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December 14, 2007

What's Wrong With Saturated Fat?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I've linked to this piece before, but the information in it is still an eye-opener: As Nina Teicholz points out, despite what we've been led by many health authorities to believe no one has ever proved that saturated fat clogs arteries or leads to heart disease. Is our health-tips industry as full of it as our art-chat industry is?

Gary Taubes (author of the new "Good Calories, Bad Calories") talks to Jimmy Moore. Taubes tells Moore, "It's pretty clear that saturated fat is almost assuredly harmless."



posted by Michael at December 14, 2007


I mostly ignore the health tip industry. They're always looking for the quick fix or some supposedly sensational new finding.

One really has to be careful that when you find a correlation with something that you don't automatically equate it to causation. Just because you find that the number of pirates going up over the years correlates with the global temperature going up doesn't mean that pirates are causing global warming. In these sorts of studies, people always conveniently forget about the hidden variables that might also effect the outcome. What about age? Environment? Socio-economic factors? Exercise? Other kinds of foods they're consuming along with the saturated fat?

Posted by: sya on December 14, 2007 5:11 PM

Just in case you are the last of my Blogs of Resort where I haven't yet said it:-

"All medical research is rubbish" is a better approximation to the truth than almost all medical research.

Posted by: dearieme on December 14, 2007 5:35 PM

High consumption of saturated fat correlates well with increased risks for various cancers. Also with adult onset diabetes.

One ounce of saturated fat has more calories than ounce of protein and one ounce of carbos has the least calories of the three.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on December 15, 2007 5:11 AM

One ounce of saturated fat has more calories than ounce of protein and one ounce of carbos has the least calories of the three

That's the point so many people miss. It's not necessarily that there's anything unhealthy about saturated fat per se, it's that saturated fat is a highly concentrated source of calories. And there definitely is something unhealthy about too many calories.

Posted by: Peter on December 15, 2007 10:59 AM

Sugar (including the sugar in carbohydrates) is hard on you because it makes you want to eat more, because it causes insulin levels to rise to help you digest it. The fattest people tend to consume many foods that are high in both fats and sugars: doughnuts; choco-chip cookies; chips and dip; pasta with cream sauces.

What works best, I find, is to eat high-quality sweets (rather than low-fat varieties) rarely, if you really crave them, and use fats as a flavour enhancer in your cooking, rather than trying to give them up altogether.

Posted by: alias clio on December 15, 2007 1:01 PM

Protein and carbohydrate are about equal in calories, aren't they? Around 4 cal per gram. Fat, saturated or not, has about 9 cal per gram. Translating this into "fat makes you fat" would make sense if people tended to eat the same weight of food, regardless of its fat-protein-carb mix. There's a strong counterargument that people's appetites tend to be regulated by feelings satiety, and fat produces more satiety than carbs.

BTW, my progress on the Shangri-La Diet is still pretty good - I'm down to 183, 20 lbs off my Sept. 1 weight, with very little hunger. In fairness to other dieting approaches, I've also laid off the high-glycemic carbs - don't feel like them anymore - and have been exercising half an hour a day. The 400 cal of oil I take each morning with Shangri-la makes my overall diet high-fat, but mostly healthy fat.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on December 15, 2007 1:25 PM

As far as I can tell, Dearieme's assessment of medical/health research is right on the money. It's one of the points Gary Taubes makes in his books -- these people are handing out tons of authoritative-sounding advice, yet if you look at the research they're basing the advice on it doesn't really support the advice. Most of the research seems to support a general view of "Hey, it's complicated! There seem to be an awful lot of factors involved!" So why are they handing out authorititave-sounding advice? Actually I think that's a really interesting psychological/political question. There seems to be a feeling some people have that they just gotta do something. Something must always be done! It's such a widespread feeling, at leats amongh public-type people, that the idea that something might not need to be done seems pretty radical.

IP -- That's great news. I find the Shangri-La kills my desire for a lot of high-carby foods too. I just don't care about 'em any more. Which oil are you using? I'm going for refined walnut oil myself. Doesn't taste like anything, and it's apparently high in Omega 3s, which I guess is a good thing, though maybe I'm fooling myself.

Posted by: MIchael Blowhard on December 15, 2007 2:49 PM

Michael, I admit I haven't read the book, but it sounds to me like Taubes' view is not "it's complicated ... there are so many factors" -- he is simply beating the Atkins, low carb drum. And he's a journalist, not a scientist. I'll march to a different one, thank you!

Posted by: Lester Hunt on December 16, 2007 5:36 PM

Michael - I started out with canola, 'cos I happened to have a bottle on the shelf, then went over to walnut. Now I'm using flax oil, mostly due to Seth Roberts' raves about the effects of omega-3. Flax is really high in omega-3, several times walnut or canola. But it's flavoured, of course, so you have to take it with your nose clipped, as Roberts does. I also find it a bit nauseating, at least when I take the full shot glass first thing on the morning - so I may switch back to walnut, which is somehow more pleasant.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on December 17, 2007 1:22 AM

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