Heart disease, fat, butter

Heart Disease: Get The Fats Straight

From the mid 70ʼs to late 90ʼs, saturated fat was increasingly blamed for obesity.

Fat is the macronutrient with the most calories (9kcal/gram), so the explanation seemed simple:

Eat More Calories Gain More Weight. Plus, who could argue with dietary fat becoming body fat? Unfortunately, this was far from accurate. Over the next 30 years, obesity more than doubled and diabetes tripled.


Body Mass Index (BMI) is not the greatest biomarker for body fat, but those with an obese BMI (> 30) approached 40% in the year 2000, and when you include the overweight population (BMI > 25) this jumps to more than 65%! Factor in those with an average BMI, but a high composition of fat to muscle (a.k.a skinny fat), and I think itʼs fair to say that:

Eating less fat made us all fat!

So Why Do We Still Choose Low Fat?

Because the majority of the population still believes that saturated fat causes heart disease. We can picture a big slab of butter-coated red meat clogging up our arteries with ease, because itʼs been hammered into our heads for most of our lives. Especially for the baby-boomers, who were at an impressionable age when the heart disease and saturated fat connection was first made. It all started with The Seven Countries Study from Ancel Keys in the early 70ʼs.

According to the results:

  • Americans ate the most fat and had the highest rate of death from Heart Disease
  • Japanese ate the least fat and had the lowest rate of death from Heart Disease


I guess Ancel was trying to make a name for himself, as he conveniently forgot to mention that data was actually collected from 22 countries. When all countries were included, there was clearly no association.

For instance: Finland and Mexico ate similar amounts of fat, yet the death rate from heart disease was 24 times higher in Finland. 

Sadly, the flaws in the original study were never communicated in the years that followed, and any conflicting evidence was conveniently buried or heavily scrutinized. As best-selling author and nutrition expert, Johnny Bowden puts it: “Low-fat is the flat-earth theory of human nutrition”

It wasnʼt until the late 90ʼs that the truth began to surface, and it took an additional 10 years before scientists could finally produce unquestionable evidence that the two were unrelated. Several studies were published in 2009 and 2010 that finally put Keysʼ Fake Fat Research to rest.

A 2009 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed 21 studies, covering saturated intake from over 350,000 people, and found no association with heart disease!

Unfortunately, many continue to follow the low-fat guidelines that promote an increase in carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fatty-acids (PUFAs).


Butter became margarine, coconut oil became canola oil, and more sugar was added. A dream for food producers who could use cheaper oils and get support from the government to do so. Better yet, they could slap a ʻlow-fatʼ or ʻfat-freeʼ sticker on a bag of chips, loaf of bread, or box of cereal and market the product as ʻhealthy.ʼ

Aside from making two-thirds of the population overweight and one-third diabetic, the increase in high-glycemic carbohydrates and PUFA oils, and restriction or elimination of saturated fat, has contributed to an increase in degenerative disease – which ironically includes those of the heart.

Excess Carbohydrates Increase Body Fat & Triglycerides

Generally, when there is a reduction in one thing, there is an elevation in something else. For most Westerners, the gap from a lack of saturated fat has been filled with high-glycemic (or high-sugar) carbohydrates.


Saturated fat is very satiating (filling), so the amount of carbohydrates necessary to make up the difference has been excessive. These high-glycemic grains and starches produce unpleasant drops in blood sugar that make us hungry when we shouldnʼt be, and have addictive properties that make us want more and eat more. When consistently eaten in excess they lead to chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, that make us store fat instead of burning it.


More importantly, as our body gets comfortable with frequent sugar consumption and insulin secretion, we lose receptor sites on our cells. Over time, this increases our level of insulin resistance (or carbohydrate intolerance), which means thereʼs a higher likelihood that what we eat is converted to fat in our blood, or fat on our body. Although fat on the body increases our risk of heart disease quite a bit on itʼs own, the real problem is the fat in our blood (Triglycerides).

Those with High Triglycerides and Low HDL Cholesterol have a 6 times greater risk of heart attack.

Since saturated fat raises HDL cholesterol, the longer someone continues to favor low-fat starchy carbohydrates over saturated fat, the worse their Triglycerides-to-HDL ratio gets.

Excess Carbohydrates Elevate Small-Dense LDL Cholesterol (Type-B)

Although conventional wisdom has us believing that all LDL cholesterol is harmful,
there are two types and only one is damaging:

  • Small dense (type-B)
  • Large fluffy (type-A)

Small dense LDL cholesterol particles (type-B) are the only harmful variety, as they are more likely to lodge themselves in arterial walls.

Research from 1988 in the Journal of the American Medical Association determined that type-B (small dense) LDL cholesterol particles were three times more likely to cause heart disease than type-A (large fluffy).

As nutrition and health expert Chris Kresser puts it, you can think of the large fluffy LDL cholesterol particles like a beach ball, and the small dense LDL cholesterol particles as a pellet from a BB gun. Only one breaks a window on contact, like only one damages your arteries. Other than being more likely to cause atherosclerosis because of their size, small dense LDL cholesterol particles (type-B) are more likely to inflict damage via

A large prospective study in the journal Circulation in 2005 determined that participants with high oxidated LDL cholesterol had 4.25 times the risk of a heart attack than those with low oxidated LDL cholesterol.

Eating more carbohydrates and less saturated fat promotes the transition from type-A to type-B LDL cholesterol. And perhaps worse, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils (PUFAs) increases their likelihood of oxidation.

Excess PUFAs Oxidize LDL Cholesterol

Canola oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, and corn oil, are all polyunsaturated fatty acids (or PUFAʼs). Theyʼre use has skyrocketed in the last 50 years as an alternative to saturated fat, with soybean and canola oil increasing the most


The biggest problem with PUFAs is that theyʼre very unstable (unpaired electrons), which makes them highly susceptible to heat, light, and oxygen. When exposed, these highly unstable fats oxidize, and damage all types of cells in our body. This not only accelerates aging, but it can increases ones risk of cancer and other degenerative diseases.

When LDL cholesterol particles are oxidized or damaged, they get deposited on the walls of our arteries and attract cells called macrophages. These Pac-Man-like macrophages gobble up everything in site, and form ʻfoam cellsʼ that eventually produce an arterial plaque. Interestingly, the part of the oxidized LDL cholesterol particle that transforms the macrophages into foam cells is the oxidized version of lineolic acid – the PUFA found in vegetable oil.

Basically, the low-fat recommendations have increased the number of small dense LDL cholesterol particles because of excess carbohydrates, and made them highly susceptible to oxidation because of reactive PUFAs.

Excess PUFAs Promote Inflammation

The 2nd problem with the PUFAs used in place of saturated fat is that theyʼre very high in omega-6 fatty acids. When over-consumed, these pro-inflammatory omega-6ʼs outnumber our anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and raise our risk of developing a chronic disease. To understand the impact from this dietary change, take a look at the average omega 6:3 ratio since 1930:

  • 8:1 from 1930-1935
  • 10:1 from 1935-1985
  • 12:1 in 1985 alone
  • 25:1 in 2009!

The ratio more than doubles (12:1 to 25:1) in 25 years, after being fairly consistent for 50, which parallels the demise of saturated fat. The information becomes more impactful when you understand that a healthy ratio is less than 4:1, and our hunter-gatherer ancestors (that were virtually disease free) maintained a ratio of 1:1!

Saturated Fats Are Not Harmful

For hundreds of thousands of years, we thrived averaging 50% of our total calories from animal foods.

“The preshistoric humans of North America frequented animals such as camel, bison, mammoth, mountain sheep, bear, wild pig, beaver, elk, mule deer, sloth, and antelope, what weʼd refer to as ʻvery fatty meatsʼ today.”

Not only were these fatty meats a dietary staple, but when you analyze the fat composition of these animals, theyʼre very high in saturated and monounsaturated fats, and extremely low in polyunsaturated fats. Which is very similar to the composition of our own body fat.

Approximately 55% of human fat tissue is monounsaturated, 42% saturated, and a mere 3% polyunsaturated.


Knowing this, does it seem logical to eliminate saturated fat and consume nearly 30% of our calories from polyunsaturated oils? Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) raises our risk of heart disease by increasing small dense LDL cholesterol (type-B), decreasing HDL Cholesterol, and promoting inflammation and oxidation. A prime example of this can be seen in India, where the switch from saturated fats like coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) to polyunsaturated fats like peanut and safflower oil, has given them one of the highest heart disease rates in the world (when they used to be the lowest!).

As researchers Jeff S. Volek and Cassandra E. Forsythe write in a 2005 paper in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism:

“The recommendation to intentionally restrict saturated fat is unwarranted and only serves to contribute to the misleading rhetoric surrounding the health effects of saturated fat.”

Saturated fats are more stable than polyunsaturated fats because they have no un-paired electrons, and are therefore less likely to cause arterial damage. Unlike PUFAs, they also raise HDL cholesterol, which is associated with better heart health at higher levels, and promote the transition from small damaging LDL cholesterol particles (BB pellet) to big fluffy beneficial ones (Beach Ball).

A 2004 study from the Harvard School of Public Health studied fat intake on the progression of atherosclerosis (heart disease). They found that the group eating the most PUFAs had the worst outcome, and when more saturated fat was eaten, the less the disease progressed. In fact: The group eating the highest amount of saturated fat reversed the atherosclerosis!

Clearly, the government and medical community need to:

Get The Fats Straight

A 1994 paper in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, discussed how North Americans are at a far greater risk of heart attack and stroke because of a negative shift from a Pattern A to Pattern B cholesterol profile:

  •  Pattern A – low levels of small dense LDL cholesterol, and high levels of large buoyant LDL and HDL cholesterol
  • Pattern B – high levels of small dense LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and low levels of HDL

This shift stems from replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils, and filling the hunger gap with excessive high glycemic carbohydrates. In an attempt to eliminate the one-thing we were misled to believe was causing heart disease (saturated fat), we supplied alternatives that were more detrimental. Fortunately, you can transition back to Pattern A and improve your heart health by following the 4 Steps below:

Step 1 – Eat Low-Carb, Not Low-Fat – Any excess glucose we consume on a daily basis that isnʼt burned immediately, or stored as glycogen, is converted to body fat and triglycerides. Since all carbohydrates become glucose, the best way to improve your heart health is to eat less carbohydrates. The lower your carbohydrates intake, the more weight you lose and the higher percentage of it is fat!

Step 2 – Cook With Coconut or Palm Oil – Other than brain boosting and fat busting benefits, the reason to favor these tropical oils for cooking is because theyʼre extremely saturated. Meaning any chance of oxidation from heat is minimized.

Step 3 – Flavor With Full-Fat Dairy – When consumed in itʼs full-fat form, dairy consumption does not raise heart disease risk, and is more likely to lower it. Not to mention, dairy fat provides a heavy dose of cancer-preventing CLA and gut-supporting Butyrate.

Step 4 – Dress With Olive or Avocado Oil – Unlike nuts and seeds, the oils from these fruits are less likely to oxidize because theyʼre easy to extract and less unstable. Plus, theyʼre packed with nutrients and antioxidants, that have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, boost metabolism, and protect the liver from oxidative stress.

Stay Lean!

Coach Mike

Would you like to know more about Mike Sheridan? You can buy his books over at Amazon.com