The good news – Statistics and studies now show that the saturated fats and dietary cholesterol found in butter, eggs, meat, and full fat dairy do not cause heart disease. In fact, research indicates that in moderate amounts, they may actually be good for our health. For over 5 decades, saturated fats and cholesterol have been touted as the main dietary culprits believed to cause clogged arteries and heart attacks. As a result of recommendations made in 1980 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reduce dietary cholesterol and fats in our diets, butter consumption in the United States has declined by over 75%. That same year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concurred with the USDA and issued dietary guidelines that recommended all Americans over the age of two eliminate dietary saturated fats and cholesterol containing foods.
The result – Not what we hoped. Americans are sicker and more obese than ever. Type 2 diabetes has increased 166% and cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States.
The not so good news – Even though death rates from heart disease have fallen, more than one third of Americans are now obese. Factor in the overweight and that number rises to more than two thirds of the population. Many experts attribute falling cardiac death rates to better emergency care, the widespread use of cholesterol-lowering statin medications and certain lifestyle changes, such as less smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1990 through 2010 there was a dramatic increase of obesity in the United States. Since the 1970’s, obesity rates have more than doubled for both adults and children. So, we are exercising more and watching our fat intake yet the rates of largely preventable obesity-related health conditions, which include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, have risen dramatically.
Changing the mindset along with dietary guidelines – Along with the recommendations for a low fat diet, came an explosion of seemingly healthy low-fat processed foods. As a result of the availability of relatively inexpensive convenience foods, recommendations to replace dietary fats with more vegetables and fruits went largely unnoticed. In order to make these low-fat foods tasty and appealing, manufacturers added more sugar, trans-fats, hydrogenated oils and sodium to their refined carbohydrate products. Many nutritionists, doctors and scientists now believe the argument against dietary saturated fat was significantly flawed. Current research suggests that it’s the overconsumption of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugars and sweeteners that are responsible for both the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics. Statistics show that 95% of Americans’ diets consist of 70% processed foods. A typical American grocery store now stocks over 30,000 processed food items. To improve our health we need to reduce our consumption of processed foods and replace them with quality whole foods. Convincing Americans to change their eating habits will not happen quickly, as processed foods are convenient, inexpensive and are designed to taste delicious. Many are actually formulated to be addictive, leaving us constantly wanting more, while steadily increasing our waistlines and damaging our health.
In addition – Butter substitutes, that consisted largely of processed and hydrogenated oils and artificial trans-fats, replaced real butter on our breakfast and dinner tables. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine now recommends keeping trans-fat consumption to a minimum. In fact, if you want to reduce your risk factors for coronary heart disease, they should be eliminated entirely. Reliable studies show that these fats not only raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol, they are also contributing factors in the development of arteriosclerosis. As a result of these recommendations, plus increased public awareness, proposed nutrition label changes and state and local government restrictions, the food industry has made efforts to reformulate many processed foods. However, countless foods, including fried foods, margarines, frozen pizzas, microwave snacks, cookies and other foods, are still major dietary contributors of artificial trans-fats, added sugars and hydrogenated oils.
In conclusion – If you want to add years to your life along with life to your years and get the benefit of an 80% reduction in risk factors for chronic disease, eat a wholesome diet consisting of largely plant-based foods. Replace processed food with home cooked food and reduce consumption of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and refined grains. Include large amounts of vegetables, a low to moderate amount of fresh fruit and high-quality protein and eat healthy fats as found in dairy, eggs, avocados, nuts, coconuts, seafood and preferably grass-fed meats.