Volume 12, Issue 23
It's time to rethink the low-fat-diet prescription for heart disease
Due to the popular success of some books like The China Study, many people are of the opinion that diets high in saturated fats are risky for people with heart disease. But is it true? Do saturated fats like butter and other animal fats actually increase the chance for people with a history of heart attacks of having another attack? Researchers recently looked to answer that question. And they published their remarkable new findings just this past month.

The researchers first point out that although there is a general opinion that high saturated fat diets are harmful for patients with a history of heart disease, the theory "has not been extensively studied." That's why they set out to study it. To do it, they looked at 2,412 patients with coronary artery disease all documented with angiograms. Of these, 81% were men, and the average age was 61 years.

They followed the patients for an average of 4.8 years. During that time, 292 (12%) of them either had a heart attack or developed angina. Then they looked to see how much saturated fat they had been eating. They divided the group into four groups. Group one had the lowest intake of saturated fats. Group four had the highest intake. And the other groups were in between. The question, of course, was whether or not the group with the highest intake was more likely to have a complication than those with the lowest intake. Here's what they found.

Not only did the high saturated fat folks not have a higher incidence of complications than the low-fat group, their chances were 15% less! However, the 15% reduction in risk was not statistically valid and might have occurred by chance. But the main point is that no matter how you look at it, it seems perfectly safe for patients with coronary artery disease to eat saturated fat. It does not confer any risk. Or as the authors concluded, "There was no association between dietary intake of saturated fats and incident coronary events or mortality in patients with established coronary artery disease."

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So how can this be? Coronary artery disease is caused by fat accumulating on the arteries. So how is it possible that eating more fat does not increase fat deposits on the arteries? Actually, the answer is really very simple. Except in a very limited way, the amount of fat you eat in your diet does not determine the amount of fat in your blood. Here's why.

When you eat fat, sure enough there is a temporary increase in your blood fats, as your body digests and absorbs the food. By the way, there is also an increase in your blood fats even after eating only carbohydrates. That's because the carbohydrates get converted into fat in the liver. But this increase in blood fats after eating is just temporary. And within 60-90 minutes, the levels go back to normal. So if you eat three high-fat meals per day, your blood fats are going to be high for a maximum of 4.5 hours out of the 24 hour day. This comes to about 20% of the time. But eating fat is not the only reason your blood fats will be high.

The other reason is that your body deliberately makes them high. How high they get is different between different people because of genetics. That's why some people are predisposed to high blood fat levels even when they eat very little fat. In addition, remarkably as it sounds, one of the reasons the body increases the blood fat levels has nothing to do with fat at all. It is in response to a high carbohydrate diet. Particularly a diet high in the simple carbohydrates like fruit, fruit juice, sugar, and flour. That's because carbohydrates stimulate the release of the hormone insulin. And insulin creates a rise in blood fats. Furthermore, stress, thyroid hormone deficiency, sleep apnea, and various vitamin and mineral deficiencies will also increase blood fat levels. And here's the problem with any of these scenarios.

When your blood fats are high from eating, they are high only about 20% of the time. But when your blood fats are high from the metabolic imbalances I just mentioned, they will be high 100% of the time. Even when you are sleeping! So you can see how it could be that a diet high in fat would not play that much of a role in people with heart disease. In fact, you can actually see how such a diet might be beneficial. Because if your diet is high in fat, that just might cause it to be low in the simple carbohydrates that keep your blood fats higher longer.

So if your doctor has told you that your blood fats are too high, don't simply focus on how much fat you eat. Instead, look at your insulin levels, your other hormone levels, your metabolic rate, your mineral levels, your stress levels, and your fitness level. These are the real culprits.

Yours for better health,

Puaschitz NG, Strand E, Norekvål TM, et al. Dietary intake of saturated fat is not associated with risk of coronary events or mortality in patients with established coronary artery disease. J Nutr. 2015 Feb;145(2):299-305.

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