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Paper Denying Link Between Saturated Fats and Heart Attacks Criticized

A recent headline-making medical journal paper claiming that reducing intake of saturated fats in animal products does not prevent heart attacks (Ann Intern Med, March 17, 2014;160(6):398-406-406) has been corrected, although the authors were allowed to state their opinion. Walter Willett, the chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard says: "It is good that they fixed it for the record, but it has caused massive confusion and the public hasn't heard about the correction. The paper should be withdrawn."

The Study
Researchers at Cambridge University in England reviewed 72 studies covering more than 600,000 people from 18 countries and found no heart attack prevention from reducing intake of saturated fats in animal products (this disagrees with the what most scientists believe), and no heart attack prevention from taking increased amounts of monounsaturated fats such as olive oil (this also disagrees with what most scientists believe). The authors feel that there is not enough evidence to state that heart attacks are prevented by restricting consumption of saturated fats (in meat) or taking in large amounts of polyunsaturated fats (such as omega-3 and omega-6 in fish and vegetables).

The lead author, Dr. Chowdhury, says "It’s the high carbohydrate or sugary diet that should be the focus of dietary guidelines." The bad LDL cholesterol is raised more by sugar and flour. Dr Alice H Lichtenstein of Tufts University writes that the authors found no benefit from reducing saturated fats because replacing saturated fat (in meat) with polyunsaturated fat (in plants) reduces heart disease risk, whereas replacing saturated fat (in meat) with refined carbohydrate (sugar, bakery products, pastas and potatoes) does not prevent heart attacks.

What is Wrong with this Study
Dr Eric B Rimm of Harvard School of Public Health says "the results are in serious question." When you reduce saturated fats in meat, you have to eat something else. Replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrates means that you are replacing one type of unhealthful food (red meat) with another unhealthful type of food (sugars and other refined carbohydrates). Saturated fat is no better or worse than eating white bread. When you substitute sugar, bread and pasta for red meat, you form small cholesterol particles that cause heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. You also raise your blood sugar to increase risk for diabetes, cancers and premature death.

My Recommendations
It is established that eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables helps to prevent heart attacks. You should eat plenty of the foods that are typical of the Mediterranean diet, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, avocado, high-fiber whole grains and olive oil. The current data show that the best diet for preventing heart attacks involves:
• eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans,
• restricting red meat, processed foods, partially hydrogenated fats, fried foods and refined carbohydrates, particularly drinks with sugar and foods with added sugars.

April 6th, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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