Dietary fat and cholesterol have long been demonized as being the cause of heart disease. However the US recently changed its recommendations regarding the dietary intake of cholesterol. The latest publication of "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," a federal publication that has far-reaching implications on what we eat – contained one very significant change. Specifically it said “Cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption." The fact is that dietary intake of cholesterol has very little to do with circulating levels of cholesterol, and there is well done research showing that people who consume higher levels of cholesterol in food have lower levels of cholesterol and live longer than people who consume less! The fact is that you cannot live without cholesterol, and it is so important that your body will manufacture it if you do not get any from your diet. So this change in guidelines from the US Government is long overdue reflecting the fact that it takes a long, long time for unpopular scientific facts to be recognized.
Unfortunately the guidelines on Saturated Fat were not changed. Like cholesterol saturated fat has long been demonized despite mounds of scientific evidence showing that saturated fat is not the bad guy. One of the most important facts to understand about Saturated Fat being “bad” for you is that the human body turns excess calories into fat. Not just any fat though – SATURATED FAT – that’s right – the ONLY type of fat that the body makes and stores is saturated fat. So think about this for a second: humans have been on the earth and evolving for well over 600,000 years and the only type of fat that a human body makes is saturated fat and yet saturated fat is bad for you? Just not true, and the saturated fat your body makes from any type of excess calories including carbohydrates is chemically identical to saturated fat from butter, eggs, and meat. So these foods are not in and of themselves “bad” for you!
So where did all the fuss start about cholesterol and saturated fat? The idea that cholesterol and saturated fat are bad for you was started by a researcher named Ancel Keys. He hypothesized that saturated fat and cholesterol were bad for you and set out to prove it. He did a famous “7 countries study” in 1958 and believed that saturated fat intake drove blood levels of cholesterol and heart disease. The study proved his theory – but there was just one problem: he omitted a lot of data from several countries because if he included it he would have disproved his theory. So basically in laymen’s terms he lied! And for years dietary policy in the US and many other countries has been completely misguided based on this study and other falsified data in other studies.
In what was probably the most significant and well done long term study on diet and heart disease – The Framingham Study – which followed the group of people for a very long term period of time just the opposite conclusion was proven! Here is quote from the Director of the Framingham Heart Study Dr. William P. Castelli: “Most of what we know about the effects of diet factors, particularly the saturation of fat and cholesterol , on serum lipid parameters derives from metabolic ward-type studies. Alas, such findings, within a cohort studied over time have been disappointing; indeed the findings have been contradictory. For example, in Framingham, Mass, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol”.
So does this mean that you should eat more cholesterol and fat? No. The fact is that saturated fats like all fats are highly caloric – meaning you get a lot of calories in a little bit of fat. So overeating fat of any kind is not a great idea because taking in too many calories from any source can make it impossible to maintain your weight or lose weight, and being significantly overweight IS a real risk factor for heart disease.
That being said fats have a place in your diet and saturated fats are not unhealthy.