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

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