- Experts claim false interpretation of scientific studies has led to millions being ‘over-medicated’
- Doctors claim it is time to ‘bust the myth’ of the role of saturated fat in heart disease
- Some nations are adopting dietary guidelines to encourage high-fat foods
Cutting back on butter, cream and fatty meats may have done more harm to heart health than good.
Experts say the belief that high-fat diets are bad for arteries is based on faulty interpretation of scientific studies and has led to millions being ‘over-medicated’ with statin drugs.
Doctors insist it is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease.
Some western nations, such as Sweden, are now adopting dietary guidelines that encourage foods high in fat but low in carbs.
Cardiologist Aseem Malhotra says almost four decades of advice to cut back on saturated fats found in cream, butter and less lean meat has ‘paradoxically increased our cardiovascular risks’.
He leads a debate online in the British Medical Journal website bmj.com that challenges the demonisation of saturated fat.
A landmark study in the 1970s concluded there was a link between heart disease and blood cholesterol, which correlated with the calories provided by saturated fat.
‘But correlation is not causation,’ said Dr Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London.
Nevertheless, people were advised to reduce fat intake to 30 per cent of total energy and a fall in saturated fat intake to 10 per cent.
Recent studies fail to show a link between saturated fat intake and risk of cardiovascular disease, with saturated fat actually found to be protective, he said.
One of the earliest obesity experiments, published in the Lancet in 1956, comparing groups on diets of 90 per cent fat versus 90 per cent protein versus 90 per cent carbohydrate revealed the greatest weight loss was among those eating the most fat.
Professor David Haslam, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘The assumption has been made that increased fat in the bloodstream is caused by increased saturated fat in the diet … modern scientific evidence is proving that refined carbohydrates and sugar in particular are actually the culprits.’
Another US study showed a ‘low fat’ diet was worse for health than one which was low in carbohydrates, such as potatoes, pasta, bread.
Dr Malhotra said obesity has ‘rocketed’ in the US despite a big drop in calories consumed from fat. ‘One reason’ he said ‘when you take the fat out, the food tastes worse.’
The food industry compensated by replacing saturated fat with added sugar but evidence is mounting that sugar is a ‘possible independent risk factor’ for metabolic syndrome which can lead to diabetes.
Dr Malhotra said the government’s obsession with cholesterol ‘has led to the over-medication of millions of people with statins’.
But why has there been no demonstrable effect on heart disease trends when eight million Britons are being prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs, he asked.
Adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing death rates as taking a statin, which have been linked to unacceptable side effects in real-world use, he added.
Dr Malhrotra said ‘The greatest improvements in morbidity and mortality have been due not to personal responsibility but rather to public health.
‘It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated in heart disease and wind back the harms of dietary advice that has contributed to obesity.’
Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a GP and author of The Great Cholesterol Con, said Sweden had become the first western nation to develop national dietary guidelines that rejected the low-fat myth, in favour of low-carb high-fat nutrition advice.
He said ‘Around the world, the tide is turning, and science is overturning anti-fat dogma.
‘Recently, the Swedish Council on Health Technology assessment has admitted that a high fat diet improves blood sugar levels, reduces triglycerides improves ‘good’ cholesterol – all signs of insulin resistance, the underlying cause of diabetes – and has nothing but beneficial effects, including assisting in weight loss.
‘Aseem Malhotra is to be congratulated for stating the truth that has been suppressed for the last forty years’ he added.
Professor Robert Lustig, Paediatric Endocrinologist, University of San Francisco said ‘Food should confer wellness, not illness. And real food does just that, including saturated fat.
‘But when saturated fat got mixed up with the high sugar added to processed food in the second half of the 20th century, it got a bad name. Which is worse, the saturated fat or the added sugar?
‘The American Heart Association has weighed in – the sugar many times over. Instead of lowering serum cholesterol with statins, which is dubious at best, how about serving up some real food?’
Timothy Noakes, Professor of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Cape Town, South Africa said ‘Focusing on an elevated blood cholesterol concentration as the exclusive cause of coronary heart disease is unquestionably the worst medical error of our time.
‘After reviewing all the scientific evidence I draw just one conclusion – Never prescribe a statin drug for a loved one.’