You may have heard me rant on about the benefits of eating fat in your diet. Including the dreaded saturated fat. But if it were true, that we should eat it, why then is the common belief that we should avoid it? There would have to be some scientific proof behind the claims of avoiding this macro nutrient. Diets low in fat have been promoted since the 1960’s, so have you ever wondered what the claims are based on?
From what I have seen, is that it’s just a case of bad science. If we look at real world studies, ie obesity rates around the Western world, you will clearly see it has been one big failure and the fact that the medical world and most nutritionists refuse to acknowledge this, is a real cause for concern.
So where does it all stem from? Back in the late 1940’s, a man by the name of Ancel Keys started a 15 year study into heart disease and the effect dietary fat has on it. He decided to study varying countries around the world with different diets and check the incidence of heart disease against the amount of fat the men of that nation consumed (women weren’t used due to the lower rates of heart disease). 22 nations were chosen, hence the name, “The 22 Nation Study”
Once all the data was compiled, there were literally no clear findings. You had nations like Japan, with a low fat diet and low heart disease, France which had a much higher intake of fat, yet less deaths from heart disease and Israel which had a very high rate of heart disease, yet ate less fat than the French.
So what made this study so important? It wasn’t until 15 of the 22 countries were omitted from the study that his research was published. When you have completely random results from a study, you can’t really take anything from it. But if you were to look at the updated study, (now known more popularly as the 7 nations study), the findings were clear. It showed a nice even trend across the seven nations linking the consumption of fat to rate of heart disease. In fact it is now sometimes referred to as the 6 Nations Study as the 7th nation wasn’t quite on the line required. This is bad science in it’s purest form.
Another study which was meant to be the be all, end all of studies, focused on 6,000 people from one community starting in 1948. The town was Framingham, Massachusetts and it was called the Framingham Heart Study. It tracked two groups of people, one which ate very little fat and cholesterol and a group that ate high levels of fat and cholesterol. Roughly 40 years into the study (which is still going in one form or another today), the director made a statement –
“In Framingham Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the persons serum cholesterol… we found that people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were most physically active.” (Castelli, William, Arch Int Med, Jul 1992, 152:7:1371-1372).
It also showed that people who weighed more and had high blood cholesterol levels were at a slightly elevated risk for heart disease, but weight gain and cholesterol levels had an opposite effect with fat and dietary cholesterol intake.
Unfortunately this is the case with so many “Peer reviewed clinical studies” out there. There could be 1000 studies, all valid and scientifically sound, but only the few that fit with the review boards beliefs will ever be published. My advice, don’t believe the hype. Stick with what Mother Nature has provided us with, which includes copious amounts of fat, and look at the way many native tribes ate before Western influence.
Two tribes which come to mind that disprove so many of these fact are the Inuits of North America and the Masai of Africa. Both consumed very little carbohydrate as part of their diets, due to the arid nature of both their environments, and ate diets made up predominantly of fat. There was of course protein there too which provides some carbohydrate through a process called gluconeogenesis, but the percentage of carbohydrate was very low. Now these people not only survived, but thrived in these harsh environments. The Inuits through the winter months survived on the fats they stored from the warmer months. The Masai were also known for their great endurance (the Masai would regularly run distances in excess of a Marathon to hunt an animal) and put a higher value on the meats higher in fat. Yet to look at their history, heart disease and obesity were issues they know nothing of until, like any other native tribe, they were introduced to a Western diet.
History can teach us a lot, but be very careful which history you listen to.