How Saturated Fat Can Protect Your Heart

| April 30, 2015

For the past half century, conventional dietary advice told us to avoid foods that increase cholesterol levels, like foods containing saturated fats (found in meat, dairy products, eggs, coconut and palm oil). Instead, we’ve been told to eat more foods that supposedly lower cholesterol levels, including foods containing ‘polyunsaturated fats’ like vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn and soya oil.

This misguided advice is based on the fact that countries consuming a lot of saturated fat have higher rates of heart disease… Or at least, that is what we’re being told.

Yet, there are exceptions, like the ‘French paradox’ – rates of heart disease are low in France ‘despite’ the fact that they consume high levels of saturated fat. This is especially true if you look at how much cheese they eat.

Researchers and nutritionists have been scratching their heads for decades with this question: How is it possible that a population that consumes so much animal fat can have such low rates of cardiovascular disease?

Throughout the years there have been a few attempts to answer this question. First there was red wine. The French drink much higher quantities of red wine than most other countries. It is thought that the powerful antioxidants, like resveratrol and polyphenols, found in red wine counteract the negative effects of a diet high in saturated fat.

Then there is the fact that the French diet is much lower in processed foods and, especially, lower in refined sugar, which we all know can cause absolute havoc on your health.

Both of these explanations are valid, but now the findings of a new study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, can possibly link the high consumption of cheese (certainly another French characteristic) and saturated fat to the reason behind the French Paradox.

The study was led by Dr. Hanne Bertram, who compared urine and faecal samples from 15 healthy men whose diets either contained high amounts of cheese or milk, or who ate a control diet with butter but no other dairy products.

Dr. Bertram and her colleagues found that the men who consumed cheese had higher faecal levels of butyrate, a compound produced by gut bacteria. Elevated butyrate levels were linked to a reduction in cholesterol.

In fact, a previous study in 2009 found that butyrate also reduces the risk of obesity — a heart disease risk factor. Other studies have found that butyrate acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. And as we’ve written before, inflammation is a much bigger risk factor (if not the driving force) behind heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

It’s been scientifically proven that inflammation in the endothelium (lining of arteries) is a crucial part of the pathway that ultimately leads to plaque formation in the arteries and heart attacks.

If you were wondering what the link is between the consumption of cheese and the French Paradox, apart from being produced in the gut, butyrate is also a short-chain saturated fatty acid found in milk fat and cheese.

I know there might be some naysayers out there who will tell me that making this link is a long shot. However, mounting evidence suggests that I might not be too far off the mark.

In 2010, Ronald M Krauss — a top nutrition expert in the US, director of atherosclerosis research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and adjunct professor of nutritional studies at the University of San Francisco at Berkley — concluded, after reviewing all the scientific literature, that saturated fats don’t cause heart disease.

In March 2014, another group of researchers from Cambridge and Harvard came to the same conclusion after conducting a similar “meta-analysis”.

It seemed that saturated fat, our principal dietary culprit for decades, had been unfairly convicted. In fact, there never has been solid evidence that saturated fats contribute to cardiovascular disease. We only believe this to be true because nutrition policy was derailed over the past half-century by personal ambition, bad science, politics, and bias.

Here's to keeping your heart strong and healthy

Francois Lubbe
Editor
for The Cholesterol Truth


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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


Sources:

A new piece in the ‘French paradox’ puzzle —  cheese  metabolism, published online 08.04.15, eurekalert.org

The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition? Published online 26.08.14, independent.co.uk

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet’, by Nina Teicholz

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Comments (5)

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  1. Ella says:

    It could also be the vitamin K2 in the cheese that is helping prevent heart disease. The fact remains that the Japanese, who consume no dairy at all, live the longest. We shouldn’t really aim to emulate the French.

    • Editor says:

      Hi Ella,

      Thanks for expressing your opinion. The fact is (and remains) that Europeans will hardly follow a Japanese diet, but are far more likely to “emulate” a diet closer to what they are used to. And as the article states, The current French age-standardised mortality from circulatory disease is 126 per 100,000… and in the UK… well, those numbers are frightfully high with an estimated 160,000 people dying from heart and circulatory disease every year.

      In addition, the Greeks, French and Dutch eat much more cheese than the British but enjoy lower rates of hypertension and obesity.

  2. susan spittal says:

    Hi iam 61 so when I turn 65 should I not take the statin drug iam on

  3. Emma v Dorp says:

    Great ,my medic thinks that I must fight to get my level under point4.
    I am 72 years old,I think she is trying to kill me!:-)

    • Editor says:

      Hi Emma,

      Current guidelines do in fact suggest that if you are over the age of 65 you should not be given statin drugs.

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