"Plain wrong" — this is what a new science editorial says of a widely believed idea that saturated fats clog up one’s arteries and result in coronary heart disease.
Now the piece has stirred controversy among experts in the field and revived the longstanding clash over saturated fats and how they affect one’s health.
Nope, Saturated Fats Don’t Lead To Heart Disease
“Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong,” wrote a team of three cardiologists in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Standard medical advice maintains that saturated fats affect the blood cholesterol, the wax-like substance that can accumulate in one’s arteries. There are different types of cholesterol, from “good” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) to “bad” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
LDL cholesterol is believed to build up and lead to heart disease with too much saturated fat in one’s diet, or the animal-based fats found in pork, beef, chicken, cheese, butter, and other foods.
According to the authors citing a meta-analysis or review of previous studies, eating these fats is not linked to coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease death in healthy individuals. They dubbed it “misguided” to keep focusing on lowering plasma cholesterol “as if this was an end in itself,” as well as an emphasis on “low fat” diets and medications.
Lead author Dr. Aseem Malhotra is a British cardiologist known in their local media to promote high-fat diets. His other report from last year was also controversial in its recommendation going against conventional advice.
He and his coauthors noted to CNN that healthy people can reduce their coronary disease risk effectively by walking 22 minutes every day, managing their stress, and consuming “real food.”
'Unreliable' Observational Studies
Critics of the new editorial, however, were quick to point out that meta-analyses are based on observational data, which aren’t deemed conclusive based on general standards and hardly establish causation.
For Garry Jennings, cardiologist and chief medical advisor of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, the editorial is rife with “a mixture of truths, half-truths, and misconceptions,” pointing out a couple of “poor and discredited” research quoted to buoy the argument.
Those with high LDL cholesterol suffer more heart attacks, and leaving LDL cholesterol out of the picture misleads readers, Jennings explained.
Dr. Mike Knapton, the British Heart Foundation’s associate medical director, also called the opinion piece “misleading” in light of decades of studies proving that a saturated fat-rich diet raises “bad cholesterol” and puts one at a greater heart disease or stroke risk.
According to the American Heart Association, a stroke or heart attack can start when plaque from cholesterol or fat builds up in the arteries and effectively “hardens” them. This is known as atherosclerosis, and in this scenario, either a blood clot forms or a portion of the plaque breaks off and blocks the artery.
The editorial pointed to the importance of regular light exercise as well as the Mediterranean diet, which is high in so-called healthy fat such as nuts and olives. A recent study lauded this diet for a potentially lower rate of diagnosis of ADHD in children and adolescents.