Q: I understand that you’re modifying your position on saturated fat and as a result, no longer recommend low-fat dairy foods. What prompted the change?
A: You’re correct that my thinking on saturated fat has evolved. One catalyst was a scientific analysis of 21 earlier studies, which showed “no significant evidence” that saturated fat in the diet is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. The 21 studies analyzed included nearly 348,000 participants, most of whom were healthy when they were enrolled. They were followed for five to 23 years, during which 11,000 developed heart disease or had a stroke. Looking back at the dietary information collected from these thousands of participants, the investigators found no difference in the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or coronary vascular disease between those individuals with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat. This goes completely against the conventional medical wisdom of the past 40 years. It now appears that many studies used to support the low-fat recommendation had serious flaws.
In the meantime, as nutritionists have been recommending low-fat foods, consumption of added sweeteners, especially high-fructose corn syrup, has been steadily rising. This may be at least partially due to the fact that low-fat prepared foods are often highly sweetened. A study from Emory University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in April, 2010, showed that sweeteners appear to lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and raise triglycerides. Both of these effects increase the risk of heart disease. What’s more, through their direct effects on insulin and blood sugar, refined starches and sugars are more likely than saturated fat to be the main dietary cause of coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes.