Health: Saturated fats, cholesterol are not evil

By Debbie Bell/Franklin County Health Department, Published:

Could it be possible that after all of these  years that we were advised to “pass on the butter” in order to promote heart health, we were mistakenly directed?   

For the past 60 years, saturated fat and cholesterol have been wrongfully maligned as the culprits of heart disease, one of the nation’s leading causes of death. As noted in the June 23 Time Magazine cover story, refined carbohydrates, sugar, and processed foods are the real enemy — not the saturated fats found in foods such as butter, lard, or eggs.  

The revelation comes on the heels of Dr. Fred Kummerow’s research on fats. Dr. Kummerow, author of “Cholesterol Is Not the Culprit,” has spent eight decades studying the science of lipids, cholesterol, and heart disease. He was the first researcher to identify which fats actually clog your arteries.  His work shows that it’s not saturated fat that causes heart disease, but rather trans fats are to blame. 

What is a trans fat? According to the American Heart Association, trans fats, also called trans fatty acids, are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Another name for trans fats is “partially hydrogenated oils.”

Food makers once used artificial trans fats to enhance the flavor, texture and shelf life of processed foods.  These fats can be found in many foods — but especially in fried foods like French fries and doughnuts, and baked goods including pastries, piecrusts, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies, crackers, stick margarines and shortenings. 

Trans fats consumption is considered an emerging health problem because it can raise your Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.   

As stated in the Time Magazine piece, part of this confusion on fats revolves around its impact on LDL cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol.  According to the conventional view, high LDL is correlated with heart disease, and saturated fat does tend to raise LDL. However, we now understand that there are TWO kinds of LDL cholesterol particles:

Small, “dense” LDL cholesterol and large, “fluffy” LDL cholesterol

The latter is not “bad” at all. Research has confirmed that large LDL particles do not contribute to heart disease. The small, dense LDL particles, however, do contribute to the build-up of plaque in your arteries, and trans fat increases small, dense LDL. Saturated fat, on the other hand, increases large, fluffy LDL.

In addition, research has shown that eating refined sugar and carbohydrates, such as bread, bagels,and soda, increases small dense LDL particles. Together, trans fats and refined carbohydrates do far more harm than saturated fat ever possibly could.

Unfortunately, when the cholesterol hypothesis took hold following the issuance of the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans in February 1980, the food industry switched over to low-fat foods. They began replacing healthy saturated fats like butter and lard with harmful trans fats and lots of refined sugar and processed fructose. 

Our ever-rising obesity and heart disease rates illustrate the ramifications of this flawed approach.

We are now beginning to see the rest of the world attempting to catch up with Dr. Kummerow’s research. In November 2013, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food.  

Several food manufacturers and restaurants have voluntarily taken steps to limit or eliminate trans fat from their products.  Additionally, groundbreaking public health policies, such as the 2007 New York City regulation banning partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and spreads in restaurants, are becoming model public health practices for our nation.  

Debbie Bell is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at the Franklin County Health Department, 851 East-West Connector.

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  • The trans fats produced when vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated consist of omega-6, trans linoleic acid and omega-9 trans oleic acid. The trans linoleic acid fraction may be the major reason why trans fats are harmful. Omega-6 fatty acids are fragile molecules subject to oxidation reactions. To consume excessive amounts of omega-6s is to risk exceeding the body's ability to chemically control their action. For example, animal feed researchers feeding calves a ration of skim milk along with a fat replacer found that soybean oil made calves sick and caused many of them to die. Beef tallow, and lard caused calves to thrive. In 1973 a feed researcher found that by including vitamin E in the ration to protect the omega-6 in the soybean oil from oxidation, he could keep the calves healthy on a skim milk/soybean oil ration.  Excerpt: "Weekly veterinary evaluation of the appearance and health of the calves revealed no abnormalities associated with the dietary treatments. The calves were examined for condition of coat, abnormalities of stance or gait, stiffness and evidence of muscular dystrophy, excitability or nervousness, and respiratory infections or abnormality. This result contrasts with the reports of others (Adams et al., 1959a,b; Gullickson, Fountaine and Fitch, 1942) who experienced poor weight gains, bad health, and considerable mortality of calves on rations high in unsaturated vegetable fat. All the calves in our study, whether fed milk containing high or normal amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, received supplemental vitamin E. The presence of this vitamin E during these early growth stages may be the explanation for the very satisfactory growth and weight gains during the milk feeding period, which contrasts with the growth deficiencies and health problems encountered by Adams et al."

    In that same article the researchers said, “The possibility exists that food products containing high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids may be useful in dietary prevention and alleviation of atherosclerosis. If clinicians prove an associative effect of dietary fatty acid saturation with incidence of cardiovascular disease, it will become desirable for dairy and beef producers to develop methods of increasing the degree of polyunsaturation in milk and meat fat.”

    Here's an example of researchers not being able to put two and two together.  But Fred Kummerow has it figured out. Excerpt: In the past two years, he (Kummwrow) has published four papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, two of them devoted to another major culprit he has singled out as responsible for atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries: an excess of polyunsaturated vegetable oils like soybean, corn and sunflower — exactly the types of fats Americans have been urged to consume for the past several decades..."Cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease, except if it’s oxidized,” Dr. Kummerow said. Oxidation is a chemical process that happens widely in the body, contributing to aging and the development of degenerative and chronic diseases. Dr. Kummerow contends that the high temperatures used in commercial frying cause inherently unstable polyunsaturated oils to oxidize, and that these oxidized fatty acids become a destructive part of LDL particles. Even when not oxidized by frying, soybean and corn oils can oxidize inside the body.

  • I never thought that I would be agreeing with and thanking a registered Dietitian.


    I eat free range egg yolks at least 8 times a week, and would do more if I weren't so lazy.   (:->)