Latest scientific review admits ‘we got it wrong’
The food label opposite is from a chocolate eclair – one of those delicious chocolate dipped choux-pastry affairs stuffed with whipped cream – self evidently evil and designed to put you in the grave as quickly as dietarily possible.
See the red-light warning: 8.2g saturated fat -OMG! Put the pastry down and back off!
Ironic isn’t it? Only a few weeks after the major supermarkets caved in to ‘traffic lighting’ on food labels, designed to promote ‘healthier’ low-saturated-fat foods, the American Society for Nutrition publishes a major review concluding that saturated fat isn’t the killer we have all been led to believe. Basically its an admission that the last five decades of scientific consensus was wrong. Saturated fat does not lead to heart disease.
On the contrary, the review identifies studies demonstrating that saturated fats, especially in dairy and coconut oil, can improve health. It points out that there is increasing evidence that ω6 polyunsaturated fats (primarily from vegetable oils), promote inflammation and contribute to a range of diseases. It blames the low-fat trend of recent decades for replacement of saturated fats in foods with simple carbohydrates, contributing to obesity. In deed, low-fat, high carb diets tend to increase serum triglycerides and small, dense LDL particles, which are more strongly associated with heart disease than total cholesterol.
The review provides some plausible explanations as to why some studies have found negative effects of saturated fats consumption. One confounding factor is that many common foods (e.g. chocolate eclairs) are high in both saturated fat and sugar, making it hard to identify what exactly is doing what. Furthermore, many such foods are cooked at high temperatures, leading to oxidation. Fructose (in sugar) is highly susceptible to oxidation and readily produces toxic end products.
All of this will be familiar to those of you who attended my talk on fats back in March. I have been a proponent of a high-saturated fat, low-carbohydrate diet for many years now. So, back to that chocolate pastry we started with: If saturated fat is OK, does that make eclairs a health food? Not exactly. Let’s have a stab at a proper science-based traffic-light label:
Sorry to disappoint, but even if the sat-fat is fine, there are plenty of reasons not to base your diet on eclairs. My recommendation? You can have all of the best bits of a chocolate eclair: dump the wheat and vegetable oil; get yourself a nice pot of clotted cream and some 85% cocoa chocolate and tuck in!
(I’m serious. I actually eat cream and small amounts of chocolate as they are not weird, new-fangled fake foods, unlike choux pastry made with modern wheat and veg oil (yuk!) There is plenty of evidence for the health benefits of chocolate and dairy products. See the last section of my talk on sugars where I focus on the research on chocolate’s virtues)