We were wrong: Saturated fat is GOOD.

A new,extensive study came out the other day that suggested saturated fat isn’t linked to heart disease.  Whaa-?  In light of this, I recently went over some historical data regarding heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and fat/sugar consumption over the past 100 years courtesy of the CDC.  What I found is surprising:

Total Energy Consumption over 30 years.

Total Energy Consumption over 30 years.

  • 1910 was the first year Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) made the #1 top causes of death.  It rose steadily until 1963 when 375 people per 100,000 died of CVD.  In 2011 that number has been reduced by nearly 50% to 191 per 100k.
  • Cancer rates have remained relatively unchanged in the past 30 years, hovering around 181 deaths per 100k.
  • Diabetes has risen a staggering 50% in the past 30 years!
  • Sugar consumption has been on a perpetual rise for 150 years, but particularly since around 1900.  Starting in 1980, sugar consumption skyrocketed over the next 30 years.
  • In 1980, the FDA issued its dietary guidelines warning Americans to stay away from saturated fats.  Over the next 30 years, dietary fat slowly decreased but was replaced with increased carbohydrate consumption.  The overall effect was that people simply started eating more.
  • Americans who are considered “obese” has increased from 15% in 1990 to 36% today.

So why has CVD risk gone down so dramatically?  Is it really due to the decrease in fat consumption?  Not

Total US sugar consumption trend.

Total US sugar consumption trend.

necessarily.  Fat intake hasn’t dropped THAT dramatically to see a 50% decrease in CVD deaths.  Instead, we have seen a massive increase in the use of statins and surgical procedures to prevent or delay CVD.  This doesn’t mean the food we are eating is suddenly healthy, it just means more people are able to “have their cake and eat it too”, quite literally.  While it appears statins are likely having the intended effect on heart disease, the side effects are wide-ranging and we may be swapping one problem for another (such as increased risk of diabetes).

While saturated fat has been demonized for decades, we blindly swapped our fat for carbs and sugar.  After all, food tastes like cardboard if you’re missing both.  You need carbs OR fat, so when the fat was removed, in came the carbs.

Fat makes one feel fuller and more satisfied, and it doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels.  The more fat you remove from your diet, the more you turn to carbs and sugar which will fluctuate your blood sugar levels and, consequently, cause you to eat more.  You’ll feel less full and when you “crash”, you crave more carbs to get balanced again.  This indulgence in carbs goes a long way to explain our exploding obesity and diabetes rates.

In 2012, an extensive study (and I mean, extensive!) on red meat consumption and mortality painted a pretty clear picture:  the more red meat you eat, the higher likelihood of dying early of CVD or cancer.  It didn’t matter if it was nitrate-free or not.  So if we combine the latest study about saturated fats and this study about red meat consumption, something doesn’t add up.  This would mean that there is a particular element specific to red meat that increases our mortality rate, but it’s not the saturated fat content.  What could it be?

Conclusion?

We need to rebalance our diets away from the carb-heavy load we’ve been told to eat, and not feel guilty about adding back in certain types of fat in our diet.  Good fats help keep our cravings in check and they’re healthy for our body.  The real enemy that we can all agree on?  Sugar.

The 50% increase in diabetes and the 36% obesity rate is 100% NOT associated simply from fat consumption.  The facts simply don’t back it up.  Fat doesn’t make you fat.  Period.  And if you want to look at it from a total caloric intake, fat does have more calories, but it makes up for it by curbing your appetite.  By eating carbs and sugar , we’ve been subjected to hunger swings all day which causes us to snack and overeat (How many times you’ve heard someone say “I’m STARVING!”).  You should rarely feel that hungry.

So add that fat back into your meals, and cut out the sugar.  The World Health Organization recently revised their suggested daily sugar consumption to <25g per day.  Go ahead and try that.  I dare you.  You’ll be shocked how difficult that is with all the added sugars in our food.

Stay strong.  Stay healthy!

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