For several years skeptical scientists including myself have asked the experts on the Swedish National Food Administration for the scientific studies that allow them to warn against saturated fat. Their usual answers have been that "there are thousands of such studies", or they refer to the WHO ( World Health Organization ) guidelines, (1) said to have been written by the world's greatest experts.
The main argument in that document is that saturated fat raises cholesterol, but we now know that high cholesterol is not a disease. What we want to know is if we shorten our lives or if we run a greater risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke by eating too much saturated fat.
Recently the Swedish Food Administration published a list of 72 studies that they claimed were in support of their warnings. Together with eleven colleagues I scrutinized the list and found that only two of them were in support.
Eleven studies did not concern saturated fat at all. Sixteen studies were about saturated fat, but were not in support. Three reviews had ignored all contradictory studies. Eleven studies gave partial or doubtful support. Eight studies concerned reviews of experiments where the treatment included not only a "healthy" diet, but also weight reduction, smoking cessation and physical exercise. So how did they know whether the small effect was due to less saturated fat or to something else? Furthermore, all of them had excluded trials with a negative outcome.
Twenty-one studies were about surrogate outcomes. In most of the reports the authors claimed that saturated fat raises cholesterol. But again, high cholesterol is not a disease. Twelve studies were listed because they had shown that people on a diet with much saturated fat and little carbohydrates reacted more slowly on insulin than normally. From that observation the authors claimed that saturated fat causes diabetes, but they had jumped to the wrong conclusion.
Saturated fat does not produce diabetes; on the contrary. More than a dozen experiments have shown that the best diet for people with type 2 diabetes is one with much saturated fat and very little carbohydrates. In a few days their blood sugar normalizes and many of the patients are able to stop their medication. (2)
Another contradiction to saturated fat causing diabetes is that for many years the consumption of saturated fat has decreased in most countries and during the same period we have seen a steady rise in type 2 diabetes.
The Swedish Food Administration also published another list with eight studies which they said contradicted their warnings. However, that list was incomplete, to put it mildly. For instance, why didn't they include the many studies of the Masai people who have the lowest cholesterol ever measured in healthy people although more than sixty percent of the calories in their food come from saturated fat? (3) And why didn´t they mention that no study has ever found an association between people´s cholesterol and their intake of saturated fat? (4)
I reviewed also the more than thirty studies having shown that patients with heart disease or stroke have not eaten more saturated fat than healthy individuals. (4) Indeed, seven studies have found that stroke patients had eaten less. (5)
The strongest proof for causality is experiments on human beings. If saturated fat causes heart disease, a reduction of such fat in the diet should lower the risk, this is pure logic. But up to 1997, nine such trials had been published and when all the results were put together in a so-called meta-analysis, no effect was seen whatsoever. In a few of the trials the experiment resulted in a little fewer deaths from heart disease, but in other studies mortality had increased. (4,6)
How come that still today saturated fat is seen as a menace to health? What is the evidence? The truth is that there is none. As I shall demonstrate in part two, the warnings against saturated fat are based on manipulated data.
Dr. Uffe Ravnskov MD
Author of "The Cholesterol Myths" and "Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You"
Creator and spokesman of THINCS, "The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics"
1. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a joint WHO/FAO expert consultation. WHO Technical Report Series 916, Geneva 2003.
2. Hays JH and others. Endocr Pract 2002;8:177-83.
Arora SK, McFarlane SI. Nutr Metab 2005, 2:16-24.
3. Mann GV and others. J Atheroscler Res 1964;4:289-312.
4. Ravnskov U. J Clin Epidemiol 1998;51:443-460.
Leosdottir M and others. J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil 2007;14:701-6.
5. Takeya Y and others. Stroke 1984;15:15-23.
McGee D and others. Int J Epidemiol 1985;14:97-105.
Omura T and others. Soc Sci Med 1987;24:401-7.
Gillman MW and others. JAMA 1997;278:2145-50.
Seino F and others. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol 1997;43:83-99.
Iso H and others. Circulation 2001;103:856-63.
Iso H and others. Am J Epidemiol 2003;157:32-9.
6. Hooper L and others. BMJ 2001;322:757-63.
Ravnskov U. BMJ 2002;324: 238.
Saturated Fat is Good for You - by Uffe Ravnskov MD - Part 2 of 3
Saturated Fat is Good for You - by Uffe Ravnskov MD - Part 3 of 3