Saturated fat is not the cause of weight gain, diabetes or heart disease, according to scientific research touting the benefits of high-fat, low-carb diets such as the ketogenic, Atkins and Paleo diets.
The true cause of obesity, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and diabetes is a high-carb diet, especially one high in sugar. That's what investigative writer Nina Teicholz posits in her book, The Big Fat Surprise.
"Fat generally — and saturated fat specifically — came to be blamed for causing heart disease, obesity and cancer," Teicholz said in an interview with obesity expert Dr. Frank Lipman, author of Revive.
"Eventually this unfounded belief became ingrained as our national dogma. Saturated fat is really not bad for health. The most rigorous diet trials clearly show that a high-fat, low-carb diet is better for fighting obesity, diabetes and heart disease."
40-Year Demonization of Fat Was Based on Flawed Science
Nina drew her conclusions after conducting a nine-year investigation. She said the longstanding belief that saturated fat is unhealthy stemmed from flawed scientific research, namely from the Seven Countries Study conducted by vegetarian scientist Ancel Keys.
In 1958, Keys proclaimed that a high-fat diet caused cardiovascular disease after concluding that the nations with the highest rates of heart disease consumed the most fat.
Later analysis revealed that Keys had cherry-picked his data, leaving out countries where people ate a high-fat diet but did not have heart disease, as well as countries where heart disease was high despite a low-fat diet. "I was shocked to find there were egregious flaws in the science that has served as the foundation of our national nutrition policy," said Teicholz.
But a sea-change is afoot, as more medical experts reject the low-fat diet dogma promoted by Conventional Wisdom and underscore the health benefits of low-carb, high-fat diets such the ketogenic and Atkins diets.
LCHF Diets Aid Weight Loss and Prevent Cancer
Dr. Jeff Volek, a professor at the University of Connecticut, is a pioneer in the low-carb, high-fat diet movement who said a LCHF diet promotes optimal health, for both elite athletes and the average sedentary individual.
By drastically reducing carbs in our diet and replacing them with healthy, unprocessed fats, Dr. Volek said we accelerate weight loss, boost fat-burning, experience more stable blood sugar levels, and ward off degenerative conditions such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, and diabetes.
"Carbohydrate restriction is the proverbial ‘silver bullet’ for managing insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes," Dr. Volek told me.
Because dietary fat has a negligible impact on insulin, it doesn't produce surges in our blood glucose and insulin the way carbs do. More importantly, unprocessed fat does not fuel inflammation, which causes aging and leads to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and even cancer.
Cancer scientist Dr. Dominic D'Agostino recently told me the LCHF ketogenic diet has proven more effective than drugs at managing epilepsy-induced seizures. What's more, the ketogenic diet can prevent and manage cancer because cancer is a metabolic disease, and cancer cells thrive on sugar.
"Most cancer scientists have historically thought cancer was a genetic disease, but only 5-10% of cancer is hereditary," said D'Agostino, who has a Ph.D. in physiology and neuroscience. "When we restrict carbs in our diet, we can prevent pro-inflammatory spikes in blood glucose and blood insulin. Suppression of blood glucose and insulin spikes can be very helpful when managing many chronic diseases."
'Carbs Are Devastating for the Brain'
While the idea of consuming more dietary fat may sound shocking given the low-fat diet mantra that has dominated SAD (the Standard American Diet), Dr. Volek said we actually evolved to thrive on a low-carb, high-fat diet.
"For about 98% of human history, we've been eating low-carb," said Dr. Volek, author of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. "We evolved in a state of nutritional ketosis."
Eating more healthy fats and fewer carbs also has neuroprotective benefits, said neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain. According to Perlmutter, we can prevent — and even reverse — dementia, ADHD and Alzheimer's disease by following a low-carb, gluten-free Paleo diet.
"The idea that people are nutritionally deprived because they don't eat grain has no scientific basis," he told me. "Carbs are devastating for the brain. 'Grain Brain' closely resembles the Paleo diet, which mimics our ancestors' eating habits and is comprised of foods people have eaten for two million years – mainly plants, fruits and meat."
Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat
Teicholz, a former vegetarian, has seen the positive impact a low-carb, high fat diet has had on her own health. She said she struggled to lose weight on low-fat diets, but was able to shed 10 pounds without exercise simply by increasing her consumption of healthy fats and reducing her carb intake.
I was a faithful follower of the low-fat, near-vegetarian diet, but when I started writing a restaurant review column, I found myself eating things that had hardly ever before passed my lips: rich meals of pâté, beef, cream sauces and foie gras. To my surprise, I lost the 10 pounds that I hadn’t been able to shake for years, and to boot, my cholesterol levels improved."
Teicholz echoed the sentiments of science journalist Gary Taubes, who argued that fat has been wrongly blamed for obesity and other diseases for the past 40 years. Taubes detailed the research in his bestseller, Why We Get Fat.
With new reports confirming that unprocessed saturated fat is good for you, Dr. Volek is confident more people will embrace the low-carb, high-fat eating plan and seize control of their health through diet.
"It's an exciting time," said Dr. Volek, co-author of A New Atkins For a New You. "There's a lot of momentum. I think the pendulum is swinging in the right direction."