This post is in response to Harry's comment on my last post. He wanted more information about how saturated fat isn't evil.
Dietary cholesterol from animals and dairy products has a very small effect on blood cholesterol levels. One can expect dietary cholesterol, no matter how poorly one eats, to make up for roughly 15% of blood cholesterol.
This makes sense. Think about the drugs that block intestinal absorption of cholesterol, like Zetia. Zetia lowers cholesterol levels by roughly 10% to 15%, which is about what would be expected if you blocked dietary cholesterol.
Moreover, as pharmacists and other medical professionals are learning, there's not much evidence to show that Zetia has any mortality benefits. We know from Merck's very own trial that Vytorin does not decrease mortality or reduce plaque size any better than simvastatin alone. In fact, there was a small (but insignificant) increase in plaque size in the Vytorin group.
Enormously high cholesterol levels are still bad for you. However, these levels are are due to the body's overproduction of cholesterol, which is where Statins come in. Statins have established mortality benefits, and they work by decreasing the body's endogenous cholesterol production.
(As an aside- Statins also are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which may also play a huge role in their reduction in mortality. Clearly, when it comes to Statins, lowering cholesterol is only part of the story.)
Now, the question becomes why does the body produce lots of cholesterol. Well, in some people, there'a genetic predisposition for it, i.e. homo- or heterozygous hypercholesterolemia. In other people, the body produces high levels of cholesterol due to our poor diets.
As is well known, cholesterol is vital to the body. It plays an important role in cell membrane integrity. It also acts as an antioxidant in that it cleans up free radicals.
Consuming a diet high in processed sugars, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and rancid fatty acids, our bodies produce more cholesterol. Some of it acts to help clear up our bad diet. However, some of it gets clumped up into the mess and ends up leading to blocked arteries. In this way, high blood cholesterol is more a marker for disease than disease itself.
As for saturated fat...
Modern research is finally starting to shed some light on this too. The following quotes are taken from Wikipedia (which despite what some may say isn’t a bad source for quick information. Obviously, I wouldn’t use it if writing a formal report, but most of the information is from valid sources that are cited in the articles):
“In 2010, a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies including 348,000 subjects found no statistically significant relationship between cardiovascular disease and dietary saturated fat.”
“In 2009, a systematic review of prospective cohort studies or randomized trials concluded that there was "insufficient evidence of association" between intake of saturated fatty acids and coronary heart disease, and pointed to strong evidence for protective factors such as vegetables and a Mediterranean diet and harmful factors such as trans fats and foods with a high glycemic index.. Pacific island populations who obtain 30-60% of their total caloric intake from fully saturated coconut fat have low rates of cardiovascular disease.”
“Mayo Clinic highlighted oils that are high in saturated fats include coconut, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Those of lower amounts of saturated fats, and higher levels of unsaturated (preferably monounsaturated) fats like olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils are generally healthier. However, high intake of saturated dairy fat does not appear to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
We all know this information to be true, but we’ve been mislead so long that we have trouble accepting it.
Here’s another article that contains some interesting information: “http://www.menshealth.com/men/health/heart-disease/saturated-fat/article/a03ddd2eaab85110vgnvcm10000013281eac.”
I’ll just briefly mention a bit from the article about the Masai, a nomadic tribe in Kenya and Tanzania that were studied in the 1960s. They got 60% of their calories from fat and half of that was saturated fat. Despite this, they had an incredibly low incidence of coronary artery disease and very low cholesterol levels. However, when some tribe members moved to Nairobi and began eating a more modern diet, cholesterol levels sky rocketed, despite the reduction in saturated fat.
There are so many other cultures that we wonder how they could eat what they eat and remain so healthy. The French are a classic example of people who eat loads of butter and other sources of saturated fat, and they are some of the healthiest people in the world, and that’s even with them smoking far more than we do. The Japanese eat plenty of shrimp, seafood , and other foods that are very high in cholesterol and saturated fat, and they have a low incidence of heart disease.
When you start piecing the evidence together, it becomes readily apparent that the common medical belief that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol is bad for you is simply wrong. Eating healthy basically comes down to eating whole wheat carbohydrates in place of processed and added sugars. Eat plenty of vegetables, some servings of fruit, and grill, bake, or pan-sear your meats as opposed to frying them. Appropriate portion sizes are also important. It doesn’t matter what you eat if you eat so much of it that you’re 50+ pounds overweight.
It sounds so simple, right? It would be if we weren’t so addicted to high glycemic index sugars and fried food. It’s harder to quit sugary and fried food than it is to stop smoking. Just try, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s an addiction, and it’s very very hard to break. I know how unhealthy this stuff is, and I still have a lot of trouble giving it up, especially when society is not on the same page. If you want to quit smoking, there a bunch of nicotine replacement products and self-help classes you can take. If you want to stop eating junk food, people look at you like there’s something wrong with you, especially if you’re not overweight. When a group of people get together and order a pizza, it’s just about impossible to be that one person who chooses not to eat it for health reasons. Eating these kinds of food are a personal problem, but it’s also a societal problem. Since society is doing nothing to help people change their eating habits, most people will not be able to do it on their own, even if they knew how unhealthy they're being.
Anyway… that was my long-winded explanation as to why saturated fat and dietary cholesterol is not bad for you. You can do more research on your own, and in doing so, I’m confident you’ll come to the same conclusion. It’s the one that makes the most sense. It’s funny how good science usually makes sense.