1 November 2010

Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Saturated fats aren’t that bad.

Nicole Senior

A large body of evidence says a diet high in saturated fat increases blood cholesterol and heart disease risk.
However, an old idea has recently found new legs: the idea that saturated fats aren’t that bad. The latest rumblings were published in Lipids based on a session at the 2009 Annual Convention of the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS). The AOCS is an industry organisation ‘for those interested in the science and technology of fats, oils, surfactants and related materials’.

One article reviewed the biochemical roles of saturated fatty acids. Yes, saturated fatty acids have a role in the diet. No-one is saying remove saturated fats completely from the diet – it is impossible because all dietary fats are composed of a mixture of fatty acids anyway. Incidentally, the body can synthesise its own saturated fatty acids, but we must consume essential omega-6 and omega-3 ALA polyunsaturates from our diet to do so.

Another article was in defence of dairy. Prospective cohort studies fail to show increased heart disease, diabetes and death rates from consuming dairy foods. In fact people who consume the most dairy tend to live longer lives and have an 8% lower risk of heart disease. This makes sense as dairy contains a bundle of important nutrients. These studies are problematic because of their imperfect measurement of dairy intake, for example there are inconsistencies between whether the dairy foods were reduced fat or not. This review does not constitute a green light for eating saturated fat. Dietary guidelines suggest we take the good and leave the bad by choosing reduced fat milk and yoghurt, and limiting butter.

Another article suggests that because human breast milk contains 50% saturated fatty acids there may be benefits we don’t yet understand. This is placed best into context by one of the authors Professor J. Bruce German from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, ‘The relationship between dietary intake of fats and health is intricate, and variations in factors such as human genetics, life stage and lifestyles can lead to different responses to saturated fat intake’. So perhaps what’s best for infants is not best for adults.

So what is muddying the water on the saturated fat issue? In part, it’s because many studies have only examined saturated fat intake and failed to consider that unsaturated fat intake is protective and that too much of the wrong type of carbohydrate can be detrimental. There are several studies that have now investigated the role of GI and the risk of cardiovascular disease, and the majority have found a positive association between the GI of the diet and increased risk. The Harvard Nurses Health study, for example, showed that women consuming high GI carbs had twice the risk of having a heart attack over a 10 year period.

The bottom line? Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats or low GI carbs in a balanced diet.

Nicole Senior MSc (Nut&Diet) BSc (Nut) is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist. For more information on heart-friendly eating and fabulous recipes low in saturated fat and high on flavour check out Nicole’s books Eat to beat Cholesterol and Heart Food HERE.


Anonymous said...

Nice. Your large body of evidence is the fatally flawed Ansel Key's research? Have you even looked at the data yourself? If not, have at least bothered to read what others have found about his study?

People like you make me sick. In fact, people like you did make me sick.

Anonymous said...

You Nutritionists/dieticians are being "educated" based on outdated science and updated with junk science) and you're doing more damage than you are good. Decades of following this kind of big corporation-sponsored fabrications is what is now killing people who subscribed to this drivel for years. But Big Pharma and Big AG is who pays the bills.

GI Group said...

howardwilk@yahoo.com sent us the following:
"In the November 2010 GI News, Nicole Senior writes that the American Oil Chemists['] society is an industry organization. This suggests a possible pro-fat bias in information that comes from them. But it's not an industry organization. It's a professional organization open to students, scientists in industry or academia, or to anyone else who has an interest in the subject. (I am not a member and don't work in the field.) The AOCS publishes peer-reviewed journals. They maintain the useful website http://lipidlibrary.aocs.org/."

"The American Oil Chemists' Society is organized for charitable, educational and scientific purposes. It does not have as its purpose the promotion of any product, manufacturer, laboratory or business. Members of the Society do not and may not speak for or on behalf of the Society without the expressed permission of the Governing Board." More at www.aocs.org.

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed to read such an article from an "Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist".

It is unfortunate she included no references to back up her claims of "a large body of evidence saying a diet high in saturated fat increases blood cholesterol and heart disease risk". Numerous recent studies and articles that have reviewed past studies and other literature on the topic have found them critically flawed. Furthermore, recent studies carefully designed to confirm the relationship instead have found no evidence for a link between dietary (ie eaten) saturated fat and heart disease or blood cholesterol levels, at least for those without pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes. Similarly, studies that have found no link between dietary (ie eaten) cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels.

One scientific journalist who has written extensively on the topic is Gary Taubes, who conducted an exhaustive review of the scientific literature claimed to support the link between dietary saturated fat and heart disease. He published his literature review and findings in a book titled "Good Calories, Bad Calories".

You can also find videos of him on YouTube giving presentations to various medical schools and other health associations on his findings.

If Nicole Senior is aware of studies showing evidence of a link between saturated fat and heart disease that have withstood scrutiny and critical review, I would welcome her writing or about them or at least citing them. Conversely, if she isn't, I'd welcome her updating her knowledge and advice.

GI Group said...

Re Anonymous 'I am disappointed': We have passed your comments on and will post Nicole's response in due course.

GI Group said...

Re anonymous 'I am disappointed ...' Nicole has asked us to post the following references for you to take a look at.

Heart Foundation Position on Dietary fats and dietary sterols for cardiovascular health http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Dietary%20fats%20position%20statement%20LR.pdf

110 References (list) for above http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Dietary%20fats%20position%20statement%20references%20LR%20FINAL.pdf

Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee (including 97 references) http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.176158

Even if you don’t understand the complex science, it seems prudent to follow the advice of teams of experts around the world over that of a (well-read) journalist like Gary.

Anonymous said...

To GI Group, and Nicole, from Anonymous re: "I am disappointed"

Thank you very much for your time and courtesy in providing those references. I'll endeavor to pursue them.

In regard to your closing statement:
"Even if you don’t understand the complex science, it seems prudent to follow the advice of teams of experts around the world over that of a (well-read) journalist like Gary."

I certainly agree with the general philosophy of consulting experts in a field over non-experts, but in this particular case I find your statement largely ad-hominem. Gary isn't some new age crackpot. He's an educated, highly regarded journalist with a scientific background who devoted years to investigating the literature on this very topic. His critiques are based on reason and logic, and he's careful to observe the boundaries between objective conclusions based on the scientific method, and speculation. In light of this, it would be more appropriate for you to address his actual critiques than attack his credentials.

Thanks again for your time. I enjoy your newsletter.