Excellent study on saturated fats

18 April 2016
Love it!

But unfortunately misinterpreted  by the media...

During a review of an outdated anti-saturated fat study, some newspapers featured headlines claiming ‘Dietary guides persistently and stubbornly push olive oil and congeners’. But olive oil isn’t even mentioned in this particular study. So, just what does the ‘Re-evaluated Coronary Minnesota experiment’ entail?

It’s a re-evaluation of an old experiment conducted between 1968 and 1973. At the time, a large proportion of saturated fats (in particular butter) in the diet of hospital patients was replaced with ‘vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid’, which we now commonly designate omega-6 fats. The primary interest was in corn oil and margarine. Why was this experiment conducted? At the time, there were those who strongly believed saturated fats promoted cardiovascular disease and that it would be beneficial to replace them with vegetable omega-6 fats.

Guided by the views of the time, the food industry quickly adopted the findings from the experiment and widely substituted saturated fats with omega-6 fats such as corn oil, sunflower oil, soya oil and margarines. This initiative proved ultimately successful for the food industry because vegetable fats were cheap and easy to process.

The re-evaluation has proven that it wasn’t a good idea to substitute saturated fats with ‘vegetable omega-6 fats rich in linoleic acid’ because doing so did not result in the desired reduction of cardiovascular disease, on the contrary.

In recent years, a number of independent studies have shown that large-scale transition to one type of fat, notably vegetable omega-6 fatty acid, isn’t a good idea. Nowadays, we’re much more aware of the risk of infection induced by high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids.

In this respect, the study has revealed nothing new. There are scientists such as Professor Aseem Malhotra from England, Professor Fritz Muskiet and Hanno Pijl from The Netherlands and many others who have never had an issue with saturated fats. They not only advocate an increase in fat in our diet, they also favour a greater variety of them as well. Nowadays, we’re much more aware of the crucial role omega-3 fatty acids play in our health. As a consequence of the new research, saturated vegetable oils such as coconut and palm oil have become quite popular.

Some media make it seem like this study condemns all vegetable fats, including saturated fats such as coconut and palm oil. But this interpretation is in stark contrast to what the study truly aims to prove, notably that saturated fat isn’t bad! Recent re-evaluations no longer compare animal fat (which are supposed to be good) versus vegetable fat (which are supposed to be bad), like some media purport. It is no longer so simple. It’s now about the type of fat: ‘saturated fats’ versus ‘unsaturated / omega-6 fats’.

The only conclusion the study supports is that it didn’t prove advantageous to replace saturated fat with ‘vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid’. This aligns perfectly with modern nutritional science’s new vision.

Unfortunately, there are still some scientists who remain resolute in their belief that saturated fats are bad for your health. These scientists not only rail against animal saturated fats such as butter, they also oppose vegetable saturated fats such as coconut- and palm oil.

What about olive oil? Some media claim olive oil is unhealthy, but how do they know this? Olive oil is not mentioned anywhere in the experiment. So, I fail to understand why a journalist would suddenly reference olive oil. Olive oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fats and contains very little linoleic acid. It’s a totally different type of fat that was neither used nor mentioned in the experiment. Therefore, it’s impossible to draw any conclusions, one way or the other, about olive oil from this study.

For most scientists, including those at Harvard, olive oil is still one of the most exemplary fats there is, whose rich variety of polyphenols may help explain its unique health benefits. There’s also a recently published study that defends olive oil.

For years, I’ve been easily persuaded by progressive scientists who emphasise the importance of dietary fats, including saturated fats. This supports the new vision: it’s not so much fats that are the problem, but more the excessive use of fast, refined carbohydrates. Read my interview with Professor Hanno Pijl in Feeling GOLD for much more on this topic.

My conclusion and the vision that I defend in my books:

  1. Those who eat healthily and varied shouldn’t fear saturated fat. Always choose the full quality product: coconut oil, full-fat yoghurt, eggs and butter. I’m not a fan of the ‘fat is bad’-hypothesis.
  2. Cooking with olive oil or coconut oil gives the best result, although butter is okay too.
  3. Avoid omega-6 fats. On the face of it, they’re not bad unless we consume too much of them without variation. Too much omega-6 fats and not enough omega-3 fats increase the risk of infections. Meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds and vegetables provide us with sufficient omega-6 fatty acids to meet our basic requirements. 
  4. Vary your intake of fats in much the same way you vary your diet: omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, some nuts and seeds for example), mono-unsaturated fatty acids (found in, for example, olive oil and avocado), saturated fatty acids (found in coconut oil, full-fat yoghurt, butter and eggs for example) and yes, omega-6 fats are included in this (see above).

I think it’s very unfortunate that some media have misinterpreted parts of this study and instead of creating clarity have merely succeeded in sowing more confusion. This is an excellent study that supports modern nutritional science. My message is and remains: olive oil, coconut oil and butter – they are all good.

This study doesn’t present any new findings for me. To elaborate further, I would like to quote Professor Hanno Pijl who I interviewed some time ago for Feeling GOLD in tempore non suspecto. The interview comes out this week.

Hanno Pijl: 'There has been a lot of criticism of the 7 countries study (PN: directed by Prof. Ancel Keys, co-author of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment 1968-73.), which apparently had not been conducted correctly. In addition, there are several newly published epidemiological studies and extensive retrospective studies that have failed to support a single correlation between the ingestion of saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. But what the studies do show is a correlation between the ingestion of fast carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease, which is quite evident. In retrospect, we’ve given the wrong advice and have been doing so from the 1970s. That’s now quite apparent. There have been new advances made in science. After all, that’s how science evolves. There has been a great deal of research into the correlation between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease since then and that gives us the insight to know that we shouldn’t be afraid of fat.'

Read the full study here
Try reading them, they’re not too complicated.