Thu, Mar 27, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Following government dietary advice
is bad for health

Butter, eggs and red meat have long been touted as poison for heart health, but studies have found this to be incorrect, while polyunsaturated spreads like margarine and salt-laden processed foods are the real culprits

By Joanna Blythman  /  The Observer, LONDON

Illustration: Mountain People

Could eating too much margarine be bad for your critical faculties? The “experts” who so confidently advised us to replace saturated fats, such as butter, with polyunsaturated spreads — people who presumably practice what they preach — have suddenly come over all uncertain and seem to be struggling through a mental fog to reformulate their script.

Last week it fell to a floundering professor, Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation (a charity that funds research, education, care and awareness campaigns aimed to prevent heart diseases in humans) to explain why it still adheres to the nutrition establishment’s anti-saturated-fat doctrine when evidence is stacking up to refute it. After examining 72 academic studies involving more than 600,000 participants, the study, funded by the foundation, found that saturated fat consumption was not associated with coronary disease risk.

This assessment echoed a review in 2010 that concluded “there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease.”

Neither could the foundation’s research team find any evidence for the familiar assertion that trips off the tongue of margarine manufacturers and apostles of government health advice: That eating polyunsaturated fat offers heart protection.

In fact, lead researcher Rajiv Chowdhury spoke of the need for an urgent health check on the standard healthy eating script.

“These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines,” he said.

Chowdhury went on to warn that replacing saturated fats with excess carbohydrates — such as white bread, white rice and potatoes — or with refined sugar and salts in processed foods, should be discouraged.

Current healthy eating advice is to “base your meals on starchy foods,” so if you have been diligently following that dietetic gospel, then the professor’s advice is troubling.

Confused? Even borderline frustrated and beginning to run out of patience? So was the BBC presenter tasked with getting clarity from the British Heart Foundation.

Yes, Pearson conceded, “there is not enough evidence to be firm about [healthy eating] guidelines,” but no, the findings “did not change the advice that eating too much fat is harmful for the heart.”

Saturated fat reduction, he said, was just one factor we should consider as part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Can you hear a drip, drip in the background as officially endorsed diet advice goes into meltdown?

Of course, we have already had a bitter taste of how hopelessly misleading nutritional orthodoxy can be. It was not so long ago that we were spoon-fed the unimpeachable “fact” that we should eat no more than two eggs a week because they contained heart-stopping cholesterol. However, that gem of nutritional wisdom had to be quietly erased from history when research showing that cholesterol in eggs had almost no effect on blood cholesterol became too glaringly obvious to ignore.

The consequences of this egg restriction nostrum were wholly negative: Egg producers went out of business and the population missed out on an affordable, natural, nutrient-packed food as it mounded up its breakfast bowl with industrially processed cereals sold in cardboard boxes. However, this damage was certainly less grave than that caused by the guidance to abandon saturated fats such as butter, dripping and lard, and choose instead spreads and highly refined liquid oils.

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