Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Are Saturated Fats Really That Bad for Us?

Saturated fat has been all over the news (again) this weekend. It's all been about companies that make chocolate bars and also supermarkets promising to reduce the saturated fat content in everyday foods, to help save us all from heart disease. 

And, while health experts discuss the dangers of eating it, I've quite often found myself listening to them, with my head in my hands. 

Not because I'm worried about saturated fat. But because I worry they might be missing the point. 

I recently read a book. It's called The Great Cholesterol Con by Malcolm Kendrick. And in it, Dr Kendrick puts forward his belief that we can, in fact, eat all the fat we want to - because, he says, heart disease is not caused by saturated fat or high levels of cholesterol in the blood. 

After reading this book, along with lots of articles online, I'm convinced that although saturated fat might have a part to play (I'm not a doctor, after all), it's a large intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar that we probably should be watching. 


pork belly and red wine stew with fork
Pork belly - packed with saturated fat - (probably not that scary. Probably.)

Sugars and Carbohydrates in the Body 
It's likely, that in the early years of human development, our diets weren't very sugar or carb-rich. I can't see Paleolithic man nipping out for a spaghetti carbonara and chocolate fudge cake on a Saturday afternoon. We evolved on a diet based largely on meat and fish (and foraged veggies and fruits) for about 2.3 million years, say the experts. 

Only fairly recently though (over the last 10-20,000 years or so) we started eating wheat - breads, pastas, cakes, biscuits - that sort of thing. So our diets changed and became more heavily dependent on grains and then later on, refined sugar.

But what happens when we eat refined carbohydrates and sugars? The body converts them to sugar. If they are not used immediately for energy, the body then stores it as fat. Saturated fat. 

It's this bingeing on refined carbs and sugar (which is essentially treated by the body as the same thing) that I believe contributes more to obesity and heart disease than, say, a duck leg with veggies for your tea. A Swedish doctor has recently warned that eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugar could be linked to health problems like obesity and diabetes. So a chocolate company offering to reduce the saturated fat in a chocolate-coated, sugar-laden chocolate bar to save us all - while a step in a good direction - doesn't really do it for me, I'm afraid. 

Verdict
I'm not saying that we should all start wolfing down lard and butter straight from the pack. That wouldn't be good either. But perhaps we need a clearer understanding about how diets that are very high in carbs and sugar might be affecting our health.  

But it's not just a question of eating more meat and fewer breads and sweets. Bacon, sausages and sliced meats can contain large (unnaturally occurring) amounts of saturated fat - not to mention possibly preservatives, flavourings, lots of salt and other things - so it would be a good idea to cut back on those too. And refined carbs and sugars don't have to go out of the window completely - they just don't need to form the basis of all of our meals.

Biochemist and Nutritionist Mary G Enig has said that there is 'very little evidence' that a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol can ward off heart disease. Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra stated in the British Medical Journal last week that the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease was a 'myth' and other factors, such as sugar in the diet, were often overlooked by researchers. Sweden has also acted on new evidence that carbs and sugars could contribute to an increased risk of heart disease by advising the public to cut down on them. 

And what do we do? We get companies to reduce the saturated fat in chocolate bars. 


The Great Cholesterol Con on Amazon (affiliate link)

Would love to know what you think - do you agree with the government's plan to reduce saturated fat in ready meals and chocolate bars? Do you eat saturated fats? Or do you avoid them like the plague?  

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