By Uffe Ravnskov MD
Are dairy products dangerous?
Saturated fat is the type of fat that dominates in milk, cream and cheese. Therefore, most authorities warn against them and recommend low-fat milk, even for children. But where is the evidence? Is cream really poisonous?
In a British report the authors had put together data from ten large studies including more than 400,000 men and women who had been followed for several years. What they wanted to know was whether intake of dairy products was deleterious to health. What they found was that the number of heart attacks and strokes were smaller among those who consumed the most dairy products compared with those whose intake was the lowest.(16)
Can we trust the World Health Organization?
I assume that you are curious to know how the Swedish Food Administration responded to our criticism ( see part 1). They did respond, but we couldn't find an answer to our questions about saturated fat. Indeed, we could not even find the term saturated fat in their text. Instead we could read statements such as "Our dietary guidelines are based on science....they are a synthesis of thousands of studies...they are similar with the international guidelines."
Have you heard that before? After close to twenty years of meticulous reading of the scientific reports about this issue I haven't found any valid argument against saturated fat, and I am not alone; other researchers have sought in vain as well.(17) Instead, as you know already, there are a large number of contradictory observations. Let me therefore return to the WHO/FAO Expert Consultation1 to see what the world's best experts have to say about it.
According to that paper "the relationship between dietary fats and CVD (cardiovascular disease), especially coronary heart disease, has been extensively investigated, with strong and consistent associations emerging from a wide body of evidence". This statement is followed by a reference to a consensus report from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association.(18)
The only evidence presented in that paper or in other official documents for an unhealthy effect of saturated fat is its effect on cholesterol, and a single study claiming that intake of saturated fat may cause heart disease.(19)
The first statement that saturated fat causes cholesterol elevation is not true, as you know by now. That intake of saturated fat causes heart disease is not true either, although the authors said so in the summary of the paper: "Our findings suggest that replacing saturated and trans unsaturated fats with unhydrogenated monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is more effective in preventing coronary heart disease in women than reducing overall fat intake."(19)
Probably you think that the study was a dietary trial, but it was not. It was a study of 80,000 healthy nurses who had been followed for almost twenty years. At the start and every other year the researchers from Harvard asked them in detail about their usual diet.
At the end of the study the diet of those who had suffered a heart attack was compared with the diet of those who had remained healthy. The term "replacing" did not mean that they had replaced anything; it was a result of complicated statistical calculations based on the dietary information.
The truth is, that on average, there were just as many statistically significant heart attacks among those who had the lowest intake of saturated fat as among those with the highest; this fact appears clearly from the tables in their report.
Furthermore, the research group from Harvard has published a number of similar reports during the previous years and none of them found a difference, and as mentioned above, at least twenty other research groups from all over the world haven't succeeded either.
A relevant argument against such studies is that what the participants tell you about their diet is not necessarily true. Who can remember what they ate yesterday and how much? And can we be confident that they will eat similar food and similar amounts of that food next week or next year?
A better way to know how much saturated fat we have eaten is to analyze the amount of various fatty acids present in our fat cells. It has been shown that the number of the short saturated fatty acids reflects the intake of saturated fat during the previous weeks or months.(20)
In at least nine studies researchers have determined the amount of these fatty acids in the fat cells. In six of them the content was similar in patients with cardiovascular disease and in healthy individuals meaning that the patients evidently hadn't eaten more saturated fat than healthy people. In the rest the patients had fewer short chain fatty acids, meaning that they had eaten less saturated fat than the healthy control subjects.(21)
Dr. Uffe Ravnskov MD
Author of "The Cholesterol Myths" and "Fat and Cholesterol are Good for You"
Creator and spokesman of THINCS, "The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics"
Saturated Fat is Good for You - by Uffe Ravnskov MD - Part 1 of 3
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Updated August 2011