THE BLOG

Now Saturated Fat Is Good for You?

03/26/2014 05:37 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2014

A recent article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) puts to rest a decades-old myth: Saturated fat is NOT bad for the heart. [1] This is news I've long suspected! And we now have science to support it. Fat is not the enemy when it comes to cardiovascular disease, weight gain, brain health, and so many other issues. It turns out that sugar -- in all its many guises -- is the real culprit for making you fat. What it also means is that because sugar causes inflammation throughout the body, it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease -- and just about everything else!

We've all been sold a bill of goods about so-called healthy low-fat foods like cookies and muffins. When you begin to read labels, you'll quickly see how much sugar is added to just about everything, especially to low-fat foods. When the fat is removed, so is the flavor. To make it more palatable, sugar, sugar substitutes, and salt are added in its place. And as you continue to read labels, I think you'll be surprised by how much sugar is also in so-called healthy foods, like yogurt, tomato sauce, many fruit juices -- even some salad dressings.

I can tell you without a doubt, it's the sugar that so many of us struggle with, not the fat. Think about it. It's NOT the burger with cheese and bacon that's the issue. It's the ketchup, the bun, and the fries. These are all carbs that instantly raise your blood sugar, because they are higher on the glycemic index than plain old table sugar. This is what I mean by sugar in all its guises.

Foods with little fat and loaded with sugar don't leave you satiated after a meal -- at least not for long. We need the fat to feel sated. Without it, we crave more sugary foods -- until we learn to switch to or at least incorporate better food choices. It's like being on a blood sugar roller coaster. Your body is subjected to the blood sugar highs and lows, and you literally NEED the sugar to feel OK when you're in one of the lows.

So let's not kid ourselves anymore about what's really making us fat. Sugar is the leading culprit today in causing inflammation. Here are some specific stats from an article printed in February 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], which are worth sharing: [2]

  • Sugar is connected to an increased risk of heart attack and dementia, as well as other inflammatory diseases, such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver problems, arthritis, reduction in beneficial HDL cholesterol, increase in triglycerides, and cancer.
  • Those with the highest sugar intake had a 400 percent higher risk of heart attack than those with the lowest intake of sugar. Note the current recommendation by the American Heart Association: One's daily intake of sugar should be only 5-7.5 percent of one's total caloric intake.
  • It takes only one 20-ounce soda to increase your risk of heart attack by 30 percent.
  • If you consume 20 percent of your calories from sugar, your risk of heart attack doubles.

These statistics were determined after adjusting for independent risk factors for heart attack, such as smoking, high blood pressure, alcohol intake, and other factors.

If that's not bad enough, it is sugar, not fat, that creates abdominal fat.

Did you know that the average American consumes 132 pounds of sugar a year? [3] And the rise in sugar intake in recent years has played a key role in the increase in the cellular inflammation -- and the soaring obesity and diabetes rates?

So the right kind of diet for your heart (your brain and every other part of your body) is one which obviously includes lots of healthy vegetables and some fruit, plenty of protein, and high-quality, unprocessed, gluten-free carbs in moderation. Quinoa is one good choice.

And yes, I've watched the documentary Forks over Knives and was featured in another documentary on healthy eating called Hungry for Change. I realize that we all need more healthy greens and veggies -- and less meat.

We also need a good deal of healthy fats, like coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and yes -- saturated fat from animal sources. The best sources of animal fat are eggs, grass-fed and organically-raised chickens and beef, buffalo, and wild-caught fish. You can still be a vegetarian, of course. Just make sure you are no longer eating under the influence of the "low-fat police." Because the lack of satisfaction you get from low-fat foods will almost certainly turn into a sugar binge somewhere down the road.

Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist and lead researcher on the study "Observations from Your Heart: Saturated fat is not the major issue," told the BMJ that we have scientific evidence which shows that lowering our intake of saturated fat "has paradoxically increased our cardiovascular risks." I'm glad that people everywhere are learning the truth about sugar and low-fat diets.

Were you surprised to learn that sugar is more harmful to your heart than saturated fat? I'd love to hear your impression of this blog, too. Please leave a comment, and LIKE or SHARE on Facebook if you think this news is important or can help others.

P.S. No -- I'm not advocating a diet of nothing but bacon and burgers. But some good old grass-fed beef and nitrate-free bacon from pigs that haven't been factory farmed won't do you any harm, in my opinion. And neither will eggs and cheese. I prefer free-range organically raised eggs, of course. And raw milk cheese (which is legal in my state).

Here's the bottom line: You don't have to limit healthy fat in your diet. What you have to limit are trans fats and sugars. Period. End of story. So what does that look like on your plate? About one-third of your plate can be some kind of protein, including beans, tofu, or lentils. And the rest should be vegetables of all kinds. Healthy fats, like avocados, coconut oil, and butter can be used liberally. And here is the truth. Healthy fats are so satisfying that you won't be tempted to overindulge. It's only when they are combined with starch or sugar that the fats become a problem. Limit grains and fruits. But remember, there is no one size fits all dietary equation that is right for everybody. A lot depends on the season, your constitution, and other factors.

This is a version of a blog post that originally was posted on www.drnorthrup.com.

References:

[1] Aseem Malhotra, et al. Observations from the heart: saturated fat is not the major issue, BMJ, October 2013;347:f6340.

[2] Quanhe Yang, PhD, et al. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults, JAMA Intern Med, published online February 03, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563

[3] Statistics from the US Dept. of Agriculture, http://www.agmrc.org/commodities__products/grains__oilseeds/sugarcane-profile/

This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.