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“The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for the first time removed their longstanding restrictions on dietary fat. But they still have recommendations to eat low-fat foods…There’s a mismatch between the science and the…recommendations.” Mark Hyman, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and author of Eat Fat, Get Thin (The New York Times, March 4, 2016)

Unscrambling Dietary-Fat Phobia  

How things have changed. For decades we were told to keep fat intake to a bare minimum. Dietary fat was the enemy. It made us sick and fat.  Saturated fat was the worst. It caused heart attack, stroke, and more.

We’ve had an about face. Fat is no longer the enemy. The limit on dietary fat has been lifted. The connection between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease has fallen away.

Nonetheless, the guidelines are at times out of sync with the science; the authors seem hesitant to enact the changes. “Much of the specific guidance remains highly fat-phobic,” Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, Dean, Tufts School of Nutrition Science and Policy, wrote in the April 2016 Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.

For example, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) tell us to choose low-fat dairy products. That makes little or no sense. Low-fat milk and yogurt are processed foods. Recent studies show that full-fat dairy products are not fattening and can improve health. Whole dairy lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and improves blood lipids. http://www.cbass.com/rethinking_saturated_fats.htm

We are urged to consume more vegetable oils, but also warned, they are a concentrated source of calories. (See below for the latest news on vegetable fats.)

On nuts, the DGAs warn, because they are high in calories, they should be eaten in small portions and used to replace other protein foods rather than being added to the diet.

“Long-term cohorts and controlled trials have disproven the idea that fats makes one fat, or that nuts or vegetable oils cause obesity, while showing that vegetable oils and nuts reduce heart disease and diabetes,” Dr. Mozaffarian wrote. He doesn’t beat around the bush. “Healthy foods are healthy—high fat or no fat—no caveats needed.”  

Saturated fat is another area where science and the DGAs part company. “While the scientists advising the DGAs concluded that saturated fat is no different than total carbohydrate for heart disease…the 2015 DGAs remain heavily focused on reducing saturated fat,” Mozaffarian wrote.

As I wrote here a while back, a connection between saturated fat and heart disease has never been established: http://www.cbass.com/saturatedfatnotrisk.htm and http://www.cbass.com/dietaryguidelines.htm

Not mincing words, Mozaffarian calls saturated fat “a relic from the past [which] should have been put to rest.”

Dr. Mozaffarian also slams the DGAs leniency on red and processed meats. While the scientists made strong and explicit recommendations to eat less of these major food groups, the DGAs actually recommend red meat “for balance and flexibility,” and go out of their way to specify that processed meats “can be accommodated” in the diet.

Let’s drill deeper into the facts on saturated fat and red and processed meat, two areas where the public is understandably confused. The problem (if it can be called that) with saturated fat is surprisingly simple.

Sweet Fat

The problem isn’t saturated fat, it’s what we eat with it. Here’s what the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Mark Hyman told The New York Times:

I think the challenge with the research is that a lot of the data combines saturated fat in the context of a high-carbohydrate diet. The real danger is sweet fat. If you eat fat with sweets – so sugar and fat, or refined carbohydrates and fat – then insulin will rise and it’ll make you fat. But if you eliminate the refined carbs and sugar, that doesn’t happen. I think saturated fats can be bad in the context of a high-carbohydrate diet. But in the absence of that, they’re not.

“Saturated fat and processed carbohydrate [are] an especially dangerous combination,” David Ludwig, MD, wrote in his book Always Hungry? “So, without bread, butter may be relatively benign,” he offered as an illustration.

Glen D. Lawrence, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY, analyzed the scientific evidence in a widely cited paper published 2013 in Advances in Nutrition. “One wonders how saturated fats got such a bad reputation in the health literature,” he concluded. “The influence of dietary fats on serum cholesterol has been overstated, and a physiological mechanism for saturated fats causing heart disease is still missing… It is time to reevaluate the dietary recommendations that focus on lowering serum cholesterol and to use a more holistic approach to dietary policy.”

So, we can stop worrying about saturated fat. Refined carbohydrates are the problem—not saturated fat. It’s time to turn our attention to eating quality fats as part of a balanced diet of whole or minimally processed foods. We’ll do that after we delve into the situation with red and processed meat.

Red and Processed Meat

If we can eliminate saturated fat as the problem, are there other reasons to avoid unprocessed red meat, and perhaps even more to avoid processed meat? The answer is “Yes—But.”

Meat is a hot button issue. Some consider it toxic, while others insist that it is a high quality food. Dr. Ludwig (writing in Always Hungry?) says the truth is somewhere in the middle. “From an individual health perspective, the scientific evidence provides no reason to banish animal products,” Ludwig tells readers. That, of course, leaves plenty of wiggle room.

Nutritional needs can be satisfied without eating meat. Vegetarians who eat eggs and drink milk or vegans who are careful to get enough protein from plant foods do fine without meat. But those who enjoy meat occasionally are also likely to do okay.

There are some health concerns.

The “Meats and Poultry” section of the DGA warns of a strong association with cardiovascular disease and a moderate association with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. (Association, of course, does not establish cause and effect.)

The risks are higher for processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and ham. Heightened concerns include a November 2015 pronouncement from the World Health Organization that the consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. WHO concluded that processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and ham almost certainly increase the risk of colorectal cancer. The increased cancer risk, however, is trivial compared to smoking. For more details, see my earlier article:  http://www.cbass.com/redmeat_dietaryguidelines.htm

Like saturated fat, the risk in eating processed meat such as hotdogs depends a lot on what you eat along with it. You can dilute the risk substantially by having your hotdog on a whole grain bun, with beans and a vegetable salad.

It comes down to personal preference. It’s up to each one of us to decide how we want to live. The DGA recommends, but you decide.

Dr. Mozaffarian recommends eating unprocessed red meat no more than once or twice a week, and no more than one serving of processed meat in a week. Carol and I enjoy range fed beef from time to time, but we rarely eat hotdogs or other processed meats.

A Road Map to Quality Eating

Including quality fats in your diet comes down to three tiers. The good, the pretty good or neutral, and the bad.

The top tier of good fat includes fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. (A new study suggests that not all vegetable oils are as healthful as once thought. Our favorites are flaxseed, olive, and canola oil. For more details, see http://news360.com/article/345700313 )

The middle or neutral-to-positive tier includes whole milk and yogurt, eggs, cheese, and butter. Unprocessed red meat is an in-between step down, but probably okay in moderation.

The "bad" tier list is the shortest in the history of DGA: processed meats and industrial trans fats.

Amazingly, we’ve gone from almost all fats are bad, to almost all fats are good or acceptable.

It boils down to foods to eat more—and foods to eat less or not at all. As we’ve seen, fats fall on both sides of the line. Enjoy all or most of the foods on the “eat more" list and the fats will take care of themselves.


This combination of hard-boiled egg, sardines, beans, and vegetables is an important part of my breakfast.

Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, full-fat dairy, eggs, and vegetable oils—and eat less poultry, unprocessed red meat, processed meat, refined grains, salty foods, sugary foods and beverages, and no trans fat.

It helps to understand the difference between unprocessed and processed foods; see our FAQ http://www.cbass.com/FAQ(10).htm (scroll down)

Following that road map will help you stay healthy, satisfied, and lean. For more details see “Unlock Your Fat Cells” http://www.cbass.com/unlockfatcells.htm

May 1, 2016

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