What About Fat?

Written by Dr Estrelita van Rensburg

Can you remember your parents telling you not to eat fat because it will clog up your arteries and give you a heart attack? It creates a vision that our arteries might resemble something like a clogged-up waterpipe! This theory that saturated fat in our diets raises blood cholesterol concentration which then causes heart disease, is known as the “diet-heart” or “plumbing theory” of heart disease.

Image Credit: Blausen.com staff (2014). "Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436.

What started the “Plumbing Theory”?

This theory can largely be attributed to the American biochemist Ancel Keys, PhD, who in the early 1950s presented data from 6 countries which apparently showed a relationship between the amount of fat in the diet and heart disease rates.

A few years later, it became apparent that he had selected only 6 out of the 22 countries for which he had data - which provided the best visual representation for his theory - but when the rest of the data was added, this relationship disappeared!

Today we know that the association of saturated fat and cholesterol concentration in the blood vs the incidence of heart disease is inverse (negative correlation), confirming that the Keys “plumbing theory” is incorrect. It makes sense, because cholesterol is a vital substance in our bodies – even our liver makes cholesterol! Ever wondered why our body would make a substance that could potentially damage it?

Do our bodies need Cholesterol?

From this we should all agree that cholesterol is essential for our health and wellbeing!

Why are Statins so popular?

The pharmaceutical industry started working on cholesterol lowering drugs in the 1950s (following on Keys’ theory that cholesterol promotes heart disease).

The drugs developed are called Statins, the first of which was released on the market in 1987 (Lovastatin, from Merck). Since then, Statin use has exploded and total global sales are on track to reach an estimated $1 trillion in 2020.

Statins are mega business, and the Pharma industry is not keen to dwell on the serious side-effects associated with these drugs. To name a few, it can cause type-2 diabetes, increase your blood pressure and heart disease, cause memory loss and disorientation, muscle pains, cataract development, neuropathy, cancer etc.

If your doctor suggests that you start using Statin medication to lower your cholesterol level, ask him/her to provide you with unbiased scientific information (non-Pharma generated data), that shows the benefits of using these drugs.

Are fats essential?

Fat or lipids are indeed essential for normal body functions. Breast milk for instance is high in saturated fat showing us how important it is for the development of newborns. Fat in unprocessed food (meat, fish, eggs, dairy products) is vital for our immune function and to maintain the integrity of our cells. It is also essential in order for the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Fats supply the most concentrated form of energy for our body and are also the healthiest form of energy because they don’t cause a spike in insulin levels (see our Carb article for more info). Fat helps make our food palatable and is satiating (keeps you full longer).

Which fats are bad for us?

Manmade fats. They are vegetable (seed) oils and margarine (introduced into our food supply in the 1920s). Vegetable oils are used in salad and cooking oils and also in margarine, biscuits, breads, chips, ready-made meals, mayonnaise, frozen foods etc. When these oils are heated to high temperatures, they form compounds called aldehydes which are linked to cancer, heart disease and dementia.

For more information on this blog see our Library - The Experts Say.