Which Fat Is Far More Likely to Kill You – Trans or Saturated?

Breaking news: Trans fat is really bad for you!

Oh, you knew that already? (I think most people did.)

Well, wait – there’s more!

Saturated fat is NOT bad for you!

You might have known that already too, but it has been the talk of the town lately because the findings of a large study have been released.

The study, led by researchers at McMaster University, was published in the BMJ yesterday.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

Trans fats, but not saturated fats, linked to greater risk of death and heart disease

Higher trans fat intake associated with 20-30% increased risk, say researchers

Saturated fats are not associated with an increased risk of death, heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes, finds a study published in The BMJ this week. However, the findings show that trans fats are associated with greater risk of death and coronary heart disease.

The researchers analysed the results of 50 observational studies assessing the association between saturated and/or trans fats and health outcomes in adults.

They found no clear association between higher intake of saturated fats and death for any reason, coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), ischemic stroke, or type 2 diabetes.

However, consumption of trans fats was associated with a 34 percent increase in death for any reason, a 28 percent increased risk of CHD mortality, and a 21 percent increase in the risk of CHD.

Dietary sources of saturated fats include butter, cheese, milk, meat, salmon, and egg yolks, and some plant products including nutschocolate, and coconut oil.

Trans unsaturated fats (trans fats) are mainly produced industrially from plant oils (a process known as hydrogenation) for use in margarine, snack foods, and packaged baked goods (in other words, they are used in processed junk “food”).

Richard Feinman, PhD, at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York, told MedPage Today that the findings on saturated fats aren’t anything new:

“You can’t keep doing these same studies over and over again and expect to get different results,” he said. He suggested that the science was “settled a long time ago” when research emerged finding a lack of evidence for an association between saturated fat and heightened risk of heart disease.

A few years ago, a scientific review of 21 earlier studies showed “no significant evidence” that saturated fat in the diet is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

Organizations like The Weston A. Price Foundation encourage including fat in the diet, and have been attempting to bust myths about saturated fats for YEARS.

The late Dr. Robert Atkins began promoting a low-carbohydrate high-protein/fat diet way back in 1972. His book, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, was surrounded in controversy for decades. At the height of its popularity, one in eleven American adults was on the diet. Its large following was blamed for significant declines in the sales of high-carbohydrate foods including pasta and rice – and for a decline in Krispy Kreme doughnut sales.

Dr. Atkins faced a lot of criticism in his time, but recent studies have shown his diet advice was sound. Not only is his plan effective for weight loss, it also has been shown to improve blood sugar, HDL (“good” cholesterol), and triglyceride levels.

The truth is, we NEED some fat in our diets. It helps us absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), plays a role in mood and behavior, and is the precursor to many hormones and chemicals produced in the brain.

Then why, you might be wondering, have we been told to avoid saturated fat for the last 40+ years?

A combination of flawed studies, political bias, and deceptive clever marketing by the food industry led to the demonization of dietary fat and the birth of the low-fat craze.

And,  that low-fat diet trend has not proven to be effective at reducing heart disease or our waistlines, and the resulting increase in refined carbohydrates hasn’t done us any good, either. That’s because manufacturers replaced fat with sugar.

As a result, we got fatter and fatter, and developed more diabetes and heart disease.

It’s sad, because several recent studies have shown that dietary fat (even saturated fat) and cholesterol are actually associated with LESS obesity.

If only we’d known that sooner.

Oh, by the way…in June, the FDA announced it is banning trans fats. The agency is finally acknowledging what many have known for years: the stuff is dangerous.

Based on a thorough review of the scientific evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today finalized its determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS for use in human food. Food manufacturers will have three years to remove PHOs from products.

Dr. Steven Nissen, the chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told CNN he praised the FDA for its “bold courage” and said it “deserves a lot of credit” for taking this “enormously important” move:

“In many ways, trans fat is a real tragic story for the American diet. In the 1950s and ’60s, we mistakenly told Americans that butter and eggs were bad for them and pushed people to margarine, which is basically trans fat. What we’ve learned now is that saturated fat is relatively neutral – it is the trans fat that is really harmful and we had made the dietary situation worse.”

Better late than never, I suppose.


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