Remember hearing (like, your whole life) that fat in your diet — saturated and unsaturated, and cholesterol — was bad for your heart and your health? Well, it turns out that the evidence supporting nutritional guidelines that scared people away from foods like milk and eggs and steak, and replaced them with low-fat/fat-free, lean, and cholesterol-free “food products” was weak, at best. In fact, Alice Park says that new research indicates that “recommendations to reduce the amount of fat we eat every day should never have been made”:
Reporting in the journal OpenHeart, Zoe Harcombe, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at University of the West of Scotland, and her colleagues say that the data decisionmakers had in 1977, when the first U.S. guidelines on dietary fat were made, did not provide any support for the idea that eating less fat would translate to fewer cases of heart disease, or that it would save lives.
“The bottom line is that there wasn’t evidence for those guidelines to be introduced,” she says. “One of the most important things that should have underpinned the guidelines is sound nutritional knowledge, and that was distinctly lacking.”
One clue to the researchers may have been that lowering dietary fat over the past 40 years has not resulted in less heart disease and healthier humans. In fact, says Park, the opposite happened:
[T]he focus on fat, and on cholesterol and saturated fat in particular, has had a boomerang effect on the health of Americans. When we cut the fat, we replaced it with carbohydrates, which are broken down by the body into sugars and into a different form of fat, triglycerides, which may actually do more harm to the heart than cholesterol from animal products like red meat and dairy.
Cholesterol in particular has gotten a bad rap for more than a generation. Peter Whorisky says that experts are now taking another look:
The nation’s top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.
The group’s finding that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern” stands in contrast to the committee’s findings five years ago, the last time it convened. During those proceedings, as in previous years, the panel deemed the issue of excess cholesterol in the American diet a public health concern.
The finding follows an evolution of thinking among many nutritionists who now believe that, for healthy adults, eating foods high in cholesterol may not significantly affect the level of cholesterol in the blood or increase the risk of heart disease.
The greater danger in this regard, these experts believe, lies not in products such as eggs, shrimp or lobster, which are high in cholesterol, but in too many servings of foods heavy with saturated fats, such as fatty meats, whole milk, and butter.
In busting “10 Awful Nutrition Myths Perpetuated by the Media,” Kunal Patel gives some love to the “incredible, edible egg“:
If there’s one thing the media is good at, it’s scaring you away from perfectly innocent foods.
Eggs have been demonized because their yolks, which are chock full of nutrients, also contain high levels of cholesterol. Though that sounds scary, eating food high in cholesterol doesn’t translate to increased cholesterol in your blood.
The actual research shows that unless you have a pre-existing condition, eggs are a fantastic source of protein, fats, and nutrients. Their association with cardiovascular disease is a myth.
Here’s a recommendation that won’t change any time soon: Eat a variety of real foods, not processed “food products”. Drink water. Eat less.