Is consuming fat harmful to our health?
Cardiovascular disease is till today the main cause of death in the Western world. This is the reason why, preventive medicine should target its diminution. We are bombarded by the media with light coke and yoghurt and low-cholesterol vegetable butter ads, but are these products truly beneficial?
Some months ago, we saw on the news an Italian lady by the name of Emma Morano who entered the Guiness Book for being the oldest person in the world born in the 19th century. To her doctors’ surprise, her daily diet included three hard cooked eggs. Some may think that she has reached this age despite eating three eggs a day; some others, instead, that this may be part of her secret.
Fat is often a confusing concept for the general public when it comes to its connection to our health. For instance, it is believed that cholesterol consumption is always bad for our health, but actually, it is needed for the following functions:
- Building of the cell membranes.
- Helping to cure wounds, including those of the arteries, which are called atheromatous plaques
- Production of vitamin D
- Bile production
- Mineral metabolism
- Electron donor (antioxidant)
- Memory booster: half of the weight of the non-watery substances in the brain is cholesterol
- Arresting allergies
- Production of sexual hormones
- Production of adrenalin to manage stress
When we eat bad quality fats as we find in fried food (coated), refined oils, margarines (vegetal butter), trans fats, etc, cells have not the needed material to build at their optimum their cell membranes, leading to malfunctions in organs like the liver and the brain, as well as to a deficient hormone production which all together produce diseases. When we consume bad quality fats, it is like having our cells coated with cellophane paper, as isolated and prevented from getting the necessary nutrients or storing the required energy.
In order to better understand why cholesterol has a bad reputation in relation to the coronary disease, we should understand how the atheromatous plaques of the arteries are built and what their relation to coronary disease is. When the endothelium (the inner layer of the arteries) is affected by inflammatory processes due to free radicals and bad quality fats, the body tries to repair the damage, just as it does with an injury on the skin. Then, the swollen region activates an inflammatory cascade producing a plaque which contains fibrin, cholesterol, and calcium; that means that the problem is the inflammation and the damage caused by the free radicals and not the cholesterol itself.
As the plaque contains cholesterol, it is presumed that cholesterol is the cause of its appearance, but actually, the cause is the inflammation and the endothelial damage. In addition, in half of the autopsies of patients who died from a myocardial infarction, thrombus and occlusions have not been found. In these cases, the death of the cardiac muscle occurred due to a metabolic alteration in which the acidity of the cardiac tissue, caused by chronic stress, hindered the entry of calcium into the cell leading to arterial paralysis and the related absence of blood flow. In other words, the stress caused the stroke, not the arterial occlusion.
One of the most important studies about cardiovascular disease was that of Framingham, which was made under the direction of the National Heart Institute of the United States. The object of this study was the identification of the factors attributable to coronary disease. It comprised 5,209 men and women who had no coronary symptoms. They were checked in their eating and sport habits, and all routine tests were made. This progressive study lasted many years in order to see who might develop a coronary disease. The study evidenced that the cholesterol level in blood was independent from the intake of cholesterol. Forty years later, the director of the institute confirmed the fact that if more saturated fats (good quality ones) and more cholesterol were consumed, lesser was the level of cholesterol in blood. In contrast, other factors such as obesity, smoking, consumption of sugar or bad saturated fats, and having a cholesterol level over 240 mg were found to be associated to coronary disease.
Eating enough good quality fats makes the body produce cells and hormones that generate health. Examples of good quality fats are butter, if possible from cows fed with grass, extra virgin olive oil (when not heated), unrefined coconut oil, fats coming from fish, peanuts, avocado, soft-boiled egg, or fats from raw dry fruits.
A study published on Atherosclerosis magazine in 2000 revealed that the principal cause for the damage of the arteries and the later formation of the atheromatous plaques was not the level of cholesterol in blood but the free radicals concentration as a result of the consumption of products that take in electrons (oxidized, trans, and refined fats, cigarettes, heavy metals, radiations, etc.). Moreover, a study made by Dr Schatz and a team of assistants published on The Lancet magazine in August 2001, evidenced that very low cholesterol values are associated to a higher death rate in elderly patients. According to the American Heart Association, a 240 cholesterol value increases the risk of a heart attack only by 0.5%, as compared to a value of 200; however, doctors are prescribing more drugs to reduce cholesterol, even in those cases where the levels are found to be in between 200 and 240 where no substantial benefit can be obtained from medication. This is so, as the normal cholesterol levels are consistently being lowered below 200 mg/dl.
Factors like diabetes, obesity, stress, hypertension, smoking, and exceedingly high cholesterol values (higher than 240mg/dl) have been recognized as risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, but it has not been confirmed that the consumption of good quality cholesterol is directly related to the level of the cholesterol in blood, to obesity, or to coronary diseases.
In countries like France, the consumption of fats in the form of butter is very high. Nevertheless, France has one of the lowest cardiovascular disease rates in the world. For example, Eskimos consume more than 20 times more Omega-3 fats than most of the Americans. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Omega-3 fats reduce blood pressure and prevent from arterial obstructions, thus lowering the risk of developing a cardiac disease.
A research published in 2011 by The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied the risks of cardiac disease in Eskimos, for they have one of the lowest rates of cardiac disease in the world. It was found that 70% of the population was obese and that they had similar markers of lipids and inflammation to those of people with a normal weight. Dr Makhoul suggests that the high content of Omega-3 in the Eskimo diet is the main cause of the low rates of cardiac diseases in this population.
In a famous study conducted by Dr Ramón Estruch (“Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean diet”) published by the renowned magazine New England Journal of Medicine, both the Mediterranean diet and a low-fat diet were researched as prevention factors for cardiovascular diseases. One group took a low-fat diet while the other had a Mediterranean one consisting in:
- A high intake of extra virgin olive oil (three tablespoons per day), fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole-grain cereals.
- A moderate intake of fish and domestic fowls.
- A low intake of dairy, red and processed meat, and sweets, along with a moderate intake of wine.
The results were clear. The incidence of the cardiovascular disease dropped significantly with the Mediterranean diet and not with the low-fat diet.
The amount of calories we need per day should be preferred from fats (healthy ones) and especially from saturated ones. The idea that saturated fats are harmful for the heart is so deeply rooted that it is difficult to break down this belief. The conviction that saturated fats (healthy ones) are the cause of heart diseases is an unproven hypothesis. For instance, in a mega-analysis made by the magazine American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 21 studies related to the risk of good-quality saturated fats, heart diseases, and brain strokes were revised. The study revealed that there is no significant evidence to conclude that saturated fats can be associated with a higher risk of heart diseases. That is to say, the quality of the calories is more important than their quantity, and the main supply of calories should come from fat and not from carbohydrates; namely, sugar, refined flours, fruits, etc.
We can find both, animal and vegetable sources of healthy fats: meat (preferably organic, from grass-fed cattle), dairy (preferably non-pasteurized non-homogenized) like butter, cheese, ghee, cream, etc., fish (preferably from natural environments – not from fish hatcheries), unheated, extra virgin vegetable oils, avocado, raw dried fruits, cold-pressed coconut oil, or soft boiled egg yolk.
Regarding essential fats, they are called like this because they cannot be produced in large quantities, reason for which we need to take them daily; namely, Omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and Omega-6 (linoleic acid), among others. These are fundamental to reduce inflammation, to avoid thrombosis, and for a normal brain functioning. A proportion of 2/1 to 1/1 is required in between Omegas-3 and Omega-6.
Red meats have more Omega-6 together with grains, whereas fish has more Omega -3 like some extra virgin oils. There is also Omega-7, which is present in the fruit of the yellow hawthorn and has many healthy properties. In general, our diet has too much Omega-6. This is the reason why, it would be better to consume less quantity of red meats and grains and increase the intake of fish, as well as algae and krill or fish oil. The main field of research in the world of dietary supplements is focused on Omega-3 due to the overwhelming evidence of its capacity to prevent many diseases and deter many causes of premature death.
The key to coronary disease is not in the quantity of cholesterol, but in der type of fat that is consumed.
In another study published by the American Journal of Clinic Nutrition in 2013, children that consumed from the beginning Omega-3 dietary supplements attained better results when learning rules and vocabulary, as well as in IQ tests at the age of 3 to 5. If you wish to choose an animal source of Omega-3, most of the benefits for one’s health related to it are linked to animal EPA and DHA and not to the ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) which is of vegetable source. Yolk egg has EPA and DHA, as well as cholesterol and choline.
The main cause of cardiovascular damage is the inflammation produced in the arteries by the free radicals, bad quality fats, radiations, cigarettes, excessive carbohydrates, and stress.
In the book Healing is Voltage by Dr. Jerry Tennat (Ophthalmology doctor by Harvard University), it is explained through many studies that the key to coronary disease does not lie in the quantity of cholesterol but in the kind of fats that one consumes. It is pointless, and many times counterproductive, to bring the cholesterol down to levels lower than 200, especially if it is done through medication, which is itself never free of side effects.
As a conclusion, the main cause of cardiovascular disease is the inflammation produced in the arteries by the free radicals, bad quality fats, radiations, cigarettes, excessive carbohydrates, and stress; the latter being due to an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system caused by the increase of the sympathetic tone (stress) along with the low parasympathetic tone (relaxation). In short, we need to take again to the real Mediterranean diet and lead a more peaceful life in order to reduce the first cause of mortality in the West.