Fat: Friend or Foe?


Many of my clients have been prescribed high-fat, low-carb diets by their doctors in order to help with their cognitive decline. However I find that some of them are uncomfortable with this notion that fat can not only be healthy, but is necessary for your health.  That is completely understandable because we have been programmed to think that fat is our foe.  The healthcare industry, our government agencies and the food industry have all combined over the years to drum into us that fat is something that needs to be taken out of our diet and that fat makes us fat.

What was that based off of? They must have had some good solid science to make this correlation - right? 

Turns out - no - that is not the case.  And we have all paid a very high price for it. 


How did we get here?

Prior to the 1950's I doubt that many Americans thought much about how much fat should be in their diet.  That all changed when Ancel Keys, a physiology researcher, presented his lipid hypothesis to the World Health Organization in 1955. He theorized that heart disease was caused by an increase in cholesterol, which was due to an increase in dietary saturated fat.[1]

Based on this THEORY, the American Heart Association (AHA) decided to publish guidelines in order to avoid heart attacks.  Those recommendations basically said to avoid saturated fats and that it was the villain in the heart attack scenario.   The only problem was that it was mostly a hypothesis and it actually never been proven with a clinical trial.  In any case, this was successfully pushed out to the public as factual.

Then Ancel Keys published his "Seven Countries" study in 1970. This so-called study examined the relationship between dietary pattern and the prevalence of coronary heart disease in Greece, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Japan, and Finland. As a result of this study he claimed he had proven his hypothesis. As the saying goes, correlation is not causation and Keys did not prove causation.  "Keys neglected to account for many factors that could also contribute to heart disease. Keys cherry-picked his data, conveniently excluding whatever didn’t fit his hypothesis. In fact, the countries he studied that had the highest rates of heart disease also were the countries with the highest intakes of sugar and refined carbohydrates."[2] 

So maybe it wasn't the fat after all...

But was Ancel Keys really looking to find the causes of heart disease or was he trying to prove his hypothesis?   We are all taught in our high school science courses to start off with a hypothesis and then perform an experiment to disprove it, not to prove it.  So much of the science and the studies done today are only there to prove what the scientist hope to be true. As a result, so much of the actual “science" done today is performed from a very biased perspective with funding from sources that have a vested interest in the proving the hypothesis correct.

Although the errors and biases were known when Ancel Keys published his study, they were ignored.  It didn’t help the narrative that had already gained steam. Instead, a vivid picture of fat "clogging the arteries" was pushed as well as the idea that fat makes you fat.  With over 60 years of this message being put out there in our society it's very hard to shake.

However, over the last 60-ish years there have been many studies done to test this hypothesis out. Even the National Institutes of Health studied between 10,000 and 53,000 people where they replaced saturated fats with unsaturated fats. And they could not prove that the saturated fats or harmful.[3]  You would think that these results would be discussed and have the AHA look into it more closely, but instead the study was buried.  

The Framingham study also could not link saturated fats with heart disease and was also buried.[4]

And all the while we have replaced fat with sugar and carbs.  And in fact even as late as 1992 the government published its food guide pyramid. As you may well be aware, the bottom of the pyramid shows 6 to 11 servings of bread, rice, cereal and pasta a day and at the very top of the pyramid are fats and oils (which we are told to use in a limited fashion). The public believed that this information was well-studied and proven and tried to do its best to conform to this new way of eating. The food industry quickly followed with all of these low-fat products, which are highly processed and full of preservatives, sugar and chemicals.[5]

If we're all following these well-thought-out and studied guidelines then we should be a whole lot healthier then we used to be prior to 1955.

So how has that been working for us? 

Given the explosion of obesity, diabetes, chronic illness, autoimmune illness and the fact that cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S., we've only gotten worse and not better.

The only people who have made out of this are the ones that are selling you products and pharmaceuticals.


The Tide is Turning

It takes a long time to turn the ship the size of the Titanic around…

Finally, there seems to be a turning of the tide on this. You can only keep the truth covered up for so long.

For example in 2010, researchers took the NIH and Framingham studies and re-examined them. "Of nine separate reviews, none could find any evidence in the data that saturated fats had an effect on cardiovascular mortality or total mortality. As quite a few of the reviewing authors stated in their conclusions, such results clearly do not support the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which limit saturated fats to 10% of daily calories, or the AHA advice to cap them at 5% to 6%."[6]

Another example is Brian Wansink, “a world-renowned scientist at Cornell who seized headlines with his research on American eating habits, had many of his papers retracted and resigned from his professorship.”[7]  Unfortunately he also played a large role and where we are today nutritionally. "From 2007 to 2010, he served as executive director of the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines, which set the standard for healthy eating for the nation."[8]

His so-called research was based on observational studies and self-reported data. So that is like me saying if I asked someone how many cups of coffee they have during the week and they tell me five that we can really take that as factual. And then to take that answer of 5 cups of coffee and say that since this person had cancer in the past that therefore coffee causes cancer and you should keep it to less than 5 cups a day. That is the equivalence of what he was doing with his nutritional “studies”. And for someone like that to then be telling the nation what they should be eating is unconscionable.

 No wonder we are worse off than we were before.

There are more  examples that you can go through and see how far astray we are in nutritional studies.  Wherever you have politics, power, and money involved, the common good cannot survive under that load.

And what about the American Heart Association?  Why wouldn't they have changed their guidelines sooner?  Were they loath to admit that they were wrong or is it something more?

I think a partial answer to this at least is who their partners are or where they're getting their funding from. For instance one of them is Procter&Gamble, whose products include vegetable oil like Crisco. Bayer is another funding partner who has a company that produces soybeans. Perhaps this is the reason why in 2017 the American Heart Association said that we should avoid coconut oil because it is high in saturated fat, raises bad cholesterol levels and leads to heart disease. Curiously enough their spokesman then recommended instead of using coconut oil you could cook with “canola, or corn oil or soybean oil or extra virgin olive oil”. He also said "there's nothing wrong with deep frying as long as you deep fry in an nice unsaturated vegetable oil”. [9]

Are you kidding me on that right now? An organization that is supposed to be looking out for your heart health is advising you to fry your food in unsaturated fat?!

I guess that fits in with their earlier message which was, "to eat margarine (which was notoriously high in trans fat) calling it “more heart-healthy” than butter because it contains “no dietary cholesterol”. They started this recommendation back in the 1960’s and continued it for decades while the primary ingredient in margarine was partially hydrogenated oil full of trans fat. Well, we now know that the trans fat in partially hydrogenated oils are responsible for upwards of 20,000 heart attacks every year – which spurred the FDA to finally ban it from our food (effective in 2018). "[10]



Is the AHA they really looking out for you?  Or are they looking out for their sponsors such as Kellogg's, PepsiCo, General Mills, Nestle, Mars, Domino's Pizza, Kraft, Subway and Quaker. None of who I would associate with clean, healthy, organic food. It is a good deal for the AHA which is taking in approximately 15 million dollars per year from drug and healthcare companies and that includes Pfizer, the maker of the statin drug Lipitor.[11]

To me this is the very definition of conflict of interest.

Despite all of these connections, the AHA has started to soften their recommendations on fat.  But I wouldn't look at them as a credible source to base my nutrition off of.

"Over the last half century, the diet-heart hypothesis has been tested more than any other in the history of nutrition, and thus far, the results have been null."[12]

My advice is to always question these so-called studies that come out and look at who paid for the study and what ulterior motives they could have. Unfortunately, whoever pays for the science builds in a bias and then it becomes all about proving the theory and not finding out the truth.

It could be that it sometime in the future an actual valid study will be done that could prove fat is bad for us. Until then there are so many proven good reasons to include it in our diet that I will continue to personally make sure I incorporate it for myself.

And when you look at how sick and obese are population has gotten, it is obvious to me what we have taken as fact about fat over the last 60 years is not correct. Too many people have suffered because a few people wanted to be right.

If you want to learn more about the history of how fat became a villain, I recommend the book: The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.  And if you want to learn more about what fats are good for you to include in your diet, I recommend the book, Eat Fat, Get Thin by Dr. Mark Hyman.

And next month I will talk about the different kinds of fat because all fat is not created equal!


[1] https://drhyman.com/blog/2014/09/08/saturated-fat-get-bad-rep/

[2] https://drhyman.com/blog/2014/09/08/saturated-fat-get-bad-rep/

[3] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-teicholz-saturated-fat-wont-kill-you-20170723-story.html

[4] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-teicholz-saturated-fat-wont-kill-you-20170723-story.html

[5] Eat Fat, Get Thin, Dr. Mark Hyman

[6] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-teicholz-saturated-fat-wont-kill-you-20170723-story.html

[7] https://ninateicholz.com/dietary-guidelines-are-based-on-same-weak-science-that-brought-down-cornell-professor/

[8] https://ninateicholz.com/dietary-guidelines-are-based-on-same-weak-science-that-brought-down-cornell-professor/

[9] https://foodbabe.com/coconut-oil-healthy-controversy-explained/

[10] https://foodbabe.com/coconut-oil-healthy-controversy-explained/

[11] https://foodbabe.com/coconut-oil-healthy-controversy-explained/

[12] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-teicholz-saturated-fat-wont-kill-you-20170723-story.html


Julie Kenney