Why we need fats

Fats have been de­monised for 40 years, but could red meat, eggs and full-cream dairy be the ticket to bet­ter health? Dil­vin Yasa in­ves­ti­gates

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - NUTRITION -

If nu­tri­tion­ist Chris­tine Cronau, au­thor of Bring Back the Fat, had her way, each one of us would start the day with lamb chops, eggs and toast laden with but­ter. In fact, it’s this diet to which Cronau at­tributes her 25kg weight loss. Not to men­tion the re­ver­sal of myr­iad health con­di­tions such as chronic fa­tigue, ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, in­sulin re­sis­tance and hy­po­gly­caemia – con­di­tions she main­tains were the re­sult of eat­ing a “healthy” diet.

“I’m a key ex­am­ple of how the low-fat era has been dis­as­trous for our health,” she says. “It was only once we got rid of sat­u­rated fats in our diet that we started eat­ing more of the foods that are ac­tu­ally harm­ing us, such as ex­cess sugar and car­bo­hy­drates, and this is what has made our health is­sues worsen.”

Cronau’s con­vic­tions might be a world away from the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment party line that eat­ing a diet rich in sat­u­rated fats pose se­ri­ous health risks, such as high choles­terol and an in­creased in­ci­dence of heart disease and stroke. How­ever, Cronau is just one of a ris­ing num­ber of nutritionists and re­searchers who be­lieve that we might have got­ten things very, very wrong.


Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Di­etary Guide­lines, sat­u­rated fats are still some­thing to be lim­ited. Cur­rent rec­om­men­da­tions sug­gest we re­place but­ter and cream with polyun­sat­u­rated and mo­noun­sat­u­rated fats, such as oils, spreads and nuts for bet­ter health. But a re­cent spate of stud­ies chal­lenge the no­tion that a diet rich in polyun­sat­u­rated fats is in­deed bet­ter for us.

Dr Christo­pher Rams­den from the US Na­tional In­sti­tute of Health re­cently an­a­lysed two decades­old stud­ies. The first was the Min­nesota Coro­nary Ex­per­i­ment (1968 to 1973), which showed that while pa­tients on the polyun­sat­u­rated fat diet had sig­nif­i­cant drops in choles­terol, they were at higher risk of death, due to the neg­a­tive ef­fects of the veg­etable oil used. The se­cond was The Sydney Diet Study, con­ducted in the 1960s by the Univer­sity of NSW. Males who re­placed sat­u­rated fats in their diet again low­ered their

choles­terol, but were more likely to die from a heart at­tack than those who ate more sat­u­rated fat.

Add to this the study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion which found that a low-fat diet showed the sharpest drop in en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture and in­creased in­sulin re­sis­tance (a known precursor to di­a­betes) com­pared with a low GI or low-carb diet. And lastly, there’s the stag­ger­ing in­creases in obe­sity, even though we’re more en­thu­si­as­tic about low-fat prod­ucts than ever be­fore (63.4 per cent of our pop­u­la­tion – com­pared with 56.3 per cent back in 1995 – is now over­weight or obese). So what's go­ing on?


UK car­di­ol­o­gist Dr Aseem Mal­ho­tra says we’re suf­fer­ing the im­pacts of the flawed Seven Coun­tries Study. When pub­lished in 1970, it ap­peared to show a cor­re­la­tion be­tween sat­u­rated fat in­take and heart disease among close to 13,000 men in seven coun­tries. The big­gest prob­lem? The au­thors left out the data from the re­main­ing 15 coun­tries they had pro­filed – na­tions whose pop­u­la­tions fol­lowed di­ets with high lev­els of sat­u­rated fats and had lit­tle heart disease. This has led many med­i­cal ex­perts to call both the study and the con­sis­tent di­etary ad­vice which has since fol­lowed “one of the great­est med­i­cal er­rors of our time”.

The re­sults have been dev­as­tat­ing, Mal­ho­tra says. “In ad­di­tion to dairy foods be­ing an ex­cel­lent source of nu­tri­tion and a source of en­ergy, there’s a strong as­so­ci­a­tion that full-fat dairy pro­tects against type 2 di­a­betes and heart disease,” he says. “[Re­mov­ing sat­u­rated fats] has re­sulted in an in­crease in the con­sump­tion of re­fined car­bo­hy­drates and in­dus­trial veg­etable oils which are strongly linked to type 2 di­a­betes, high blood pres­sure, car­dio­vas­cu­lar disease and de­men­tia.”

Cronau agrees, ex­plain­ing that women who “of­ten try to do the right thing” are hit harder than men. For your body to func­tion well, it re­quires a cer­tain amount of fat to help build cell func­tion, im­prove im­mu­nity and en­cour­age ef­fec­tive liver func­tion, she says. So is it time to bring back the fat?


Be­fore you load up with sausages and cakes, it’s worth not­ing that the num­ber-one rule to en­joy the health ben­e­fits of fat is to only in­gest qual­ity, nat­u­ral fats. “It’s about spend­ing a lit­tle more on qual­ity but­ter, co­conut oil, steaks and salmon and avoid­ing foods that have been pro­cessed or mar­keted as ‘choles­terol-free’,” Cronau says.

Mal­ho­tra agrees, adding that while trans fats – such as those found in pro­cessed foods in­clud­ing bis­cuits, pas­tries and small­go­ods – should be avoided, nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring sat­u­rated fats are fine for heart health. “We can all eat non-pro­cessed meat two to three times per week with no prob­lems, and full-fat cheese and yo­ghurt to our heart’s con­tent.”

The only (mi­nor) ob­sta­cle, it seems? The con­tents of your purse.

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