We have been told over the last 50 years that fat- especially saturated fat- is the culprit behind heart disease. We have dutifully ridded our diets of butter in favor of margarine, eat more chicken and less red meat, get our cholesterol checked regularly and take medications if our cholesterol is too high. And the other reason we do this of course, is because we have been told that fat makes us fat. Yet, in the time that we have been following the low-fat recommendations, the rate of obesity has more then doubled; diabetes has tripled.
Back in March, a meta-analysis study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the daily food intake of over 350,000 people. These people were followed for a period of 5 to 23 years and their cardiovascular risk assessed. The study’s finding? That there is no association between the amount of saturated fat consumed and heart disease risk.
And what about cholesterol? We know that high cholesterol leads to heart disease, and if saturated fats raise cholesterol, saturated fats must lead to heart disease, right?
The belief that saturated fat increases cholesterol is really just that, a belief. It has been based largely on extrapolations, not on any real data.
So if saturated fats and cholesterol aren’t bad, what is causing the alarming increases we are seeing in obesity and diabetes? The research is finally showing what many of us have known all along: refined carbohydrates are what is really responsible.
Consider just these two examples. A 1997 study published in JAMA looked at 65,000 women and found that the 20% who ate the most digestible and readily absorbed carbohydrates (high glycemic index carbohydrates) had a 47% increased risk of developing Type II diabetes over the 20% with the lowest glycemic index scores. And in 2007, a Dutch study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology followed 15,000 women and found that those who were overweight and in the quartile that consumed meals with the highest glycemic load were 79% more likely to develop coronary artery disease when compared to overweight women in the lowest quartile for consumption of high glycemic carbohydrates.
That refined carbohydrates are the real culprit behind heart disease actually fits better with our understanding of how arteries respond to damage and how they get damaged in the first place. Cholesterol, in addition to being a precursor for Vitamin D, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol, among other things, is a repair molecule. It doesn’t build up in the arteries for no reason; on the contrary, it is the foundation of ‘plaques’ the body makes to repair holes in the lining of the arteries, known as the endothelium. We also know that insulin can have a protective effect on the endothelium, but when our diet is too dependent on high glycemic carbohydrates for too long, the insulin mechanism is disrupted leading to the development of diabetes.
So tomorrow morning when you are deciding what to have for breakfast, consider that eggs, fried in a little butter is a better choice then a bagel, muffin or even cereal.