man with a heart attack receiving medical intervention, cardiac arrest

Nutrition experts have egg on their faces. For years, public health policy has been to discourage consumption of saturated fat–or most any fat at all.

The diet-heart hypothesis got its start in the 1950s. Ancel Keys, PhD, and his colleagues collected epidemiological data from around the world and decided that they showed a connection between saturated fat consumption and high blood cholesterol, and consequently, an elevated risk of heart disease.

The National Cholesterol Education Program, the American Heart Association and many other public health organizations promoted the idea that eating a low-fat high-carb diet would reduce heart disease. A meta-analysis involving 72 studies and over 600,000 participants now contradicts that traditional wisdom. The researchers found no link between saturated fat consumption and a higher risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular complications (Annals of Internal Medicine, March 18, 2014).

Dietitians had told people to use margarine instead of butter and polyunsaturated fats found in corn or safflower oil because they were supposed to lower cholesterol and be heart healthy. The new analysis found no cardiac benefit from such omega-6 rich fats. Trans-fatty acids like those found in shortening and margarine up until a few years ago were associated in the analysis with a higher incidence of heart disease.

This is not the first study to suggest the conventional sat-fat wisdom might be wrong. The Sydney Diet Heart Study was conducted in Sydney, Australia, at the height of the diet-heart hypothesis, between 1966 and 1973. In this research, the scientists recruited 458 men who had recently had a heart attack and were therefore at high risk for a second cardiac event. The men were divided into two groups: half continued with their usual diet, while the other group was given safflower oil and margarine made from safflower oil and told to use it instead of butter or animal fats. The hypothesis, of course, was that the polyunsaturated safflower oil would protect the men from a second heart attack, but the scientists ran out of research money and the data were not fully analyzed until a research team resurrected them last year (BMJ, online, Feb. 5, 2013).

The data showed that the men given safflower oil did have lower cholesterol, but they were also 60 percent more likely to die during the study, especially from heart disease. Of those getting the safflower-supplemented diets, 16.3 percent died of heart attacks compared to 10.1 percent of those eating their usual diets with butter and lard.

Too many of the dietary recommendations of the past half century were based on belief rather than data. From the evils of eggs to the sins of sodium, simple public health messages have been shown time and again to be misleading.

So what guidelines should you use to follow a healthful diet? We think the grandmothers got it right: real foods, lovingly prepared. It does take a little longer to cook from scratch rather than eating out of a package, but the taste and health benefits are big. To learn more about how to follow this type of healthy diet, you may be interested in our book, Recipes & Remedies (online at

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  1. JimP

    The March 18, 2014, study found that dairy fat was actually protective of heart health, so this explains the “French Paradox”. Since saturated fat was assumed to be bad, the high consumption of rich dairy products in France along with lower rates of heart disease was considered a paradox. The idea that this was a paradox arose from bad science and bad pubic policy. This new study shows that the French were actually eating a protective diet.

    In the Sydney Heart Study, any margarine made around 1970 would have been highly hydrogenated to make the safflower oil turn solid. It’s premature to say that the Sydney Heart Study finds safflower oil to be less healthful because we already know that hydrogenated vegetable oil is the most unhealthful oil of all.

  2. Mary

    I do wonder how much gluten sensitivity has to do with high carb diets being less healthful than low carb diets?
    Japan & China are high rice eaters. If it was carbs in general, why do they have better health over all than most industrialized countries?
    What about the TYPE of carb?????

  3. hjl

    Go to the study itself. Usually this site gives a link to the study itself. The study usually discloses who financed it and if the authors have any conflicts. Read the study.

  4. Pam Blackwood

    I always wonder who funds these studies, but I don’t have any idea how to find out. Sunny, how did you find out how the study was funded?

  5. hjl

    Sunny, please get your facts correct. No money was received from the meat or dairy industry to fund this sttudy. The funding came from large academic organizations. This study did no primary research.
    It evaluated as the Graedons said 72 other studies. You make a grandiose general statement about the “healthiest” diet. Suffice it to say many real scientists are questioning the validity of the recommendation of a low fat diet. Many have found a low fat diet not to be satiating and thus it encourages more eating of simple carbs. This isn’t a simple matter.

  6. Joan

    Thanks for the information. I think grandma was right. Eat whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and a little meat. Be sensible about how much sweets you consume. Restaurants serve way too much food. I usually always take about half home. I think we consume too much at meals because we don’t slow down and enjoy what we are eating. It takes longer too cook from scratch but you can control what is in your food. There are ways to help get a meal on the table even if you work by preparing some of it ahead and using slow cookers. It just take a little planning.

  7. Sunny

    One thing you must take into account on these studies nowadays is, “Who funded it?” This study received money from the meat & dairy industries. Many studies found the opposite, which is why we’ve been told to avoid saturated fats. Why is it when ONE study finds what people want to hear (“Eggs are healthy!” “Saturated fat causes no harm to hearts or arteries!”), that is taken as gospel, regardless of the amount of opposing research results?
    The healthiest diet is whole foods plant-based, low fat, low sodium, low sugar. Healthier for people, the animals, and the environment.

  8. NW

    While the news in your short article is great, unfortunately the picture you used shows some other hazards that can cause heart disease and other illnesses. The picture shows a steak being grilled over open flames. The fat that drips into the flames (or charcoal briquettes, for that matter) can product dangerous compounds (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or “PAHs”) that naturally, drift up onto the food being cooked and are then ingested when it is eaten.
    These can cause heart disease and other problems. So it is advisable to use something in between the meat and the flames, such as a broiler pan or even just a frying pan.
    Direct grilling of meat also can form dangerous compounds directly on the meat, especially when it is char-broiled, charred or just well-browned. It is possible to reduce the formation of these chemicals by using a marinade containing citrus or vinegar. Finally, there is a proportional correlation between consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer, though it is not clear whether the two factors I cite above are the man culprits. Just sayin’, if you cook meat on a direct flame grill or on a charcoal grill on a frequent basis, it would be premature to celebrate the good news abut saturated fat!

  9. hjl

    It is interesting to note that the research you cited show a lower incidence of adverse heart events in the group whose cholesterol went up. Restated higher cholesterol was not bad. Those who take statins to drive their cholesterol down should think about this.
    It is the inflammation from sugars and simple carbs which is the killer. (Atkins was right.)

  10. Laura

    So Doctor Atkins was right!

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