Dietary Fat Recommendations: Have The Experts Been Lying?

A friend of mine asked me for my thoughts on a blog post titled “Top 9 Biggest Lies About Dietary Fat and Cholesterol“. It’s really great that my friend is interested in the opinion from someone who has been trained in nutrition (that’s me!). It’s important that consumers are skeptical
about what nutrition information to believe. Lots of bloggers like to present
themselves as experts. Just because you feed people doesn’t make you a nutrition expert. That’s all I’m going to say about that!

For this particular author, I couldn’t find any
evidence that he’s had nutrition training, other than reading blogs and
being in medical school (it doesn’t state where, or when he is to receive his degree). FYI – most medical schools do not spend a lot
of time on nutrition. Physicians have to seek out programs that provide
nutrition training, if they are interested.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand!

These are the alleged ‘lies’ that he lays out:

  1. A Low-Fat, High-Carb Diet is The Optimal Human Diet
  2. Cholesterol Rich Foods (Like Eggs) Are Bad For You
  3. Your Total and LDL Cholesterol Levels Are Good Indicators of Heart Attack Risk
  4. Processed Seed- and Vegetable Oils Are Healthy
  5. Saturated Fat Raises Your Bad Cholesterol and Causes Heart Disease
  6. Saturated Fats and Trans Fats Are Similar
  7. Eating Fat Makes You Fat and High-Fat Diets Are Dangerous
  8. Processed Margarine is Better Than Natural Butter
  9. Processed Low-Fat Foods Are Healthy Options

First
off, let me say that the tone of the above mentioned article was a
little
concerning. I know that it appeals to people, especially those
with conspiracy theory tendencies. He accuses nutrition professionals
with “demonizing perfectly healthy foods”. Ouch!

Have health care
providers made mistakes in the past? Of course! Who hasn’t?! We’re doing our best to understand
how a complicated human body functions. But we are
not out to hide information or misinform people. That’s the job of… oh
– nevermind. :)

So, if I take off the layer of attitude from the
article and just look at the information, he makes some fair points.
But he also stretches what we know in order to promote his own personal
agenda (he promotes a low carb, atkins type diet).

Ok – so here’s my rebuttle one by one, in short form. You know I could go on and on, but I’m going to err on the side of less!

1. A Low-Fat, High-Carb Diet is The Optimal Human Diet.

Julie’s comment: I’m not sure how exactly this is defined and he doesn’t provide any clarification. The heart association recommends 30% or less of calories from fat; As I understand it, Mediterranean diets are estimated at about 40%. Some vegans have carbohydrate intake at about 70%, which he would probably define as high but I find to be perfectly healthy. I don’t know anyone who says a high carb diet the optimal human diet. So I guess I agree with him? [Side note – there has been a research study in breast cancer survivors showing that triple negative breast cancer survivors who consume 20% or less of calories from fat had longer survival rates. This is something that I work with survivors on an individual basis but is not a blanket recommendation that I would give survivors.]

2. Cholesterol Rich Foods (Like Eggs) Are Bad For You.

Julie’s comment: I agree, consumers were/are very confused by this message! However, this is a myth that is spread more among consumers than among health care providers. I am constantly having to educate people regarding this. Dietary cholesterol intake has not shown to have a big influence on blood cholesterol levels. Enjoy eggs. I shared this article last summer, but thought you might want to be reminded. Eggs: Myths vs. Facts

3. Your Total and LDL Cholesterol Levels Are Good Indicators of Heart Attack Risk

Julie’s comment: I’m not sure that he can really make the claim that this is a lie. More accurately, we don’t know the whole picture on this and it’s probably far more complex than a simple statement can say. His explanation in his article is very convoluted. Cholesterol is one marker of what is going on in blood vessels. There are many different types of cholesterol. There is discussion right now about whether lowering cholesterol does actually result in a healthier heart, fewer heart attacks and longer life. I was a bit concerned when a report came out recently stating just about everyone should be on a statin drug. That seems like a pretty big jump. We still have a lot to learn.

4. Processed Seed- and Vegetable Oils Are Healthy

Julie’s comment: In the article the author highlights soybean, corn and cottonsead oils as processed oils high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids. Among health professionals, there has abeen a big push for consumers to use oils rather than saturated fats. Among my Dietitian Nutritionist colleagues, we typically promote the monounsaturated oils, like olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil. I’m neutral on this one.

5. Saturated Fat Raises Your Bad Cholesterol and Causes Heart Disease

Julie’s comment: Refer back to the discussion on cholesterol levels. This particular author obviously cites studies that support his point of view and does not cite the many studies showing the alternative. One study doesn’t tell us the whole picture no matter what.

6. Saturated Fats and Trans Fats Are Similar

Julie’s comment: I wouldn’t call this a lie. It would be a lie if it said “Saturated Fats and Trans Fats are the same”. It’s not like people are saying saturated fats and broccoli are similar! Saturated fats and trans fats ARE similar in function. This is why food companies used trans fats for so long. It was cheaper than animal based saturated fats. Granted, all health professionals would agree, processed trans fats should be avoided as much as possible.

7. Eating Fat Makes You Fat and High-Fat Diets Are Dangerous

Julie’s comment: Excessive intake of fat, protein, carbohydrate and alcohol is stored as fat. Eating fat does not necessarily make you fat. But it can! If you constantly ate more fat than your body needed, you would gain fat. If you eat too much carbs, you gain fat, and if you consistently eat too much protein, it’s stored as fat. And we’ve all seen the results of too much alcohol! Many people who follow high-fat, low carb diets do it in a way that is dangerous. However, a “low carbohydrate” diet that focuses on plant foods can be healthy.

8. Processed Margarine is Better Than Natural Butter

Julie’s comment: I hope no one is saying this! Processed margarine is based on trans fat and has been advised against [BY NUTRITION PROFESSIONALS] for over a decade. Let’s move on.

9. Processed Low-Fat Foods Are Healthy Options

Julie’s comment: Some are perfectly fine, and some are not. It comes down to what it is made out of. I think low-fat milk is perfectly healthy. You want to put whole milk or cream in your coffee? That’s fine. But if you’re an adult who drinks a gallon of milk a week, I wouldn’t suggest whole milk. [On a related note, when my friend’s daughter turned one, she was told they should use 2%. I’ll be honest, for a family that is perfectly healthy and no history of overweight, I thought this was a bit crazy. We gave our daughter whole milk to age 2. But we also drink soy or almond milk too. However, per American Academy of Pediatrics, kids at risk for overweight should have 2% milk at age 1, and 1% or skim starting age 2. That’s a discussion for another day!]

The bottom line on fats:
No, i am NOT commenting on the composition of your bottom! :-)

Follow the ever complicated guideline of moderation: You should use just as much as you need without too much. The type that you use will depend on what function you need it for.

The best way we understand dietary fats currently is:

  • trans fat raises LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol – worst case scenario, stay away from them
  • saturated fat raises HDL and raises bad LDL cholesterol – not the best scenario, but you can certainly handle some amount of saturated fats.
  • monounsaturated fat raises HDL and lowers LDL – good scenario, and these fats are the basis of the Mediterranean way of eating. However, they don’t stand up to high temperatures very well. Best used as marinades and dressings.
  • polyunsaturated fats are neutral – use them with cooking methods that only work with these types of fats. I.e. when you need to cook something in oil at a high temperature.

Regarding Mr. Authority Nutrition – I think he is correct that the average consumer is confused about the role of various fats on our health. However, defining meat, butter and eggs as ‘health foods’ seems a stretch to me. They certainly can have a place at the table, but we all know what has consistently been linked to lower rates of disease (cancer, heart disease, diabetes)….PLANTS!

Here’s my advice. It’s no lie!

There is a wide spectrum of how to eat healthy. You have to figure out what works for you.

Here’s what I do – I rarely use butter, except in baking and to fry an egg. Sometimes I use it to stir fry, but typically I use an oil blend that can handle high heat. I don’t spread butter on bread, I dip my bread in soups, or spread hummus or peanut butter on it. I don’t use butter on pancakes, waffles or french toast. I usually use a compote, or plain yogurt, or peanut butter, or just syrup. Sometimes I drink 1% milk, sometimes soymilk, sometimes almond milk. I eat 2% or skim plain greek yogurt. I don’t eat a lot of meat. I don’t foll
ow a “diet”.

But no matter what, I suggest following these simple guidelines:

1. Eat fruits and veggies at every meal.
2. Flavor/cook with spices, fats, sugars as needed.
3. Avoid processed food whenever possible.
4. Enjoy eating.

Let’s stop the blame game. It’s making me weary!
– Julie

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Comments

  1. lindsaykaygordon says

    Thank you SO much for addressing this blog post! I have seen it pop up everywhere and as a dietitian it makes me crazy!!

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