There was a lot of tumult this past spring when a meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine stated that the amount of saturated fat in your diet makes no appreciable difference in coronary heart disease rates. With a headline like this, it is understandable that people would become indignant over the juicy hamburgers, crisp slices of bacon, and delectably soft cheeses that they had diligently avoided eating over a period of forty years, on what was considered sound medical advice. However, before you grab your coat and head over to the nearest burger joint, you should know that those headlines were very misleading.
The meta-analysis did not show that saturated fat is guiltless in coronary heart disease rates. In fact, if you eat a lot of saturated fat, your chance of contracting heart disease will still go up. It’s just that the researchers have discovered more bullets in the gun that is pointed at your heart. In short, if you cut back on saturated fat, but increase your consumption of sugars and refined starches, your chance of contracting heart disease may actually go up, not down. Sugars and refined starches are not a neutral pain relief party in heart health.
So, rather than using this study as an excuse to return to our favoured dietary habits of old, we should view it as a stepping stone to a new understanding: there is never one single component of our diet that we can withhold and thereby gain true health. We cannot simply remove saturated fat, or white sugar, or refined flour and then consider our diet to be more healthful. Each of these foods can still be included in a healthy diet, as long as they are proportionally small. The bulk of your diet should still be vegetables and fruits, which will be naturally rich in the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are known to reduce heart disease.
Excerpt: “When we started cutting back on saturated fat, we started eating more refined starch and added sugar. We also know that excess intake of sugar, starch, and calories is associated with obesity, diabetes, and coronary disease. So if eating less saturated fat means eating more sugar, it would at best be a lateral move in terms of health- and probably worse than that. The study simply ignored this consideration”.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has an honours degree in English Literature from the University of Waterloo, and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.