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Whose Dietary Guidelines?

While we’ve been busy taking apart the seriously flawed article indicting meat, we have missed celebrating a very welcome article. An editorial in an online journal called Open Heart, affiliated with the British Medical Journal, summarizes almost 50 years of clinical research regarding the metabolic effects of standard nutritional guidelines.

Dr. James J DiNicolantonio, cardiovascular research scientist and doctor of pharmacy, poses and answers the question, “Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong?” Specifically, are saturated fats really the problem we have imagined them to be all these years.

Sadly misguided, with the best of intentions, decades of nutritional recommendations have cast saturated fat in the role of most evil villain, resulting in several unfortunate results. What has replaced saturated fat on our plates are two food groups that have far outperformed saturated fat in any suspected dietary villainy. Excesses of carbohydrates and the polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-6 fatty acids, have shown, in repeated studies, to be associated with an increased tendency toward all our current worrisome metabolic epidemics: obesity, cardiovascular, malignant and inflammatory diseases.

Dr. DiNicolantonio is very careful with his words, noting that low-fat’s claim to improve cholesterol readings “is an imprecise notion.” Very simply, to improve the risk hazards of all your cholesterol numbers, a low carbohydrate diet yields exactly the results we have been hoping for when we told everyone to eat less fat. Designing a diet lower in carbohydrates, and allowing saturated fat, results in lower triglycerides, higher levels of HDL, better glucose metabolism, and leaves you a happier and healthier camper with less body fat.

Then he gets to the polyunsaturated fats. I am frankly still astounded at the conventional medical world’s sloth-like understanding of the many problems associated with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s). When the omega-6 PUFA’s take the place of saturated fats, the trials consistently report “an increased risk of death.” Quite worrisome indeed is the specific association recently well-discussed between high intake of omega-6 PUFA’s and increased rates of prostate and breast cancers, both far more prevalent than we would like.

Dr. DiNicolantonio has discerned multiple problems with taking out saturated fats and replacing them with omega-6 PUFA's: increase in small, dense LDL particles, adverse lipid results all around the lipid profile, increased diabetes and obesity, not to mention cancer, cardiovascular disease, both morbidity and mortality.

Our current guidelines take into account none of these research findings, and "A change in these recommendations is drastically needed as public health could be at risk." While there is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has any positive effects on health, public fears about cholesterol persist and result in saturated fat substitutions and declines in health as saturated fat is replaced with carbohydrate.

In my own experience with colleagues and reputed experts, I have found that the "fear of saturated fat" is lagging far behind the public who have lept ahead and renewed their love affair with butter. (Did you know sales of butter have reached a 40-year high?) Ranchers are switching to the more profitable grass-fed meat, but they can't keep up with the demands of consumers.

If you are someone who confidently enjoys red meat, saturated fat, and resists the low-carb marketing attempts, I'd suggest you convey that information to your physician when she (or he) notes the marked improvements in your annual lipid profile!