If you are not confused and maybe even exasperated over all the flip-flops over food in recent months, we would be amazed. The latest head-spinning headline appeared in the New York Times this week: “Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link.”

For years doctors and dieticians had a mantra for healthy eating: Stay away from foods containing cholesterol and saturated fat; they will clog your arteries and lead to heart attacks. It was an article of faith. Most Americans believed this and embraced skim milk, low-fat yogurt and cut back on red meat.

The French, on the other hand, were loathe to give up their Brie, Camembert, paté, boeuf bourguignon and chocolate soufflé. Cardiologists were puzzled by the “French paradox.” Despite such foods rich in saturated fat, French heart attack rates have been considerably lower than those in the U.S.

The new study published in the conservative journal, Annals of Internal Medicine (March 18, 2014), has nutrition experts and physicians shaking their heads in disbelief. The authors reviewed 72 studies involving over 600,000 volunteers. These studies represented the best research available examining the relationship between diet and heart disease. The conclusion: there is no convincing evidence that a diet containing saturated fat leads to heart disease. That seems like heresy of the highest order.

The researchers also noted that polyunsaturated fats low in cholesterol such as corn or safflower oil do not appear to protect people from heart attacks. This too contradicts the nutritional principles that have reigned in the U.S. for decades.

The only culprits that stood out in this mass of data were trans fats. The researchers found a clear link between consumption of foods high in trans fats and heart disease. Americans were once encouraged to consume margarine and shortening made of hydrogenated vegetable oil loaded with trans fats on the understanding that these low-cholesterol solid fats would be better for the heart than butter or lard. Such advice now seems to have been based more on belief than evidence.

This new analysis will no doubt make many people uncomfortable. It’s only the latest, however, in a long series of reversals that have health professionals reeling and consumers roiling.

In recent years we have seen the pillars of dietary dogma collapsing. Here is a list:

Eggs:

Before, cholesterol-laden yolks were thought to clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.

Now, eggs are considered an excellent source of high-quality protein.

Coconuts and avocados:

Before, these foods were off limits because of high saturated fat content.

Now, they are considered OK with potential health benefits.

Nuts:

Before, these were high fat treats, thought to raise cholesterol, heart attack risk and cause weight gain.

Now, nuts are known to contain good fats and data prove people who eat nuts lower their risk of heart attacks!

Shrimp:

Before, shrimp were believed to be sinful, high in cholesterol and dangerous for those at risk of heart disease.

Now, they are considered a good source of protein and raise good HDL cholesterol.

Butter:

Before, butter was a no-no because it is high in sat fat and cholesterol.

Now, butter is better than margarine made from trans fats.

Salt:

Before, salt was bad, raising blood pressure and causing heart disease.

Now, data indicate that there is a sweet spot. Going too low on sodium increases the risk of death!

Coffee:

Before, people were told to lay off the java because it raises blood pressure and harms the heart.

Now, coffee is a known source of dietary antioxidants. It helps prevent diabetes and may partially protect against neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia.

Chocolate:

Before, chocolate was frowned upon as fattening and bad for the skin. It was also viewed as contributing to indigestion and reflux by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter. Chocolate was featured on many lists of foods that people prone to migraine should avoid.

Now, chocolate with more cocoa flavanols than sugar is known to relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. It may help maintain good cognitive function and reduce the risks of stroke and heart attack. While some individuals may find that chocolate triggers reflux or a migraine, most people handle it without difficulty.

Whole Milk, Cream & High-Fat Yogurt:

Before, high-fat dairy foods were believed to contribute to heart disease and obesity.

Now, studies show that both kids and adults who consume high-fat dairy are actually skinnier than those who consume skim milk and low-fat dairy products. The new research (above) shows that saturated fat found in high-fat dairy does not cause heart disease.

 

BOTTOM LINE:

What are we to make of all the food confusion? If there is a take-home message from all this, it is that evidence trumps belief. For decades “experts” have made assumptions about various foods. Because egg yolks contained cholesterol, they decided that eggs caused heart disease, without any data to support that hypothesis. When research actually revealed that eggs do not cause heart disease, there has been a begrudging retreat from the hard line advice to shun eggs. But old ideas die hard. There are still many health professionals who caution against eating foods like avocados, nuts and shrimp, despite data to the contrary.

We suspect that the evidence from the new meta-analysis about saturated fat and heart disease will be challenging for most people to accept. After all, it contradicts everything we have been told about a heart-healthy diet for more than 50 years. Accepting this new analysis of 72 studies involving more than 600,000 people would mean that our thought leaders and policy makers got it wrong. In such scenarios we would prefer to shoot the messengers and pretend that the data do not exist. The story is likely to disappear without a trace and many nutrition experts will pretend it never saw the light of day. Some are already proclaiming that the meta-analysis is flawed and nonsensical and should be ignored.

What should you do? We follow the advice of Robert Lustig, MD, author of the book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease and Michael Pollen, author of In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto. They make it very clear: “EAT REAL FOOD!” If it comes in a package with a long list of unpronounceable chemical ingredients, think twice or three times! Grandmothers instinctively knew that food grown in the garden and prepared with love was better than anything produced in a factory. Joe’s mother always believed butter was better than margarine and it turns out she was right.

What do you think? We would love to get your response to this essay. How do you deal with the food flip-flops of the last several years regarding nuts, chocolate, coffee and coconut? What do you make of the new saturated fat controversy? Share your comments below.

If you agree with the mantra to “Eat Real Food!” you may find our books, Recipes and Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy and Favorite Foods from The People’s Pharmacy worth checking out. Here are links to all our publications.

 

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  1. SM
    Reply

    You guys are right on target. The scientific methodolgy for the low fat diet of Americans is very poor and from a historical perspective very well presented in Nina Teicholz’s (a research journalist own study into fats) book entitled: The big fat surprise: why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet. it is amazing and a sad portrait of where we have gone wrong in this country and in our diet to our own health’s deterioration.

  2. fbl
    Reply

    Quite by accident I discovered something else vitamin K does. It helped my skin. Most of my life the backs of my arms were like elephant hide. Not nice! I started taking vitamin K and voila! Baby skin on the back of my arms. Also my fibroids and fibrocystic breasts are almost cleared up.
    Unfortunately my supplier reformulated their K and all of sudden my arms were elephant hide again. I called them and what they did was reduce the K1 part of their formula. Now I take a separate K1 along with the K formula and the skin is good.
    On another note-all my skin is very good, especially at age 68. I don’t avoid the sun and swim regularly. I think what also helps my skin is my daily hot chocolate habit. I make it with 2 TB of coconut oil. A hotted cup, coconut oil, stevia, boiling water and 6-7 tsp heavy cream. I’ve lost about 100 pounds since I started that almost 15 years ago. No I did NOT diet and in fact swore never to diet again.

  3. Eugenia
    Reply

    I am trying to gain weight so began eating lots of eggs, butter and fermented cheeses such as Brie, Edam and Gouda —- all containing high saturated fat. Also all have Vit K2. known to keep calcium from building up in the arteries thus preventing heart disease and osteoporosis. To my
    great surprise and also my Internist – my triglycerides dropped 30 points and for the first time in 8 years, I had LDL below 200!!!!!! Vit K2 should be studied and persons should include it in their every day diet to control heart disease and stroke — Look up an amazing article about the action of Vit K2 by Dr James Howenstein and its ability to keep arteries clear of plaque.

  4. ed
    Reply

    makes sense to me.

  5. plm
    Reply

    I was raised on fresh vegetables and fruit and home canned a lot of it. Mom always said eat everything in MODERATION! I have always been very healthy and have never followed any of the “FADS”.
    I eat Bacon, eggs, avocados, nuts whatever takes my fancy. I just don’t become a “pig” about it. The Basic vegetables and fruits are the diet I try to eat by. This works.

  6. NBF
    Reply

    I agree with points that many of you have made:
    – Eat whole minimally processed foods as free as possible from chemical additives
    – Everything in moderation
    – Sensible exercise
    – and especially Judy’s comment: “I believe that people are different from each other in what foods are better and worse for them, but all the advice we hear is global…you should eat real food…and see…what seems to have a good effect on you, and what makes you feel terrible. Then you’ll know what to eat.”

  7. Barbara Frazier
    Reply

    All I have to say to you is THANK YOU to the tenth power for publishing the facts about health care issues.

  8. HB
    Reply

    Finally someone has the information correct—–I eat things in moderation—-Have always liked butter, not that artificial stuff, have always eaten nuts, and eggs I love—-people get too hyped with all these studies and do not’s that it is like a merry go round—–and it can screw up your body chemistry when you start drastically changing your diet to suit their findings, which by the way are not always correct, as we have been reading.
    We need to get to know our bodies and try to treat it like you do your car! Keep the tires inflated with the proper air pressure, change the oil when needed—and definitely put gas in it so it will run!!! What else is left but daily maintenance –we can do the same with our bodies—-daily maintenance. What is good for one person may not be good for the next one. We are all different and have different body chemistry. In other words what is good for one person may be the opposite for the other.
    HB

  9. fbl
    Reply

    RLB, thank you for your advice. I’ve been using curcurmin (the active part of Turmeric) for many years for pain relief. It will take it down a couple levels, which is more than I can say for drugs. I have tried some more concentrated forms but my tummy doesn’t like them. My current remedy will NOT be enough when I go through the surgery so if you or someone else has suggestions, please bring them on.
    I’ve been taking taurine for several years and don’t know if it helps but with everything else I’m taking I’ve done amazingly well with the heart…despite some of the meds my prior cardiologists had me take. I’m still suffering from Xarelto, a blood thinner I stopped taking over two years ago.

  10. RLB
    Reply

    @fbl; Saw your note regarding pain relief and had the same problem. Since being a zombie is not on my agenda, I did some research. The best thing that I have found is Turmeric. I take 2 grams (2,000 mg) a day in four divided doses. I use a blend with Piperine. Makes it more effective. It will not completely deaden the pain, but, you will feel so much better that it sort of fades into the background. For your heart, try the same dosage of Taurine. I am not a medical practitioner, just a healthy 85 year old.
    As for the cholesterol, I sort of have the same problem. I tinker with my cholesterol a bit to keep it from getting too low. You could raise it a bit by cutting down on the saturated fats and changing your butter for margarine. Trouble is that we eat too healthy. Talking to a doctor about real healthy food is akin to waving a cross at a vampire.

  11. Margie
    Reply

    I have made it to age 73; in spite of doctors! Best advice…stay away as much as possible and use your own brain to think things out.

  12. Pat B
    Reply

    Dr. Atkins already had this figured out, and took a flogging for it. He was right about insulin resistance, right about the body’s need for fats, right about the anti-fat movement driving up the sugar in foods.

  13. Henu
    Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree with others that whole , real foods (organic when possible, homemade as much as i can) are the way to go. I feel so much better in the few years since i have shoppped & cooked this way, but find it frustrating to deal with doctors who want to treat my slightly high cholesterol, freak out that I serve my kids real (not skim) milk. I hate to eat out, and love to exercise, and my family is better off for it!

  14. fbl
    Reply

    Seahurst, see my comments above. My cardiovascular problems are due to trauma from my shoulder harness during an auto accident (impact at 45 mph) in 2006. My blood vessels are squeaky clean much to the amazement of the cardiologists I’ve seen. Because of the squashing of my heart I had nerve nodes spread all over so suffered from Atrial Fibrillation and Tachycardia. My heart attack and stroke were due to these problems not from high cholesterol or inflammation. Ablation took care of that problem.
    The only other heart problem is due to the diet drug fen-pfen taken for a few months some twenty years ago. My mitral valve is finally going to have to be replaced. I had heart Drs. wanting to work on the valve 20 years ago but the valve has done OK, but now I’m on the slippery downward slope. I’m facing open heart surgery within the next few months.
    I have been taking 2-3 TB of organic coconut oil for about 14 years. I’d tried several brands. The result of this regimen is that I have incredible skin for a 68 year old and have lost about 100 pounds. I have an afternoon treat of hot chocolate made with the oil, a couple dashes of cinnamon, a fat pinch of sea salt, boiling water, 6-7 tsp. heavy cream and stevia for a sweetener.
    My cholesterol level is only 110 and if anyone knows how I can increase it up to at least 150 let me know. The only time it went up was about 18 years ago when I got into a microwave popcorn habit. It was the nasty hydrogenated oils. My Dr. had a fit so we bought a corn popper and the number went back down right away. I eat plenty of saturated fats and it makes no difference. I’ve had the same family Dr. since ’87.
    One other thing that may have made a difference is that I exercise daily. Yes, even when the heart was so bad and I couldn’t do 20 minutes on my treadmill, I at least did my bouncing on the Rebounder. My ankles never swelled and I never had problems with fluid around the heart which apparently is common with the A-fib and Tachy.
    My body doesn’t like medications so I am taking nattokinase, serraptase, vitamin E, Omega 3 and ginko. The blood tests are great. This did not make the Drs. happy but I have a Cardiologist now who is very supportive. We just need to figure out how to deal with the pain. The meds don’t work on me-not even Oxycodone or the newer versions of pain meds. Anybody have ideas for alternative pain relief?

  15. M&m
    Reply

    In Dec 2013, I read a book called Grain Brain by a Dr Perlmutter. I found it to be so powerful, that it changed me in many ways. Read this book to find out why the FDA has failed the American public. Drug companies rule our society it seems, not science and research.

  16. SFE
    Reply

    cmw: The problem with plain, ole water is that it isn’t. I was raised on well water. After moving into town and nothing available but municipal water I find I have to use an herbal teabag and some stevia in a half gallon of “water” to make it palatable. Fill a sink with dishwater, leave the room and come back. The chlorine smell is intolerable.
    I also don’t tolerate fluoride very good. Water’s full of it. I can at least find toothpaste at the health food store without it, but I prefer salt & soda. That’s what my kids used and reached adulthood without any cavities.

  17. SFE
    Reply

    It’s good to hear “professionals” professing what I’ve taught my family all along. My husband insists on statins, etc that the doctor recommends. The same doctor shakes his head and laughs when I refuse to be a test tube. Hubby’s health is getting worse, mines getting better. Hubby is starting to listen to me some. We’re both in our 60’s and retired. He has taken over the kitchen.
    I’m working on convincing him to use frozen food rather than commercially canned or boxed foods. Use the closest to what God gave us that he can. God made our bodies, God gave us everything we need to take care of them. Man’s messed it up by trying to second guess God. Guess what? Hubby’s coming around slowly. I was raised in the country, raised, canned/froze most of our veggies. We eat a lot of wild game, backyard chickens, raw milk, etc. He’s a city boy. ‘Nuff said. I’ve followed you for years and usually agree with you. Keep up the good work. CRL hit it on the head. There’s nothing wrong with animal fat.
    Agribusinesses use synthetic hormones to get the animals to market faster. Guess where these synthetics end up? The fat! It’s these synthetics that are the problem. In case you wonder about my credentials, I have injected cattle, fed calves & chickens and know what’s in them. I have hand-milked cows. I also have a degree in biochem and qualified to be a registered dietitian, but disagreed philosophically and didn’t pursue it.

  18. Donnie
    Reply

    I’m glad to see that common sense may be rearing its head about fats, eggs, etc. I’m more concerned about the trans-fats, chemicals, harmful additives, food pathogens and GMOs in our food supply, then I am the healthy saturated fats and cholesterol in foods. I eat a healthy whole food diet, mostly organic and don’t fall for some of the so-called diet advice from people who may have an agenda.

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