This is Post 2 in our “Fat is Your Friend” series.
This post contains valuable information and may turn everything you once thought you knew about diet on its head. If you think you know about cholesterol, read this. If you know nothing, read this. If you have been educated about it by schooling or your Dr. or any vegan, vegetarian, or low-fat book on nutrition, read this!!! This is long, but well worth it… trust me.
First, a history on cholesterol:
The theory– called the lipid hypothesis– that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease was proposed by a researcher named Ancel Keys in the 1950’s. Numerous subsequent researchers have pointed out the flaws in his data and conclusions, but the experts assure us that the lipid hypothesis is backed by scientific proof. Most people would be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, very little evidence to support the contention that a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat actually reduces death from heart disease or in any way increases one’s life span. Consider the following:
- Before 1920 coronary heart disease was rare in America; so rare that when a young internist named Paul Dudley White introduced the German electrocardiograph to his colleagues at Harvard University, they advised him to concentrate on a more profitable branch of medicine. The new machine revealed the presence of arterial blockages, thus permitting early diagnosis of coronary heart disease. But in those days clogged arteries were a medical rarity, and White had to search for patients who could benefit from his new technology. During the next 40 years, however, the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically, so much so that by the mid-1950’s heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans. Today, heart disease causes at least 40% of all US deaths. If, as we have been told, heart disease is cause by consumption of saturated fats, one would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet. Actually, the reverse is true. During the 60 year period from 1910 to 1970 the proportion of tradition animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%, and butter consumption plummeted from 18 pounds per year to 4. During the past 80 years, dietary cholesterol intake has increased only 1%. During the same period the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils increased about 400% while the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased about 60%.
- The Framingham Heart Study is often cited as proof of the lipid hypothesis. This study began in 1948 and involved about 6,000 people from the town of Framingham, Mass. Two groups were compared at 5-year intervals– those who consumed little cholesterol and saturated fat and those who consumed large amounts. After 40 years, the director of this study had to admit: “In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol… we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” The study did show that those who weighed more and had abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were slightly more at risk for future heart disease, but weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with fat and cholesterol intake in the diet.
- In a multi-year British study involving several thousand men, half were asked to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol in their diets, to stop smoking and to increase consumption of unsaturated oils such as margarine and vegetable oils. After 1 year, those on the “good” diet had 100% more deaths than those on the “bad” diet, in spite of the fact that those on the “bad” diet continued to smoke!!! But in describing the study, the author ignored these results in favor of a politically correct conclusion: “The implication for public health policy in the UK is that a preventive programme such as we evaluated in this trial is probably effective…”
- While it is true that researchers have induced heart disease in some animals by giving them extremely large doses of oxidized or rancid cholesterol — amounts 10 times that found in the ordinary human diet– several population studies squarely contradict the cholesterol-heart disease connection. A survey of 1700 patients with hardening of the arteries, conducted by the famous heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, found no relationship between the level of cholesterol in the blood and the incidence of atherosclerosis. A survey of South Carolina adults found no correlation of blood cholesterol levels with “bad” dietary habits, such as use of red meat, animal fat, fried foods, butter, eggs, whole milk, bacon, sausage and cheese.
- Mother’s milk provides a higher proportion of cholesterol than almost any other food. It also contains over 50% of its calories as fat, much of it saturated fat. Both cholesterol and saturated fat are essential for growth in babies and children, especially the development of the brain. Yet, the American Heart Association has recommended a low-cholesterol, low fat diet for children!
Numerous surveys of traditional populations show that the lipid-hypothesis is just NOT TRUE. Of course, none of these studies are mentioned by those urging restriction of saturated fats:
- A study comparing Jews when they lived in Yemen, whose diets contained fats solely of animal origin, to Yemenite Jews living in Israel, whose diets contained margarine and vegetable oils, revealed little heart disease or diabetes in the former group but high levels of both diseases in the latter. (The study also noted that the Yemenite Jews consumed no sugar but those in Israel consumed sugar in amounts equaling 25-30% of total carbohydrate intake.)
- People in northern India consume 17 times more animal fat but have an incidence of coronary heart disease 7 times lower than people in southern India.
- The Masai and kindred African tribes subsist largely on milk, blood and beef. They are free from heart disease and have low cholesterol levels.
- Eskimos eat liberally of animal fats from fish and marine animals. On their native diet they are free of disease and exceptionally hardy.
- An extensive study of diet and disease patterns in China found that the region in which the populace consumes large amounts of whole milk had half the rate of heart disease as several districts in which only small amounts of animal products are consumed.
- Several Mediterranean societies have low rates of heart disease even though fat– including highly saturated fat from lamb, sausage and goat cheese– comprise up to 70% of their caloric intake. (Why isn’t anyone on THIS Mediterranean diet?)
- In Okinawa, where the average lifespan for women is 84 years– longer than in Japan– the inhabitants eat generous amounts of pork and seafood and do all their cooking in lard.
- The good health of the Japanese, who have the longest life span of any nation in the world, is generally attributed to a low fat diet. Although the Japanese eat few dairy fats, the notion that their diet is low in fat is a myth; rather, it contains moderate amounts of animal fats from eggs, pork, chicken, beef, seafood and organ meats. With their fondness for shellfish and fish broth, eaten on a daily basis, the Japanese probably consume more cholesterol than most Americans. What they do NOT consume a lot of is vegetable oil, white flour or processed food (although they do eat white rice). Also, those who point to the Japanese statistics to promote the low fat diet, fail to mention that the Swiss live almost as long on one of the fattiest diets in the world. Tied for 3rd in the longevity stakes are Austria and Greece– both with high fat diets.
- As a final example, consider the French. The French diet is notorious for their saturated fats in the form of butter, eggs, cheese, cream, liver, meats and rich pates. Yet, the French have a lower rate of coronary heart disease than many other western countries. In the US, 315 of every 100,000 middle-aged men die of heart attacks each year; in France the rate is 145 per 100,000. In the Gascony region, where goose and duck liver form a staple of the diet, this rate is a remarkably low 80 per 100,000. This “phenomenon” has been dubbed the “French Paradox”. (The French do suffer from many degenerative diseases, however. They eat large amounts of sugar and white flour and in recent years have succumbed to processed foods.)
Our blood vessels can become damaged in a number of ways– through irritations caused by free radicals or viruses, or because they are structurally weak– and when this happens, the body’s natural healing substance steps in to repair the damage. That substance is cholesterol. Cholesterol is a high-molecular weight alcohol that is manufactured in our own liver and in more human cells. Like saturated fats, the cholesterol we make and consume plays many vital roles:
- along with saturated fats, cholesterol in the cell membrane gives our cells necessary stiffness and stability. When the diet contains an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, so that the cell walls actually become flabby. When this happens, cholesterol from the blood is “driven” into the tissues to give them structural integrity. This is why serum cholesterol levels may go down temporarily when we replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils in the diet.
- acts as a precursor to hormones that help us deal with stress and protect the body against heart disease and cancer; and to the sex hormones like androgen, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
- is a precursor to vitamin D, a vital fat-soluble vitamin needed for healthy bones and nervous system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction and immune system function.
- Bile salts are made from cholesterol. Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of dietary fats.
- acts as an antioxidant. This is the likely explanation for the fact that cholesterol levels go up with age. As an antioxidant, cholesterol protects us against free radical damage that leads to heart disease and cancer.
- needed for proper function of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is the body’s natural “feel-good” chemical.
- maintains the health of the intestinal wall. Low-cholesterol vegetarian diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders.