For well over half a century, a majority of health care officials and media have warned that saturated fats are bad for your health and lead to obesity, high cholesterol and heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) began encouraging Americans to limit dietary fat in general and saturated fats in particular as far back as 1961.
The current version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food pyramid, called "MyPlate,"1 more or less eliminated fats altogether, with the exception of a small amount of low-fat dairy. According to MyPlate, the food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy — not the three biological building blocks known as carbohydrates (fruits, veg, grains), protein and fats.
All the while, studies have repeatedly refuted the wisdom of these low- to no-fat recommendations. Now all of a sudden, the AHA is coming out with warnings reminiscent of the 1960s all over again.
If you've followed the news lately, you will have seen bold headlines declaring coconut oil dangerous, and that you should switch from butter to margarine to protect your heart health! How is this even possible? It's akin to the flat Earth theory that inexplicably gained traction in the 21st century despite clear and indisputable proof that we indeed live on a planetary sphere.
Many have expressed confusion and bewilderment in response to the AHA's margarine push, and no wonder. Let's not forget that creating doubt is a core strategy used by industry to delay change. This margarine-promotion also happens to conveniently sync up with news about a vaccine to lower cholesterol2,3 — a strategy that would be unnecessary if people were to just eat healthy saturated fats like coconut oil and butter, and eliminate processed foods and sugar.
AHA Sends Out Warning to Cardiologists Around the World
According to the AHA's latest advisory,4 saturated fats such as butter and coconut oil should be avoided to cut your risk of heart disease. Replacing these fats with polyunsaturated fats such as margarine and vegetable oil might cut heart disease risk by as much as 30 percent, about the same as statins, the AHA claims.
This Presidential Advisory was sent out to cardiologists around the world, not just to those in the U.S. Overall, the AHA recommends limiting your daily saturated fat intake to 6 percent of daily calories or less.5 According to The Daily Mail:6
"The scientists analyzed all available evidence on the subject and found saturated fat — such as that found in butter, whole milk, cream, palm oil, coconut oil, beef and pork — was linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Replacing this with polyunsaturated fat — found in spreads and vegetable oils — or monounsaturated oils found in olive oil, avocados and nuts — cuts the risk of heart problems. The study … bolsters NHS advice that saturated fat should be lowered in the diet.
Lead author professor Frank Sacks, of Harvard School of Public Health, said: 'We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Saturated fat increases LDL — bad cholesterol — which is a major cause of artery-clogging plaque and cardiovascular disease' …
The authors, however, warned that not all margarines and spreads are healthy. They found that some forms of margarine which use 'trans fats' — a type of fat which improves shelf life — actually raise the risk of heart disease."
Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, also made sure to note that "lifestyle change should go hand in hand with taking any medication prescribed by your doctor; it shouldn't be seen as one or the other." In other words, don't think you can avoid statins simply by eating right.
USA Today announced the AHA's advisory with the nonsensical headline "Coconut Oil Is About as Healthy as Beef Fat or Butter."7 Why, yes, it is! But here they're trying to say that all of these are unhealthy, which is altogether backward and upside-down. According to the AHA:
"Because coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a cause of CVD [cardiovascular disease], and has no known offsetting favorable effects, we advise against the use of coconut oil."
On What Evidence Does AHA Base Their Recommendation?
How did the AHA come to the conclusion that they were right about saturated fat 60 years ago and have been right all along? In short, by cherry-picking the data that supported their outdated view. As noted by American science writer Gary Taubes in his extensive rebuttal to the AHA's advisory:8
"The history of science is littered with failed hypotheses based on selective interpretation of the evidence … Today's Presidential Advisory … may be the most egregious example of Bing Crosby epidemiology ['accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative'] that I've ever seen … [T]hey methodically eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive until they can make the case that they are surely, clearly and unequivocally right …
[T] he AHA concludes that only four clinical trials have ever been done with sufficiently reliable methodology to allow them to assess the value of replacing SFAs with PUFAs (in practice replacing animal fats [with] vegetable oils) and concludes that this replacement will reduce heart attacks by 30 percent …
These four trials are the ones that are left after the AHA experts have systematically picked through the others and found reasons to reject all that didn't find such a large positive effect, including a significant number that happened to suggest the opposite …
They do this for every trial but the four, including among the rejections the largest trials ever done: the Minnesota Coronary Survey, the Sydney Heart Study and, most notably, the Women's Health Initiative, which was the single largest and most expensive clinical trial ever done. All of these resulted in evidence that refuted the hypothesis. All are rejected from the analysis."
Taubes, an investigative science and health journalist who has written three books on obesity and diet, points out that this latest advisory document actually reveals the AHA's longstanding prejudice and the method by which it reaches its conclusions.
In 2013, the AHA released a report9 claiming "the strongest possible evidence" supported the recommendation to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). This, despite the fact that several meta-analyses, produced by independent researchers, concluded the evidence for restricting saturated fats was weak or lacking.
The latest advisory document reveals how the AHA could conclude they had the "strongest possible evidence." Then, as now, they methodically came up with justifications to simply exclude the contrary evidence. All that was left — then and now — were a small number of studies that support their preconceived view of what they think the truth should be.