A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that consuming saturated fat is not associated with cardiovascular disease. Never mind the usual problem of noticing an association and then confusing it with cause and effect … these researchers say there’s not even an association:
A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.
A meta-analysis basically means they studied other studies and evaluated the data. Man, this news must come as a total shock to most nutrition researchers. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s ever come up with similar results before.
Uh, wait … actually I seem recall plenty of similar results. Not even a year ago, researchers who published a meta-analysis study in the Archives of Internal Medicine had this to say:
Strong evidence supports valid associations (4 criteria satisfied) of protective factors, including intake of vegetables, nuts, and “Mediterranean” and high-quality dietary patterns with CHD, and associations of harmful factors, including intake of trans-fatty acids and foods with a high glycemic index or load.
Cool … vegetables and nuts may be protective. I like vegetables and nuts. Trans fats are bad — no surprise there. And wouldn’t you know it: foods with a high glycemic index or load are associated as “harmful factors.” That would be sugar and starch.
But what’s really interesting is the association they didn’t find:
Insufficient evidence (2 criteria) of association is present for intake of supplementary vitamin E and ascorbic acid (vitamin C); saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids; total fat; -linolenic acid; meat; eggs; and milk.
No associations for total fat, saturated fat, or consuming meat, eggs and milk. These, of course, are the foods the anti-fat hysterics have spent 30 years hectoring us to give up.
Those studies are recent, but they’re hardly the first to exonerate saturated fat in the mysterious case of Who Gave Uncle Herman A Heart Attack. Here’s the conclusion of a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007:
Our findings suggest that diets lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein and fat are not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease in women. A higher glycemic load was strongly associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
So we’re back to sugar and starch. And here are some quotes from a paper titled The low fat/low cholesterol diet is ineffective, published in the European Heart Journal in 1997:
Remarkably, no primary prevention trial of sufficient size or sensitivity to examine the effect of a low total and saturated fat diet alone has ever been conducted. All six primary prevention trials involved alteration of one or more other risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure and exercise. Curiously, the third and most recent of these small studies actually showed a significant adverse effect on coronary and total mortality.
In other words, more people died — from heart disease or otherwise — in the low-fat group. I don’t think it’s all that curious. But, to continue:
The MRC study followed 252 men randomized to a very low fat diet or no change in diet over three years: the low fat diet was poorly tolerated but achieved a 10% reduction in cholesterol. There was no difference in the rate of reinfarction or death and the researchers concluded that the low fat has no place in the treatment of myocardial infarction.
The commonly-held belief that the best diet for the prevention of coronary heart disease is a low saturated fat, low cholesterol is not supported by the available evidence from clinical trials.
I guess the anti-fat hysterics missed that paper. And they probably missed this analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative study as well:
Over a mean of 8.1 years, a dietary intervention that reduced total fat intake and increased intakes of vegetables, fruits, and grains did not significantly reduce the risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD in postmenopausal women and achieved only modest effects on CVD risk factors, suggesting that more focused diet and lifestyle interventions may be needed to improve risk factors and reduce CVD risk.
You gotta love the way some scientists explain away results they don’t like. Notice the last part of the conclusion: Uh … gee, uh … well, it’s not that the low-fat diet theory is wrong or anything, you see, it’s just, uh … we may need more focused diet and lifestyle changes.
I could quote more studies, but you get the idea. The once high-flying theory that fatty diets cause heart attacks and low-fat diets prevent them has been shot down over and over by the evidence. So naturally, some of today’s researchers still come to the obvious conclusion: We need to produce fake pig meat to prevent heart disease.
Okay, technically that isn’t the reason scientists are trying to produce pork from stem cells. The main reason given in the online article is to
turn pig stem cells into strips of meat that scientists say could one day offer a green alternative to raising livestock, help alleviate world hunger, and save some pigs their bacon.
Well, if it keeps third-world populations from living on starches, I guess that would be an improvement. But please, let’s not confuse this stuff with real meat. Check out how they’re producing pork in a lab:
To make pork in the lab, Post and colleagues isolate stem cells from pigs’ muscle cells. They then put those cells into a nutrient-based soup that helps the cells replicate to the desired number. So far the scientists have only succeeded in creating strips of meat about 1 centimeter (a half inch) long; to make a small pork chop, Post estimates it would take about 30 days of cell replication in the lab.
I think I’ll pass on the stem-cell bacon. Meat isn’t nutritious just because it’s meat; it’s nutritious because of what the meat eats when it’s still alive and wandering around on hooves: grass and bugs and other foods created by Mother Nature. A lot of that good nutrition ends up in the fat. But of course, some researchers are convinced we need to alter that fat:
There are tantalizing health possibilities in the technology. Fish stem cells could be used to produce healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which could be mixed with the lab-produced pork instead of the usual artery-clogging fats found in livestock meat. “You could possibly design a hamburger that prevents heart attacks instead of causing them,” Matheny said.
Amazing. After all the research disputing the theory that saturated fat causes heart attacks, we’re still hearing about artery-clogging saturated fat. Yes, perhaps we should put technology to work on that. We could manufacture something better … just like when corn-oil margarine replaced butter. Fortunately, the reporter had the good sense to talk to someone who believes in real food:
Some experts warn lab-made meats might have potential dangers for human health. “With any new technology, there could be subtle impacts that need to be monitored,” said Emma Hockridge, policy manager at Soil Association, Britain’s leading organic organization… She also said organic farming relies on crop and livestock rotation, and that taking animals out of the equation could damage the ecosystem.
That’s one of the concepts explained so brilliantly in Lierre Keith’s book The Vegetarian Myth: the soil needs animals. It doesn’t need stem cells raised in a nutritive soup, and it certainly doesn’t need the animals to go away.
And frankly, some of those possible “subtle effects” are worrisome. A couple of times in my life, I’ve put my foot into a slipper only to find a roach had taken up residence there. Both occasions produced a reaction known colloquially as “screaming like a girl.”
Now imagine some renegade stem cells escaping from the meat laboratory and merging with other live hosts. Years from now, I could stick my foot into my slipper and end up with some half-roach, half-pig thing grabbing my toe and oinking at me furiously as I try to kill it with a newspaper.
Then I really would have a heart attack.
p.s. — I’ll be out of town this weekend. If I’m slow to deal with comments, that’s why.