Thursday, December 13, 2007

Meat Eaters Get Last Laugh

Here's something that sounds true, but you nutritionists can correct this Newsweek report if it's wrong or misleading. Apparently, it's never been proven that diets high in saturated fat and heart disease are related.

"The first scientific indictment of saturated fat came in 1953. That's the year a physiologist named Ancel Keys, Ph.D., published a highly influential paper titled "Atherosclerosis, a Problem in Newer Public Health." Keys wrote that while the total death rate in the United States was declining, the number of deaths due to heart disease was steadily climbing. And to explain why, he presented a comparison of fat intake and heart disease mortality in six countries: the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Italy, and Japan.

"The Americans ate the most fat and had the greatest number of deaths from heart disease; the Japanese ate the least fat and had the fewest deaths from heart disease. The other countries fell neatly in between. The higher the fat intake, according to national diet surveys, the higher the rate of heart disease. And vice versa. Keys called this correlation a "remarkable relationship" and began to publicly hypothesize that consumption of fat causes heart disease. This became known as the diet-heart hypothesis.

However, the results only took a sampling of the overall data:

"At the time, plenty of scientists were skeptical of Keys's assertions. One such critic was Jacob Yerushalmy, Ph.D., founder of the biostatistics graduate program at the University of California at Berkeley. In a 1957 paper, Yerushalmy pointed out that while data from the six countries Keys examined seemed to support the diet-heart hypothesis, statistics were actually available for 22 countries. And when all 22 were analyzed, the apparent link between fat consumption and heart disease disappeared. For example, the death rate from heart disease in Finland was 24 times that of Mexico, even though fat-consumption rates in the two nations were similar.

"Naturally, proponents of the diet-heart hypothesis hailed the study as proof that eating saturated fat leads to heart attacks. But the data was far from rock solid. That's because in three countries (Finland, Greece, and Yugoslavia), the correlation wasn't seen.

The differences seen might also possibly be related to other foods of those countries' diets: processed foods like enriched white flour and sugar. Here is how our body typically handles saturated fats in natural foods:

"Although more than a dozen types of saturated fat exist, humans predominantly consume three: stearic acid, palmitic acid, and lauric acid. This trio comprises almost 95 percent of the saturated fat in a hunk of prime rib, a slice of bacon, or a piece of chicken skin, and nearly 70 percent of that in butter and whole milk.

"Today, it's well established that stearic acid has no effect on cholesterol levels. In fact, stearic acid — which is found in high amounts in cocoa as well as animal fat — is converted to a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid in your liver. This is the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. As a result, scientists generally regard this saturated fatty acid as either benign or potentially beneficial to your health.

"Palmitic and lauric acid, however, are known to raise total cholesterol. But here's what's rarely reported: Research shows that although both of these saturated fatty acids increase LDL ("bad") cholesterol, they raise HDL ("good") cholesterol just as much, if not more. And this lowers your risk of heart disease. That's because it's commonly believed that LDL cholesterol lays down plaque on your artery walls, while HDL removes it. So increasing both actually reduces the proportion of bad cholesterol in your blood to the good kind. This may explain why numerous studies have reported that this HDL/LDL ratio is a better predictor of future heart disease than LDL alone.

More prime rib baked with butter for me, please!! It sounds like the truth is, people that eat foods high in natural saturated fats (i.e. more flavor) also tend to eat other foods that have lots of highly processed ingredients that are also yummy and delicious. Some of these processed ingredients also happen to break down into very sticky stuff that adheres to artery walls. I've read elsewhere that once these sticky substances anchor down, they act as a hook, think velcro, to gather otherwise healthy lipids in the system and build up more of a blockage. I don't know how much of that is based on solid medical fact, but in my non-trained, I-just-learned-about-healthy-eating-yesterday mindset, it makes sense.

While the ancient Israelite diets consisted mostly of grains, fish, figs, olives, veggies and the like, the Levites would probably be eating a lot more red meat than the average Israelite seeing as how that was their portion. I couldn't see God trying to purposely give His priests heart attacks because of their jobs... I'm just theorizing here, so don't rip off my head if I'm way off. :) But either way, it certainly seems to adhere to the health laws that God put out there a long time ago and Mr. Armstrong, among others, revised for our day and age... Everything in moderation, eat clean foods that can spoil before they do, and stay away from processed stuff.


Infinity said...

I haven't put enough effort into reading the entire article thoroughly to have an educated opinion about this. However, I would say that I'm very skeptical of one study which seems to go against everything that has been established for the past several decades, and on which reams of studies have been built. If there were multiple studies with documented evidence that indicate that saturated fat is not associated with cardiovascular disease, I would give it more credit. But from what I've seen (and maybe I just didn't read closely enough), it seems like the majority of the criticism is just picking at the weaknesses in the research which has documented an association. And you know, you can do that with any research in any field. There will always be weaknesses, but you have to glean what you can from imperfect data. So, no, I don't think that saturated fat needs to necessarily be avoided like the plague, but I do think that things that are high in saturated fat (such as meat, cheese, animal products in general) should be eaten in moderation. I don't think anything in the Bible goes against that.

Mikeesee said...

True, and I agree that one study doesn't a theory break... However, having studied plenty of science myself and having seen a lot the whole, "Well, so-and-so who is reputable said thus-and-such, and therefore we assume what he said it law and build on it as the foundation of all knowledge from there on." Most of biological science today is built on a faulty premise ala evolution, yet a lot of scientists don't dare refute it. Someone reputable might say the sky is green and then we make all sorts of assumptions based on that "fact" until we have so much data built around it, almost as a wall to protect it, that no one dare challenge it. The "fact" in this case, may have been exposed because it existed before most of us alive today knew better, and out of tradition of science, we believe it to be so. Perhaps I'm using this example as an example of the sacred cow rather than making a point about nutrition. :) Either way, time will tell. We in this country can hardly get away from fatty foods much less processed foods, so it would be difficult to determine how true or false these cases could be.

Mikeesee said...

P.S. Saturated fats in high doses still make you fat and thus unhealthy, and there's plenty of data about being overweight being bad. So I apologize if I sounded like I was saying their use in any amount was okay. ;-)