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.

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15 Responses to “From A Sow’s Ear?”
  1. Ellen says:

    Nice post, Tom. I’ll take the nature made food over the man made junk. The idiocy of these people gets to such a ridiculous stage, I have to just ignore it. I mean, how many times can you point out the obvious to an idiot?

    It’s interesting to me that these meta-analysis are starting to appear more often.. makes me think that maybe the evidence against the idiocy is getting strong enough to dent those hard heads. Let the back-peddling begin..

    I hope it makes a dent, but those seem to be some pretty hard heads.

  2. Matt Stone says:

    Those hard heads aren’t going to be dented. Saturated fat has come a long way in repairing damage over the last decade, but the recent developments are just a drop in a really big bucket. A bitch-slap with real science has never been much of a match for dogma, especially when it’s so thoroughly supported by agribusiness, pharmaceutical companies, and the food and beverage industry. In a world where Bernanke is named man of the year, Monsanto is named company of the year, and Obama wins the Nobel Peace prize, you know we’ve got a lot of idiocy left to sort through.

    When you put it that way, I guess there is a certain disconnect between reality and perception. I guess Tiger will be named husband of the year, and then we can all go home.

  3. Ailu says:

    BWAHAHAHAHA! OMG, the pic in my RSS Reader was FULL SIZE and took up the WHOLE SCREEN. HAHAHA. Oh my. Funny thing is, I have no idea what this article is about… oh yeah, pork. HAHAHAHA. Um, guess I better read it now… You are soo stinkin funny!

    My wife is the Photoshop wiz, so she gets the credit.

  4. Jim Boyle says:

    AP Medical Writer:
    “Fish stem cells could be used to produce healthy omega 3 fatty acids”

    Fish don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids, phytoplankton do, so fish is nutritious because of what the fish eats.

    Bingo. That’s why I want my meat to eat grass.

  5. darMA says:

    After many decades of observation, I came to the conclusion long ago that if mankind disappears from the face of the earth, it’ll be because of his arrogant insistence that he can do much better than mother nature, combined with his unfortunate love of convenience. Plants, animals and humans were doing just fine following nature’s ways before man stuck his clammy little fingers into mother nature’s business and started rearranging, “new and improving” and mucking it all up. I wish today’s scientists could all be forced to hear that old “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” commercial over and over day in/day out until the truth in it sinks in.

    I found this downright scary story from a purported dairy farmer on a forum. I have no idea if it’s the God’s honest truth but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

    “Here’s the biased scoop from my own personal experience. I own an operational 65 cow dairy farm. I used monsanto GMO corn because it did exactly what it said. I could no til plant early in the season, spray with roundup and wait 120 days to harvest. The corn actually increased yield, energy, and profitability… and it worked excellently for 3 years. But then last fall my cows started dying from what looked to be milk fever and ketosis. After necropsy samples were tested at State College i found my herd had fatty liver disease. – which is funny because my cows were not fat. Further testing showed mycotoxins in the liver and kidney – which is funny because I own a closed herd. These mycotoxins did not come from the hay, the grain, or any other site we tested. They came from the corn silage. This mycotoxin did not come from a mold. It came from the corn itself.- which is funny because GMO corn is “safe”. Or so they tell me. I lost 24 cows last fall and nearly went out of business because of Monsanto’s product. Which isn’t very funny.”

    Yup. Our arrogance will kill us. Mother Nature knows what food is supposed to be.

  6. Cathryn says:

    I brought this up to my students last night in my stats class. About how the food industry has lied to us the past 30 years about the low fat/low protein diet. Several of my students informed me that they had to change their diet because of kidney disease, heart disease, and other problems. One student informed me that she kicked grains out of her family’s diet because she noticed that her son would go “bonkers in what his teachers called ADHD” when he ate cereals and breads. So now she feeds him cheese, nuts, fruit, eggs, bacon and “surprisingly, he’s the best kid in class now!”

    Thanks for reiterating what mainstream media doesn’t want us to know.

    We notice the difference with our kids too. I feel sorry for parents who are misinformed.

  7. Trenton says:

    Tom… this is only barely related, but as far as phony foods from unnatural sources go, I thought you would both appreciate and be terrified by this nonsense I saw over at engadget:
    http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/21/the-cornucopia-mits-3d-food-printer-patiently-awaits-the-futu/

    Talk about Yikes!

    Yee-uck.

  8. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease Patty W Siri-Tarino, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu, and Ronald M Krauss
    In case anyone isn’t aware the full text of the Krauss meta analysis is online (PDF) at the above link thanks to Nutrition & Metabolism Society

    Thanks for the links.

  9. Ken says:

    Archives of Internal Medicine:
    “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.”

    Tom…aren’t polyunsaturated fats supposed to be the bad guys, and Omega 3 fats the good guys. According to the above study, both did not appear to have any affect on heart disease.

    What’s interesting is that the results are all over the place. Some studies claimed polyunsaturated oils were protective, others said not. Since most people think they’re good, they may be consumed by a greater proportion of health-conscious people.

  10. Paul451 says:

    A while back Dr. Eades blog had a 40 or 50 year old clip of Jack LaLane telling his viewers “If man made it, DONT EAT IT!”.

    Truer words have never been spoken.

    On a totally different subject…what’s this about Alton Brown on The Food Network losing 45 lbs in 5 months eating mostly sardines?? Hey, that’s low carb, isnt it? Weird. But low carb.

    Sounds low-carb to me.

  11. Ben_P says:

    In case someone hasn’t mentioned it already, sardines are pretty fatty fish.

    The thing that I still don’t get is that little things like facts don’t even get in the way of dogma. Out of all the fats, the mono-unsaturates have been pretty much been shown to be neutral fats, if not protective. Yet pretty much all animal fat, with the exception of dairy, is 50% or more mono-unsaturated. Pork and beef are about 50% mono-unsaturated. Poultry is generally 70% mono-unsaturated. Even the much vaunted olive oil is only about 80% mono-unsaturated.

    I don’t get the point of trying to make animal protein in a lab. They would be better off working on more humane ways of slaughter. Of course we have people like Dr. Temple Grandin who are doing just that.

    Yup, lard is full of monosaturates, and much of what’s not monosaturated will raise your HDL.

  12. Jared Bond says:

    Actually, I’m happy to learn that they are experimenting with growing meat. That’s been my own idea for some time now. I figured, if they’re theorizing about making organs that are good enough to transplant, then wouldn’t those organs be good enough to eat?

    With the ethical issue out of the way, vegetarians would finally have no reason not to eat meat. And it really might come down to that for a lot of people. I myself still feel bad about the animal toll, even if it is “Mother Nature” approved. We humans have something that Mother Nature probably never intended- a heart. The ability to rise above nature’s standards in this case would truly be an amazing thing. If you truly KNEW that the fake meat was nutritionally no different than real meat, would you continue to demand animal sacrifices? Just an interesting thing to think about.

    I understand your mistrust, even downright hatred, of man’s meddling with nature. But as for our current predicament, I see it as not so much a result of our “trust in science”, but more of a result of either negligence or downright conspiracy. I don’t think things had to turn out the way they have, and so often it feels as though there’s a tangible force going AGAINST public interest. The public might be okay with what’s going on because of a “trust in science”, but this is really a misplaced trust in the people who are supposedly using “science” to assure us everything is okay. If we look at the real science, as pointed out again in this blog post, it’s often the opposite of what the “experts” are telling us.

    One of the reasons I’ve been so impressed with the Weston A Price Foundation, despite their call to return to traditional foods and lifestyles, is their respect and hopeful stance towards science and technology. “Technology as Servant, Science as Counselor, Knowledge as Guide”, they have printed on the front of their journal. These things can be very useful, but with caution of course, and in the right hands. I know I would be VERY suspicious if they came out with some kind of grown meat in today’s time, where cheapness would be valued over quality. But I don’t think quality is impossible. It might take a lot of refinement, and maybe even lead to a few new discoveries along the way, but to me it is biologically plausible to make it just as good as real thing. Just think of the precision that is required to control explosions that can smoothly move a car, or to receive and interpret millions of ones and zeros a second to watch a video online. These things were developed and refined over time.

    Creating meat isn’t a horrible idea– at least, not “nutritionally corrected” meat, as Tom posted about recently. It’s just about growing cells. Cells are amazing things that, under the right conditions, will build themselves, along with all of the great nutrition that people need. The problem with “science” today and food manufacturing is that people either don’t know or are purposely disregarding what constitutes a healthy diet. If we ever get the facts straight and have the will to do it right, harnessing nature in order to manufacture food (meat) is a noble goal.

    (Related comic: http://www.angryflower.com/vegeta.gif)

  13. Iain says:

    Thanks for another funny and informative post, Tom. That meta-analysis study you linked to will be especially useful.

    Here’s another fake-meat related link you may find amusing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=1r3tx3IEsN4

    Apparently, the BBC has blocked the video from American audiences. Thanks anyway.

  14. Iain says:

    Oops, sorry about that. Does this one work?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhTTX7FUs5Q

    Also, I noticed this article on the BBC website today (I’m sure they wouldn’t region-lock news articles…):

    Low carb diets like Atkins ‘better for blood pressure’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8478629.stm

    I was surprised to see this because British television is currently flooded with diet shows pushing the low-fat dogma onto depressed obese people. Also there’s a link on the right for an older article “Low-carb diets ‘damage arteries’”.

    The links works now. Hilarious. Is that from a weekly comedy show?

    Yeah, isn’t that something … low-carb lowers blood pressure but damages arteries. What a load of nonsense.

  15. Katie says:

    I know this post is a few years old, but forgive me, I’m just now reading your blog from the beginning. This post really stood out to me for a few reasons. First of all, I have an autoimmune disorder that sometimes effects the heart. I’ve been having some weird symptoms recently that might point to some form of heart disease. Don’t worry, I’m getting it checked out ;) Ok, now on to the second thing: I’m a fat woman. Not super morbidly obese, but still fat. Part of me worries that when I have that appointment, all my doctor will see is a fat woman, and my autoimmune disease will be put on the back of the shelf. In the meantime if I happen to fall over from a heart attack, I’ll just be listed as a statistic. A fat woman who died of a heart attack. “So what if she didn’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol? It’s obvious her weight is what killed her.” I’m not a big fan of doctors. I was in pain and crippled for 10 years. Every doctor I saw told me there was nothing wrong with me, and blamed it on stress or depression (even though I wasn’t stressed or depressed). The only reason I was diagnosed in the first place is because I happened to find the one doctor of the bunch who took me seriously. Anyway, sorry for the long rant. I’m just worried about my heart, and what statistic I’ll be listed under. An overweight American who developed heart disease, or a woman with an autoimmune disorder that affected her heart? It really makes you angry when you sit down and think about it.

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