Often an epiphany or a ‘light bulb moment’ leads to a change in the way in which we view things. This is what a paradigm shift is. And in this podcast we are going to look at a few of the facts underpinning the paradigm shift that is needed so as not to view dietary fat as a foe.

For the last 60 years or so, we have been told that dietary fat, especially saturated animal fat, is harmful to human health. In other words, saturated fat is responsible for a host of chronic diseases, including the current obesity pandemic.

We believed that saturated fat is harmful to human health and sadly many still do believe this because of the disinformation provided by influential but misguided and politically motivated US nutritional scientists beginning with Dr Ancel Keys in the 1950’s. This belief evolved largely because of what the Wall Street Journal, called “dubious science”, although ‘science fiction’ may have been a more appropriate term . Political expediency was added to poor nutritional science to produce disingenuous and harmful dietary advice, which most of us swallowed hook, line and sinker.

Research, especially over the past 10 years or so, confirms earlier studies which demonstrated that the low-fat emperor has no clothes. In spite of what we have been told by so-called nutritional experts, there appears to be little or no evidence linking low-fat diets with improved health outcomes. Not only is the holy grail of the low-fat diet being debunked, but it looks as though it may even be associated with the serious chronic diseases which it was thought to protect us from.

When we get rid of the saturated fat in our diet, we have to replace this key source of energy with other palatable sources of energy. And the source we have turned to is refined carbohydrate – mainly in the form of sugar. Any food that says ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ has probably had some form of sugar added to it in order to make it taste good. For example, look at the amount of glycaemic carbohydrate contained in 100g of a low-fat yogurt and compare this to the glycaemic carbohydrate content of a similar amount of double cream full fat Greek yogurt. The term glycaemic carbohydrate is simply a way of describing non-sugar carbs that act just like sugar in the body, i.e. raise blood glucose and consequently raise insulin.

Saturated fat is in the dock because it is a surrogate for cholesterol, a supposed nutritional demon. Cholesterol, which is a natural biological compound, in turn stands accused of initiating coronary artery disease, a major cause of heart attack.

Saturated Fat Is Not Bad!

Now when we say the words cholesterol and heart attack in the same sentence we tend to think FAT, especially animal fat, which many mistakenly believe is comprised of only saturated fat or so-called ‘bad’ fat. Firstly, a number of good studies show that saturated fat is not ‘bad’ and is actually good for us. Secondly, 100% pure animal fat such as beef lard contains less than 50% saturated fat – the balance being mainly monounsaturated fat ( yes- just like Olive oil) and polyunsaturated fat ( yes – just like sunflower and canola oils).

Dr Rajiv Chowdhury of Cambridge University and his team of fellow scientists recently published a major fat-related study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a very prestigious medical journal. They stated: “Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.” In plain speak, there is no good scientific reason to ditch butter for margarine, or to use Sunflower or Canola oils instead of butter, lard, coconut oil or any of the other saturated fats. Remember that the only bad fats are margarine, trans-fats and lots of Omega-6 containing seed oils.

How Can Saturated Fats Be Healthy?

How come that saturated fats are healthy for us, you may ask. Well, not only are they healthy but they are essential for human existence as they go to make up most of the fat found in the membrane of every one of our cells. If nothing else, that has to tell you that saturated fat is NOT bad for us. A very big study – the Women’s Health Initiative revealed that women who ate more saturated fat had less heart disease than those who did not. Data such as these make life difficult for the proponents of the conventional wisdom that will have us believe that saturated fat is bad for us.

In addition to coconut oil, other good fats include those of animal origin including, lard, eggs, dairy and omega-3 oily fish such as sardines salmon, tuna and pilchards. Extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocado, and seeds in their natural unprocessed form all contain good fats.

Most of the research data that we have come to rely on originates on distant shores, but what about our own ‘grown-at-home’ research data? A report by the South African Medical Research Council, published in 2005, revealed that between 1962 and 2001 the consumption of animal fat in South Africa decreased by a massive 77%. Guess what happened to the prevalence of obesity, during the same period ? You guessed correctly – obesity rates increased significantly.

I want to close with this thought: If the consumption of animal fat decreased by more than 75% over a 40 year period, and during the same period South African’s got fatter while the prevalence of chronic diseases of lifestyle such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers also increased – then is it not just possible that animal fat in our diet is not the problem? In other words, perhaps saturated fat is not the foe that it has been made out to be, but rather a good dietary friend.

If you have any comments, suggestions or questions on this podcast or any of the previous podcasts, please email me at askdrhill@upforit.co.za

Till next time: stay healthy and safe