The next Fat to face the Jury will be Saturated Fat, accused of committing similar offences to Trans Fat, that of increasing blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
Prosecutor: State your full name for record?
Defendant: Saturated Fat.
P: What are you made of and where do you come from?
D: May I show the court-room a diagram that best shows my chemical make-up?
As you can see, I have no double bonds between my carbon atoms. In other words, my carbon atoms are fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. This is what gives me my solid form at room temperature. There are different saturated fatty acids, which are identified by the number of carbon atoms. The saturated fat in the diagram is Lauric Acid, and if you add another two carbons to this it will become Myristic Acid.
I mostly hail from animal sources, such as red meats and whole milk dairy products, such as cheese, butter, ice-cream and sour-cream.
But I also come from plant based sources. Mainly coconut oil and coconut milk, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter and palm oil. These oils appear in many commercially prepared foods
The saturated fat found in meat, chocolate and nuts is primarily the triglycerides of palmitic and stearic fatty acids. While lauric and myristic fatty acids are mostly found in tropical oils like palm kernel and coconut and also in dairy products.
P : You have been branded a “bad” fat by the health authorities for years, why is this?
D : It all started back in 1953, when my reputation plummeted due to the findings from an observational study. A weak study that looked at 6 countries and their fat intake in relation to heart disease mortality. The Americans ate the most fat and had the greatest number of deaths from heart disease, whilst the Japanese ate the least fat and had the least number of deaths from heart disease. Canada, Australia, England and Italy fell neatly in between. This became known as the diet-heart hypothesis, and it started a tidal wave of studies showing saturated fat as the villain. I must point out an important finding to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, just 4 years after the initial observational study, another paper was published that swept the legs from under the diet-heart hypothesis, but was ignored. It pointed out that statistics on diet and heart disease mortality was actually available from 22 countries, and when analysed, showed no relationship between fat intake and death from heart disease.
If I may go on, I called the observational study a weak one, because it did not investigate for a causative link. Thereby, opening the relationship between America’s high fat diet and high heart disease to a number of other factors. Such as their probable higher sugar intakes and higher TV viewing over the Japanese.
P: The observational study you mentioned, it looked at fat intake and heart disease mortality, we know there are different types of fat, how did the blame fall onto saturated fat?
D: It led to another study in 1970 looking at seven countries, USA, Japan, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Finland and Holland. It was found that animal fat intake was a strong predictor of heart attacks over a 5 year period, along with an association with raised total cholesterol levels. This prompted the authors of the paper to conclude that the saturated fat in animal foods, and not the other types of fat, caused increased cholesterol and ultimately leading to heart disease.
Can I mention now, what was brushed under the carpet at this time, in the same study, the countries of Finland, Greece and Yugoslavia did not show the negative saturated fat correlation. In fact, interestingly, eastern Finland had five times as many heart attack fatalities and twice as much heart disease as western Finland, despite only small differences between the two regions in animal-fat intake and cholesterol levels. This did not follow the saturated fat mantra at the time and so it was not released to the media.
P: You mentioned different types of saturated fat exist, can you elaborate?
D: More than a dozen types of saturated fat exist, but humans predominantly consume three: stearic acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid. These three comprise almost 95% of the saturated fat in a hunk of beef or a piece of chicken skin, and nearly 70% of that in butter and whole milk.
Today, research has established that stearic acid has no effect on cholesterol levels. I am aware that unsaturated fat will be next on the stand, and I can tell you that stearic acid is actually converted to a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid in the liver. This is the same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil.
P: Do you or do you not cause an increase in cholesterol levels?
D: Yes, saturated fat does raise cholesterol, but saturated fat raises HDL cholesterol just as much, if not more than it raises LDL cholesterol. Do I need to go in to the effects of HDL and LDL cholesterol and the importance of their ratio in the body?
P: You need not, we will cover this in a blog next week.
D: The body actually produces its own cholesterol and it can do this from any food that is ingested. What you may not be aware of is the range of studies disproving the association of high cholesterol as a risk factor for heart disease.
More then 40 trials have been performed to determine whether lowering cholesterol levels can prevent heart disease. In some trials heart disease rates went down, in others they went up. But when the results of all of the trials were taken together, just as many people died in the treatment groups (who had their cholesterol levels lowered by drugs) as in the control groups (who had no treatment). Also the lead researcher of the well renowned Framington Heart Study, which followed 15,000 participants over three generations, reported that serum cholesterol is not a strong risk factor for heart disease, in the sense that blood pressure is a strong risk factor for stroke or smoking for lung cancer.
It is the likes of Blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes, insufficient physical activity and stress that will increase a person’s risk of cardio-vascular disease.
P: And are you responsible for either of these risk factors?
D: I can not deny that I am a high calorific food, at 9 calories per gram. For this reason, people should be aware of how much saturated fat, or unsaturated fat they are consuming from a calorie perspective, as weight gain results from a simple equation of calories in > calories out.
P: Do you have any more to say to the jury before the verdict?
D: Just want to bring the jury’s attention, and especially any ladies of the jury, to the latest and most expensive diet study by the American Government to date. It is the Women’s health Initiative, and the results of this study involving 20,000 women were published last year. They showed that a diet low in total fat and saturated fat had no impact in reducing heart-disease and stroke rates in the 20,000 women who had adhered to the regimen for an average of 8 years.
And on the topic of women, interestingly women suffer 300% less heart disease than men, in spite of having higher average cholesterol levels. An analysis of 11 major studies including 125,000 women, determined that there was absolutely no relationship between total cholesterol levels and mortality from cardiovascular or any other causes. Saturated fat gives so much taste to our foods and also promotes a feeling of fullness.
Judge: Will the defendant please rise, has the jury reached an unanimous verdict?
Jury: Yes your honor. We the members of the jury find the defendant ‘Not Guilty’
Judge: Saturated fat, you are free to continue your role in nature and in the food industry in the knowledge that you are a free and innocent fat.
You may take your leave.