s how they’re arranged on the graph (that’s Japan at the bottom left on up to USA at the top right). Keys hypothesis fits his data, based on this small (and extremely selective) sample size.

But here’s where Keys started to get frustrated:

keys5cleanWow, it appears as though those countries have little to no instances of heart disease. “Let’s not put those countries in my graph”, said Keys (probably).

Now here’s a different six countries’ data:

keys6cleanOkay, slightly higher instances of heart disease here but the main point that both graphs are trying to make is that the higher the percentage of fat intake the lower the instance of cardiovascular disease. I’d call that a negative correlation, and Keys would too- no wonder he left all this data out of his study!

Let’s play with the data some more:

keys6moreWhoa, that’s a pretty steep decline in deaths related to fat intake. Finland, at 7 deaths per 1000 sits right about 30% of calories from fat intake, while Ireland, at the same percentage sits at just above 4 per 1000. But the Netherlands, closer to 40% fat intake is down at just 2 deaths per 1000.

The Damage Was Already Done…

I can’t fault Keys as a human- I would’ve thrown all that data out, too. Especially if I so badly wanted the world to see that I was right. But as a scientist, that’s completely unprofessional. So what Keys did, right after being exposed as a fraud at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting on atherosclerosis in Geneva in 1955 by two doctors (Yerushalmy & Hilleboe), he went back and said, “no wait, I got it wrong- it’s Serum Total Cholesterol! That’s what’s killing us!” Hence; total cholesterol AND saturated fats were inextricably linked to each other for all time. The logic went like this: if you ingest too much dietary fat your cholesterol levels will rise and your arteries will become clogged and you will die.

So in 1957 Drs. Yerushalmy & Hilleboe published their findings but with one fatal flaw; they attacked Keys’ methodologies and used an authoritative, pedantic and patronizing tone (I can’t help but think that’s what I’m doing with this very blog post). I guess they really wanted to rub it in Keys’ face, and what ended up happening is that they completely alienated their audience and their report was subsequently buried. By this time Keys had already convinced the WHO and was deep into conducting pilot studies on his Seven Countries.

So people started cutting fat out of their diets. They started using “healthier” oils like canola and margarine over butter. No more eggs! Beef and red meat are bad for you! The FDA urged us to switch to a low-fat diet, replacing all that “harmful” fat with “healthy” carbohydrates.

The Aftermath…

Then people started getting sicker- diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease, inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s Disease, colitis, asthma, celiac and ever-increasing instances of gluten and other food allergies; the list goes on and on.

I chose these common afflictions because they were not considered common 100 years ago. During the early part of the last century, the majority of maladies were infectious diseases either of the bacterial kind (tuberculosis) or viral kind (influenza). Pneumonia, syphilis; that type of stuff, hell- smallpox was still a threat. But these diseases became treatable with the use of antibiotics, antiseptics and cleaner hospital environments.

Then we go back to the list of current diseases, also made “treatable” by today’s medical standards; if you consider the amount of Lipitor prescribed, or albuterol, or the hundreds of diabetes medications. These drugs are all made readily available, prescribed to you by your physician, then purchased at your local Safeway or WalMart. Yes, your local supermarket also has a pharmacy.

This point here leads me to wonder why the Food & Drug Administration are linked together. I’m not a conspiracy theory nut, but why would a country have its food supply regulated by the same organization that regulates its drugs? Could it be they’re selling you the disease AND the cure at the same time? I repeat; your local supermarket ALSO HAS A PHARMACY.

Okay, that was one hell of a tangent, and I’m going to get back on course now.

What Does it All Mean?

Looking again at the evidence provided, we see sharp declines in deaths from cardiovascular disease in proportion to higher fat intakes. In fact, saturated fats have been shown in recent studies to protect the heart; oxidation is actually the true culprit in atherosclerosis and heart disease.

The current research and medical science is now supporting the following findings: eating foods that are high in anti-oxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties protect the heart and blood vessels. Basically, salmon, avocadoes & olive oil are good for your heart while all sugars, corn oil, margarine, and refined or processed grains are not so good.

“Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped.”- Dr. Dwight Lundell

You might be wondering “so where’s this link between sugars, processed grains, high doses of carbohydrates and heart disease?” Specifically, is there a link between a diet high in sugar and coronary heart disease & type 2 diabetes? Look no further than John Yudkin, a Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics from Queen Elizabeth College at the University of London and his 1972 book “Pure, White and Deadly”. He had been conducting similar research on sugar (specifically fructose) and its role in triglyceride creation and how said triglycerides (a more technical term for lipids or fats) that are found in the blood are the real indicator of risk factor for heart disease. Simply stated; sugar (and to a lesser extent processed carbohydrates) create inflammation in the arteries.

Of course Keys and his supporters slandered and discredited Yudkin and his findings, and he was more or less laughed off the scene. Yudkin was never able to regain his status as a legitimate scientist, as was any other researcher that even dared try to make the link between sugars and heart disease.

This basically means that it has become so ingrained in the American psyche that fat is bad because eating fat makes you fat, fat clogs your arteries, fat is cholesterol; cholesterol will kill you, etc.; the lies and bad science are so taken as fact that it’s become almost impossible to argue this. And because it provides so much energy, therefore sugar can only be good.

And the instances of preventable diseases continue to rise.

How it Applies to Me…

So the Standard American Diet (SAD) guidelines passed down from the Reccommended Daily Allowances Food Chart says I need 130 grams of carbohydrate per day versus only 56 grams of protein against 20 to 35 grams of total fat (17 of those grams coming from un-healthy omega-6 polyunsaturated fats* like soy & corn oil) while only allowing for 1.6 grams a day of the much healthier omega-3 fatty acids. The proportion of carbs to protein to fat (let’s take the mid-point of that 20 to 35 range and call it 27.5) breaks down percentage-wise to be 61-26-13.

* – omega-6 fatty acids taken in proper proportion to omega-3′s and omega-9′s do have highly beneficial properties; however taken alone- as in margarine just by itself, which is high in omega-6′s (but not omega-3 or -9) has a harmful effect.

If there’s a link between diet and health (and I believe there is) then that proportion right there is why we’re getting sick at the rate we are. I’m not totally either paleo or LCHF (low carb/high fat) adherent, (probably somewhere closer to the 20-20-60 range) and I think there’s a lot of common sense in how those diets employ macronutrients; they mimic what the human diet has looked like for millennia. For someone like myself that has exhibited symptoms of metabolic syndrome as well as insulin resistance, they do in fact work. But they’re not for everybody.


So it’s from my personal experience (and from doing this research) that I’ve been led to believe that a diet high in saturated fat is a diet that works not only best for me, but those experiencing symptoms of metabolic syndrome. And not only as an endurance athlete, but also from a pure health standpoint. I just generally feel better; have more energy, rarely have episodes of binge eating brought on from crazy hunger pangs, I don’t experience that “food coma” sensation after a meal because I’m more satiated from eating a plate of healthy fats and oils, don’t always have to reach for that late afternoon cup of coffee, etc. Another added bonus is being able to actually taste my food as it’s supposed to taste, because I’m not eating overly processed crap with a ton of additives.

So that’s it for now. I have a lot more to say on the topic, and if you want to read more about all this, here are the sources I used for researching this article (or some other sites I read but didn’t use).

Thanks for reading! I also welcome and invite any comments, criticisms, rebuttals, etc.


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3 Responses to Debunking the Myths: Saturated Fat is Your Friend

  1. Pingback: Cholesterol Guidelines For a Healthier Heart and Arteries | R.B.Bailey Jr

  2. Pingback: 3 Nutrition Myths about Fat | Catering to Family Diets

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