Saturated fat – could so many experts really be wrong?

Unfortunately, it’s been a while since the last blog post-  on top of all the usual stuff, I’ve been a bit distracted by discovering that we have some damp issues in our holiday cottages which require a wincingly expensive fix.  I’ve realised that the people who should know about damp in old buildings (our surveyor and his ilk, or so I thought) actually don’t, and you can get better advice from a few pamphlets on the internet than from a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I don’t really know why I’m so surprised, given the advice you’ll get on weight loss from your family doctor, but still, it was a bit of a shock.

If you are about to buy an old building (i.e. one with solid walls), be really careful who does the survey, and have a look at this website –

Anyway, my unfortunate close encounter with the ill-advised bodges of mainstream “damp specialists” got me thinking about how often the standard advice that you get from so called specialists is actually rubbish.  I couldn’t help but notice the parallels with mainstream dietary advice.

Although people seem generally more cynical about government advice since the whole financial meltdown thing, I’m still generally greeted with a look of astonishment when I say that it is OK to eat butter.  The idea that saturated fat clogs your arteries is so much a part of our belief system that even I find it hard to eat double cream without picturing gungy globules building up on my artery walls (Rest assured I do still eat the cream!)

You wouldn’t think that we could be told something by so many scientists and government officials and it be wrong!? Surely?

I would argue that it’s perfectly possible that mainstream advice is often wrong, and I think this is a function of human nature and the way that science inevitably progresses, although in some cases there just might be commercial interests involved (did anyone mention statins?)

I studied History and Philosophy of Science at uni (as a welcome break from my mind-numbing engineering degree) and at the time I was naively surprised by how positively unscientific science is.  I had imagined objective, bearded folk in white coats carrying out experiments and diligently analysing the results to find the “truth”.  Of course, it’s not like that – you need a theory first before you can devise an experiment to test it. And then, once you have your nice theory, you start to get just a little bit fond of it and want it to be true, results be damned.

In my coaching training, I learned that we see the world through our own “filters”.  What we see is hugely influenced by what we already believe. It’s not really “seeing is believing” at all, but “believing is seeing”.  If you’re looking for basketball passes, you won’t see gorillas – some of you will know what I mean!

Scientists are primed to see the results that confirm their pet theories, and any data which doesn’t fit tends to be ignored. Often this isn’t a problem because you’ll have other scientists with conflicting theories and in the end the best one wins.

However, what about when a whole scientific community has bought into a belief that is wrong? This is normal and part of science. We thought the sun went round the earth for literally centuries after the detailed star data suggested the opposite.  It was simply not conceivable that the earth went round the sun, so the data had to be manipulated in the most bizarre ways to fit the “known truth”.  Anyone who dared to suggest different would risk being locked up by the church and certainly called a lunatic (possibly posthumously).  Even when you take religion out of the equation, the established scientific community has a huge investment in the status quo because if it changes, suddenly they’re not experts any more.

So, any experiments that don’t fit the popular hypothesis tend to be ignored and those that do are published and cited. For example, from Wikipedia: “a meta-analysis of cholesterol-lowering trials found that trials that were supportive of the lipid hypothesis were cited almost six times as often as those that were not, and although there was a similar number of trials unsupportive of the hypothesis, none of them were cited after 1970, some of the supportive reviews also exclude and ignore certain trials which were less favorable to the hypothesis; this meta-analysis, considering the less-cited trials, found that mortality was not decreased by lowering cholesterol, and that the lowering of cholesterol was unlikely to prevent coronary heart disease.”

This pattern of the “wrong results” being ignored can go on for decades, reinforcing a hypothesis regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

Eventually, when the evidence just becomes too overwhelming to ignore, you get what’s called a “paradigm shift” and a new theory becomes dominant. Old scientists die off and new ones come along who accept the alternative way of thinking.

I believe we are at the beginning of a paradigm shift in relation to saturated fats and health. The established theory just isn’t working.  We’ve done what we were told – reduced saturated fat, increased unsaturated fat, started to eat more “heart healthy grains” and we’re getting fat and ill.   Countless studies have failed to confirm a link between saturated fat and increased mortality. I won’t go into all the evidence here, but it is well explained in this blog post:

Things are starting to change and recently I’ve noticed the even the Daily Mail (bless them) have been publishing articles questioning the dogma.  And luckily, we have the internet! Although there is a lot of rubbish on it, there are also some extremely competent people scrutinising the evidence and actually reading the scientific papers.

Of course, weight is about much more than whether you eat fat or sugar. But saturated fat makes you feel good and it fills you up. It’s hard to get your emotional eating under control if you are still trying to eat a low fat, sugary  breakfast like Special K and having cereal bars, etc for snacks.   Skimmed milk has lost its vitamins and had artificial ones put back in, which can’t be properly absorbed because they are fat-soluble. Your body craves the goodness in fat and if you don’t get that goodness it will make you want to eat more of everything.  If you eat real, unprocessed foods, you are giving yourself a much, much better chance to feel good, stop obsessing about food and be able to get on with your life.

Please do your own research and make your own mind up. There is so much information that I can’t be sure my take on it is right – you need to decide for yourself. If you google “lipid hypothesis”, you’ll find plenty of information.

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is the government advice on saturated fats right or wrong?  NHS advice on saturated fat

14 Responses to Saturated fat – could so many experts really be wrong?

  1. I thought I had better declare my partiality to Roz. However, the fact remains that in my experience, crippling at the time, I learned the bitter truth of what she says. We have a friend, 17 stone and rising, who follows the government advice on fats (keep off) and carbohydrates (eat) and weeps at her continually rising weight. I did the same, obsessively I might say as that is in my character, and my weight soared. I took statins, prescribed free by my GP, and my cholesterol reading plummeted. Soon my muscles ached, I could scarcely walk and I was sunk in deep depression. I was lucky to stop in time.
    If you think your doctor is competent to advise you on diet or knows about statins, forget it. They read the handouts and advise accordingly. As Roz says the Daily Mail is coming round to the reality about diet. And I notice that when statins, a vastly profitably drug, is mentioned their online readers are quick to give their experiences of the destructive effects of that drug.

    • You can read more about this in another blog post “How statins and a low fat diet nearly killed my Dad”

  2. My ethos is the same as Dr Sarah Myhill
    Fat rules
    Meat & fish. Slow cook
    Leafy veg
    ………………Remember BABY mammals need milk!! We don’t!

    • Sounds generally sensible. Big subject re milk – no we don’t need it and the ethics are complicated. But plenty of people in this country seem to get on OK with it from a health point of view. I prefer un-pasteurised and non-homogenised and preferably local and organic because the animal welfare standards are higher.

  3. Your analysis of science is sadly true!
    One of the current ‘scientific truths’ is man made global warming – it is not good for us to pollute the earth with our man made output. However, scientists who dispute man made global warming are castigated and made outcasts – pretty much what you have said above regarding the (un)saturated fats debate. It is a real pity that scientists can’t be truthful but their hands are tied to grants and funding that promotes whatever strain of ‘truth’ the money provider wishes to promote.
    Many adverts state – scientifically proven to…. or even 85% of a very small sample agree with us. The majority of people would accept that. So unsaturated fats, statins are accepted by the majority as necessary for a healthy life .
    My doctor keeps wanting me to take statins – and I have resisted.
    I now enjoy butter and don’t feel guilty about it. (not in excess :-0)
    I understand that we can do very little to control our own cholesterol levels – most of our cholesterol generation is pre-determined by our genes and we can only alter a very small percentage. Is that small amount in our control sufficient to stop arteries clogging up? It is scientifically difficult if not impossible to prove, as we are all so very different! And the experiment to prove it one way or another is abhorrent.

    • Thanks for commenting. Yes, so true about scientists and where their money comes from. So often you see an interesting piece of research and then see who funded it just know it won’t be objective. My partner and I often laugh at adverts that say “85% of 123 women agreed” or something similar. Most people are happy to agree to pretty much anything if you give them some nice free samples of moisturiser! Where’s the control group?! And why the tiny sample size? You just know it’s rubbish!

      The whole cholesterol thing is scary – this obsession with reducing it even though this doesn’t appear to reduce overall mortality. There are some good books though, e.g. Malcolm Kendrick’s. I agree it’s very hard to prove this kind of stuff – there are just too many variables and as you say, you can’t do proper experiments.

  4. Hi Roz,

    I’m not going to comment on the saturated/unsaturated fat issue as I’m currently working on not getting too upset about what “they say” (I’m a recovering expert-addict, now following The Enlighten Programme home study course…). But I did want to say that I completely lost my faith in the medical profession in general and their authority when I attended my doctor for help with weight loss some years back. It was a stretch for me, to visit the doctor when I wasn’t even sick, and shows how desperate I felt for help. What do you think he told me? That, at my level of overweight, I needed to be hungry all the time and sweat for at least an hour and a half a day. This, without knowing anything about my relationship with food, or our family history. He snorted when I asked if I might have an underactive thyroid, and replied “Everyone wants to believe they have an underactive thyroid”, and didn’t even check. (As it turns out, this condition DOES run in the family, as I later found out!). Needless to say, this was my last visit to this particular doctor! Thank you for highlighting these issues, Roz, and sharing them with us.

    • Wow, Louise, that’s terrible. What a horrible experience. It does make me mad! I’m not very surprised though as I’ve heard so many similar stories about doctors, and I’ve found vets to be the same. Fancy not even checking your thyroid function. Idiot!

  5. I went off GPs years ago, long before I realised they are mostly biased towards telling us what crap gov scientists are saying at the time to make as much profit for big pharma as poss. And all the big bosses are in on it and scratch each others backs (gov MPs, big pharma, big business, banks, etc.). they say whatever makes them the most money, and keeps us needing more of it (statins, bloodpressure tablets, etc.)
    I followed a low-fat, high carg etc. diet for a while, and while I did lose some weight, I felt miserable, and was obsessing about food. And then, because of the high sugar etc., I was borderline diabetic for a while; luckily I was doing Roz’s course at the time, and I decided to try eating as naturally and un-processes foods as poss, and ditch the low-fat high-carb regime (all the roughage was making my ibs worse too), and eat more protein and unprocessed fat (butter, meat, etc), but cut out a lot of the junk and sugar (cakes, buiscuits, sweets, crisps), or eat healthier versions of them. My bloodsugar went back to normal within a couple of months, saving me from a life-time of diabetes! I also started seeing alternative health practitioners, such as homeopaths, and more recently a herbalist, and have been coming off prescribed ‘drugs’ bit by bit with their help (such as anti-depresseants), and my health has improved massively, and I’ve also lost quite a lot of weight without even thinking about it anymore.
    My advice re being healthy, a healthy weight, etc., would be, eat food as nature intended it (fresh, organic if poss, unprocessed, some salt and fat is necessary, avoid microwave, listen to what your body wants, ignore gov advice), avoid mainstream meds wherever poss, and use alternative medicine where poss, this has worked wonders for me. And don’t just blindly believe everything gov etc tell you, as the information is biased and incorrect!
    Best wishes, Katherine x

  6. Roz

    I love your analysis of research. You could do a global word ‘replace’ and reproduce the article using ‘rising damp’ instead of ‘fats’ and describe the damp industry perfectly. It exists purely through massive chemical industry lobbying, falsified ‘research’ and instilling fear that if you dont ‘treat’ something with chemicals, your house might sink into a mould ridden quagmire of bloopy mud. We all know the reality is so simple, the solutions easy and non-chemical.
    Pete 🙂

    • Yes, indeed. And my barefoot trimmer has just pointed out it’s the same with horse shoes. There are more and more complicated and expensive shoes on the market, but no shoe can actually cure anything – they just mask fundamental health issues (like low grade laminitis) and make money for the manufacturers. But if you resist veterinary advice to use them, you are told that you’re being cruel to your horse. (E.g. that your horse’s pedal bone will probably pierce its sole and your horse will die a horrible death – honestly, my vet told me something along those lines…)

  7. Dear Roz

    I couldn’t agree more, the only way to good health is to eat real food and enjoy it! Maybe we don’t need milk but I love it have always drank gallons and never had any problems digesting it, I also eat butter and meat with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. I don’t have a weight problem or high colesterol, but I really like reading your blogs and emails so keep them coming, it’s great to hear from intelligent people like you. Thanks!

    • Thanks Hilary! It sounds like you are a great example of sensible eating working well! I’m glad you like the blogs and emails 🙂

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