The Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Myth Destroyed!!

The Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Myth Destroyed!!

Although I have been preaching the benefits of healthy fats and even saturated fats for a long time, I still have clients who are skeptical.  Here is a well documented and persuasive article on just why it is so important to have healthy fats in your diet…


I want to put to rest the belief that fat (especially saturated fat) and dietary cholesterol are bad for us.


Where Did All This Nonsense Begin?

It all started with a physiologist named Ancel Keys, Ph.D., back in the 1950’s. In 1953 he published a paper titled “Atherosclerosis, a Problem in Newer Public Health.” It seems that from here, our dietary fate was sealed. Keys compared fat intake and deaths from heart disease in 6 countries:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. England
  4. Australia
  5. Italy
  6. Japan

The implications for dietary fat were dire! As fat intake increases in these countries, heart disease mortality rates increases. The US had the highest fat intake and also had the highest number of deaths due to heart disease, Japan ate the least fat and had the lowest number of deaths.

The American Heart Association jumped on board the diet-heart hypothesis bandwagon.

In the 1970’s Keys bolstered his hypothesis by publishing a study suggesting that saturated fat (from animal sources) leads to high cholesterol which, in turn, leads to heart disease. This is still the conventional wisdom today. Again, out of the 7 countries selected, the correlation between saturated fat and heart disease was not seen but hey, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Saturated Fat In The Human Diet

Let’s discuss the differences between LDL and HDL cholesterol.

  1. LDL is the bad guy (specifically the small, dense LDL particles)
  2. HDL is the good guy

Increasing LDL levels while HDL levels remain constant is bad news. The opposite is good news. Raising HDL cholesterol in proportion to LDL is very beneficial for your health. Raising both by equal amounts has no effect.

Almost all the saturated fat in our diet comes in 3 forms:

  1. Stearic acid
  2. Palmitic acid
  3. Lauric acid

Firstly, it’s well established today that stearic acid has no effect on cholesterol levels. In fact, stearic acid, found in abundance in animal fat, is converted to monounsaturated fat in your liver. This is obviously healthy and raises good cholesterol and therefore lowers risk of heart disease.

Both Palmitic and Lauric acid raise total cholesterol. This obviously has no real effect with respect to coronary heart disease risk factor.

Now, let’s add the three forms of saturated fat together and see what happens:

1 x beneficial + 2 x benign (and potentially beneficial) = Beneficial net effect

Wow! You mean ‘artery-clogging saturated fat‘doesn’t clog arteries?
Yes, and it’s important to remember that a diet high in fat will also be high in unsaturated fats so the net result of high fat intake, coupled with lower carb intake, is a reduced risk of heart disease.

This is the story of surprised researchers as they see the startling results of studies involving groups consuming low fat/high carb diets vs groups consuming high fat/low carb diets i.e. more fat loss and improved lipid profiles in the high fat/low carb camp. However, even though the science is staring them in the face, they fall short of recommending it as a way of eating.

So If Low-Fat Doesn’t Lower Cholesterol & Prevent Heart Disease, What Does?

A low carb/high fat does of course. It may seem counter-intuitive, but heart disease, a new problem, is not caused by old, traditional foods. It’s caused by newer foods that we have introduced into our diets – carb-laden foods. Let’s have a look at some studies…

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that participants who followed a low-carbohydrate diet for six months raised their good cholesterol and lowered their triglycerides (fat in the blood).

The low-fat group also had positive results in this study. They ate a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-calorie diet. They lowered total cholesterol levels (lowering good cholesterol which is not so great) and triglycerides. It is important to note that the triglyceride levels fell more significantly for the low carb group i.e. 74.2 points for the low-carb group and 27.9 points for the low-fat group.

Also, the low-carb group lost more weight even though their calories were unrestricted whereas the low-fat group consumed 500 – 1000 calories below their maintenance calorie-requirement.

Could This Be Due To Weight Loss?

Some people may think that the improvements in blood lipid profiles are simply due to the weight-loss and not carb-restriction, not so it seems.

Ronald Krauss at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute tested this and found that the lipid profiles (cholesterol and triglycerides) improve even when there is no weight loss on a low-carbohydrate diet. You can check the study out for yourself here:
Krauss, Ronald, et al. “Carbohydrate, Weight Loss, and Atherogenic Dyslipidemia.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006 May;83(5):1025-31.

Dietary Cholesterol May Be Beneficial To Muscle Hackers

The cholesterol in our foods may be beneficial to anyone wanting to build muscle. Researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered that lower cholesterol levels can actually reduce muscle gain when weight-training.

3 days a week for 12 weeks, 55 men and women, aged 60-69, (healthy non-smokers able to perform exercise testing and training) performed several exercises, including stretching, stationary bike riding and vigorous weight lifting. The results showed that there was a significant association between dietary cholesterol and change in strength i.e. the higher the cholesterol intake, the more muscle strength gain.

One of the researchers, Steven Riechman, said,

“We were not expecting to get these kind of results,we need further research in this area, but what we found could really make us look differently at cholesterol, especially as it relates to a vigorous workout…Our findings show that the restricting of cholesterol – while in the process of exercising – appears to affect building muscle mass in a negative manner. If it’s true, as our findings suggest, that cholesterol may play a key role in muscle repair, we need to know exactly how that happens.

So, if you want to keep your heart healthy and build muscle at the same time, you’d better opt for some bacon and eggs in the morning.

You all know the one the government recommends with all the starches at the bottom and fat at the top, well check this out alternative food pyramid

Beautiful isn’t it? Now that’s healthy eating!

By Mark McManus;

Convinced yet?  Let me know what you think??
If you’re a regular reader – I want your involvement, your feedback, and your questions! So why not make this the day to leave a comment before you go – if you’re reading from RSS or email you’ll have to enter the blog to do this. You can do that by clicking on the title of this piece. ‘Post a comment’ is at the article end, right under the ’share this’ and ‘related posts’ options. If you haven’t yet subscribed to this feed, what are you waiting for? Do it now. You can choose either email or RSS by clicking here. If you enjoyed this article please forward to your friends. Thank-you!


One response to this post.

  1. Hi, Robin,
    I talked to you about 6 months ago about helping me to lose weight. I’ve saved a little money and I want to spend it on getting well. The winter has been really hard on me. I’ve been very depressed and have gained about 20 more lbs. That makes my weight at 270lbs! I believe in your approach to losing weight and keeping it off. Anyway, email me of a time when we can talk and make a plan.
    Thank u and May God Bless you,
    Sheila Craig


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