It is a common misconception that eating fat makes you fat. Since the benighted Framingham studies 50+ years ago this first misconception has united with the false dogma that eating fat increases cholesterol and that cholesterol increases cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact the only conclusive Framigham finding, which was not publicized, was that consumption of saturated fat does not correlate to cholesterol levels in the body. In Scandinavian countries consumption of saturated fat fell and cardiovascular disease rose and in Switzerland as more saturated fat was eaten so CVD fell (“Medical World News” 7th June, 1982). Likewise the risk of dying increases with low cholesterol (e.g. Hacobs et al “Circulation” 1992; 86:1046-1060). Our bodies manufacture a chosen level of cholesterol in any event and only about 5% of people can alter their levels by diet.
Even the British Medical Journal recently published an article decrying the false link between saturated fat, cholesterol and CVD (http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f6340 ). In “The Times Magazine” of 24th May, 2014, there was a rare bit of good nutritional wisdom in mainstream media. Giles Coren, having just returned from two months of reviewing American eateries, opined that, “In Britain, we divide broadly into slim, wealthy, educated people who understand the basics of nutrition and eat relatively healthily, and poor, uneducated, fat people who do not even pretend to give a damn. In America, on the other hand, most people think they are on a diet. This is the land which (in the Fifties) first established the bogus link between the consumption of animal fat and unhealthy human body weight, and the idea still persists in 2014, with the result that almost all processed food (which combined with food consumed in restaurant and fast-food joints, comprises 90 per cent of the American diet) advertises itself as containing ‘0 per cent fat’, while listing under its ingredients many obesifying sugars that have been used as compensatory flavour enhancers. So the ‘healthier’ you eat, the fatter you get.”
I was prompted to write this article by the recent campaign for Quorn. As a vegetarian I like the fact that Quorn allows me to enjoy a meatless Shepherd’s Pie, but in the first advertisement of the recent campaign the wonderful Mo Farah is made to say, “Quorn Mince is a healthier protein source, because it is low in saturated fat.” No no, Mo, you are so so wrong! Quorn sales rose by 7% in the last year and by 25% in the USA “tapping into the new demand for healthier food amid concern about an American obesity epidemic.” (“The Times”, 22nd Jan., 2015). Neither obesity, nor CVD can be conquered by cutting saturated fat. Rather we need to cut consumption of sugar (this month associated with early puberty and breast cancer by the Harvard Medical School), processed carbohydrates and trans fats. The ill informed would urge you to cook your Quorn sausages in vegetable oil, but oils oxidize when heated unlike grandma’s trusted meat fats and butter. To that please add the new kid on the block, coconut oil, which is largely saturated fat and contains other healthy elements.
Sugar, processed carbs, trans fats and oxidized oils all create free radicals and trigger oxidization of type B LDL cholesterol particles (saturated fats are associated with type A particles in any case) in the arteries. What our Mo should bear in mind, especially as prolonged exercise itself creates free radicals, is that those with the least risk of CVD are those with the highest levels of antioxidants in their bodies (e.g. Ross et al., New England Journal of Medicine 340 (1999), 115-123 and Steinberg et al., National Hear, Lung, and Blood Institute Workshop 5-6, 1991). Reverting to the Quorn theme it should not be forgotten that meat is the highest source of the key antioxidant, L-arginine. For veggies it is impossible to achieve a minimum daily intake of L-arginine by ordinary diet (Professor Cooke gets nowhere near in his helpful dietary suggestions in “The Cardiovascular Cure”). I am sure that Mo takes a variety of supplements and so should we all. Cholesterol improves brain function and maybe when we have raised our levels we shall be able to see through the ‘cholesterol myth’.