According to recent press reports , the Department of Health (DoH) is cock-a-hoop because the main supermarkets and some of the major food manufacturers have agreed on a system of nutritional labels which will appear on the front of food packaging. It is claimed that this will remove confusion and enable shoppers to choose so-called “healthier options”. Information will be provided on calories, sugar, salt, total fat and saturated fat. In addition there will be traffic light colour coding which indicate whether the amounts of the individual nutrients are “high”, “medium” or “low”.
It is evident that the official advice continues to focus on saturated fat (SFA) as one of the factors so consumers generally are advised to reduce their intake of this particular nutrient. The original case for reducing SFA was totally dependent on the “cholesterol theory”. Essentially this is based on the “fact” that the cholesterol level in the blood (TC) is a risk factor for heart disease. Because it was claimed that SFA increased TC (and therefore increased the risk of heart disease) it would follow that reducing SFA would reduce the risk of heart disease.
THIS ARGUEMENT HAS BEEN TOTALLY DISCREDITED (See Blogs 6 and 8). For anyone interested in the skulduggery which resulted in the vilification SFA it is extremely instructive to read “the Oiling of America” by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon (1).
It is highly relevant that the original target which was set in the mid 1980s to reduce the SFA by 25% was actually reached some years ago. During the period when the SFA was falling we have seen that the incidence of obesity has simply exploded. The number of diagnosed diabetics has approximately doubled in the last 15 years. Those with diabetes are much more likely to develop heart disease, obesity and Alzheimer’s Disease than those who are not.
As there is absolutely no other reliable evidence which leads to the conclusion that SFA is a health hazard, there is no justification for encouraging consumers that it would be advisable to reduce the intake of foods which are major sources of SFA.
The construction of the case against SFAs was a complete defiance of any kind of rationality or logic. In reality SFAs include a very wide range of individual fatty acids each of which has its own particular properties and characteristics. They even have different effects with respect to their ability to influence the TC level. There is very good evidence that many of the individual SFAs play a vital role in the body.
Lauric acid (12 Carbons) is converted into monolaurin in the body which has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is capable of destroying fat-coated viruses such as HIV and herpes. It is also effective against listeria monocytogenes. Myristic acid (14 Carbons) stabilises the proteins used in the immune system and is capable of neutralising tumours. The shorter chain SFAs are easily absorbed and act as a readily source of energy, especially for the heart.
The importance of these substances is demonstrated by their presence in human milk. Table 1 shows typical examples of the contents of the different SFAs in human milk donated by women in Germany and Spain (2,3). It is clear from this that these SFAs make up about 40% of the total fat. Therefore it is simply not credible that nutrients which are present in such a large proportion in the natural diet of babies should turn out to be damaging to the health of those same individuals when they reach adulthood.
TABLE 1 Fatty Acids in Human Milk
|Germany (15 women)||Spain (40 women)|
|Fatty Acid(Number of Carbons)||% Fat|
The justification for restricting the SFAs simply does not stand up to rigorous examination. While the SFAs themselves may be valuable nutrients in their own right, those who actively attempt to reduce their consumption can experience a “double-whammy”. This is because many other key nutrients are present in foods which are good sources of the SFAs. These include the fat-soluble vitamins A, D as well as K2, which has only recently been recognised (See Blog 21). One of the best sources of vitamin K2 are butter made from the milk of cows which have been fed primarily on grass. Cheese is another good source because the K2 is produced during the fermentation process.
Finally any reduction in the consumption of fat will almost certainly be accompanied by an increase in the intake of carbohydrates. There is now growing evidence that diets which are low in fats and high in carbohydrates is probably the key factor which is responsible for the growing incidence of many common diseases. This means that rather ironically those who have been attempting to comply with the official recommendations on Healthy Eating are at an increased risk of developing a range of common diseases.
- B Koletzko et al (1988) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 47 (6) pp 954-959
- S de la Presa-Owens et al (1996) journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 22 (2) pp 180-185