Sunday, June 22, 2014

Some new skinny on fats

                                                                        Kicking the can–ola down the road

A“Cartoon Boy Kicking a Can.” Cartoon.
Toon Clips. Ron Leishman, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2013.dd caption
While researching for this post, I ran across a study done by Northwestern University suggesting certain vegetable oils, specifically corn, soybean and canola, cause lung inflammation and, possibly, asthma.

Last summer I received a diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma.

Never a big fan of tasteless (sometimes even, funky) canola oil, I nonetheless had bought into the medical world's endorsement: canola oil is protective of heart health.

I changed my mind early this spring. New evidence (discussed below) reports not only the failure of veggie oils to protect the heart, but also,". . .  no conclusive evidence that saturated fats cause heart disease." 

I stopped using canola two months ago.

For several weeks now, I've noticed an improvement in my breathing. As I slog the final hundred yards of my daily walk. I'm winded, but not gasping for breath as in the past. Power of suggestion? Perhaps, but sometimes even a placebo works wonders.

The Northwestern study also purports that olive and sunflower oils, particularly sunflower, reduce inflammation and improve lung function 10 to 17 percent. 

I've ordered a half-gallon jug of sunflower oil.

If you have any pulmonary issues, perhaps give this some thought or join me to form our own little science project.

Welcome back, butter

In addition to sunflower oil, I'll be putting butter on potatoes again and eating whole milk yogurt and adding a splash of cream on my oatmeal. 

Unbelievably, after 40 years of nagging and dire warnings from medical "experts" about the danger of saturated fats, new research finds "no conclusive evidence that saturated fats contribute to heart disease and stroke." 

How sat fats earned their bad reputation
Saturated fats are mostly derived from animals (lard, butter, beef tallow), but some, like coconut oil and cocoa butter, are plant-based. But all have been demonized because they have one thing in common: they raise LDL ("lousy") blood cholesterol levels. 

That fact and some shaky observational studies were enough to persuade the American Heart Association in 1971 to announce to the world that saturated fats caused heart disease. Period. End of story. On the upside, AHA told Americans that vegetable oils in the place of the sat fats would be protective. 

Like a nation of compliant little girls, we played by their new rules. Butter became anathema and industrial vegetable oils slid into our lives, and not just for cooking but as an ingredient in nearly every processed food. The medical world was overjoyed; a simple "cure" for heart disease was in the making. 

Others were thrilled as well, particularly Big Food. The manufactured industrial oils were far cheaper to use in "low-fat" products than more expensive saturated fats. Although low-fat products initially met with a lukewarm reception because they tasted . . . well, tasteless, Big Food added more salt and more sugar. Grocery store shelves now groan under a mad variety of refined flour, sugary, salty, low-fat power bars, cereals, cookies, and crackers. Dairy and freezer cases feature ice creams and fruity yogurts low in fat, yet having the equivalent of two tablespoons of sugar in every half-cup serving or six-ounce-container.

And the medical world stood by scratching its big head wondering why obesity and blood pressure rates were soaring.

The science behind the new assertions
A number of naysayers balked at the bad-sats theory from the get-go, but the popular media considered these as diatribes from the nut fringe. Now however, in the face of two major meta-analyses compiling data from more than ninety individual studies and nearly one million participants, the nut fringe has gained credibility. 

While the recent evidence still supports the fact saturated fats do increase LDL levels, they raise HDL (healthy) levels even higher! Even more surprising, sat fats create large, beneficial LDL particles that cleanse arteries rather than clog them. (For fun, watch Dr. Oz, who in his day job is a heart surgeon, demonstrate these principles while his expert guest tries not to appear embarrassed.)

You'll hear lots of whining and quibbling about these emerging results, and those critics are likely to trot out the statistic that heart disease death rates have dropped by two-thirds since the 1950s. 

But consider -- the number of Americans who no longer smoke has dropped from 75 percent in the mid-1950s to less than 25 percent today. Nearly one-third of heart disease is attributable to smoking. Factor in increased medical knowledge and training, up-to-date facilities, earlier diagnosis and treatment and improved medications. 

And there's this:  Heart disease is still America's number one killer -- that statistic has not changed in sixty years.

What's next?
Will this controversial information be a game changer? My guess is the American public, facing the prospect of another dietary flip-flop (eggs, soy, etc.), will give a collective shrug and say, "Let's wait and see." I also see too many forces in strong opposition for any kind of speedy reversal. I doubt physicians will now tell their patients it's okay to eat red meat. (What doctor admits to being wrong?) Big Food isn't likely to discontinue marketing its highly profitable processed, refined flour, sugary, salty (but low-fat!) products? And do you honestly think government dietary guidelines might change? That school lunch programs might bring back foods students will eat? Think 229,000 websites devoted to healthy diet advice will say, "Oops, our bad; we got it wrong these past forty-years"? Fat chance.

Perhaps the welcome news that butter is back will go viral and force new clinical studies that provide reliable scientific evidence of which foods actually keep hearts healthy. Although, we all know in our heart of hearts which they are. Like Mom said, "Eat your vegetables, darlings. They're good for you."

Aunt Rose
P.S. – A tablespoon of butter or lard or chicken fat has fewer calories than veggie oils. Who knew?

And for further fun and elucidation:
*A new book by Nina Teicholz: The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, covers the nearly sixty-year history of how the nation has been conned into an ultimately damaging dietary approach to heart health. 

A brief summary of the Annals of Internal Medicine meta-analysis reporting sat fats aren't so bad and veggie oils aren't so good: