The end of a debate? Fat chance.

heart diseaseThe bloggers are abuzz about a paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine that after reviewing 72 major studies found no relationship between saturated fat intake and heart disease. The reaction was predictable. On the one hand we have the bacon and doughnut lovers who see this info as a license to indulge with impunity, while on the other hand we have the sprout worshippers who refuse to accept the validity of the data.

As anyone who has followed the nutritional research over the last couple of decades knows, both sides are wrong. There has been way too much emphasis on manipulating specific dietary components, too much concern about ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, too many worries about how many eggs we should consume and too much discussion about whether we should drink green tea or black. The importance of such dietary changes has been exaggerated. Yes, what we eat is surely one of the determinants of health, but only one. The most consistent and reproducible beneficial dietary alteration is to reduce caloric intake. Studies in rodents, dogs and primates have shown that caloric restriction leads to greater longevity. The main problems with the western diet is that we just eat too much. Especially sugar.

Cutting back on fat is still important but probably more for reducing caloric intake than for reducing cholesterol. The general advice is still to eat mostly vegetables, fruits and whole grains but there’s no need to be neurotic about the type of fat being consumed. Except of course for trans fats, which everyone agrees should be avoided. And don’t forget an apple a day. You can, however, forget about the Environmental Working Group’s ramblings about the risks of eating apples grown with the aid of conventional agrochemicals.

Joe Schwarcz

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