Over the past 60 years, western health authorities have been on a rampage to eliminate saturated fat and cholesterol from people's diets. The truth behind these claims is actually quite disturbing.

It really all comes down to third party interests. Recently, an article published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) analyzed internal documents from the 1960s and 70s, which showed how the sugar industry had paid to fund studies showing that fat was dangerous, leaving sugar to be the healthy alternative. [1]

This is disturbing, considering that these same studies have played a major role in defining our modern day health guidelines. It's not surprising that we are experiencing an obesity epidemic. If morally honest and neutral science were at the root of our guidelines, we may not have seen as many sugar filled foods as we may not have seen such an epidemic.

Why blame saturated fat and cholesterol?

I could bore you with the high school chemistry and tell you that saturated fat is a fatty acid variant that has a carboxylic acid group bonded on one end, with no double bonds within the carbon chain. I'll spare you the details.

Saturated fat can be found in natural foods like:

  • Coconut
  • Raw milk
  • Animal meats (pork, beef, chicken, etc.)

Cholesterol is a sterol that is essential to life. Cholesterol is used in the construction of your cells walls (makes the walls flexible) and the production of important hormones such as testosterone, progesterone, estrogens, cortisol and many more.

The war against saturated fat started back when a professor by the name of Ancel Keys began constructing a hypothesis in the 50s on saturated fat and how it contributed to heart disease (clogged arteries). His hypothesis was formed on the basis that he observed how southern Italians lived the longest and had the lowest intake of dietary saturated fat.

The hypothesis claimed that saturated fat contributed to the generation of atherosclerosis (ie. The clogging of your arteries). We now know that this isn't the case and that there are other much more dangerous contributing factors.

This hypothesis led to an entire career in which Keys attempted to prove himself correct. He was notorious for excluding data that didn't fit his criteria. This entire mess is outlined really well in Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

Since these studies were published, the sugar industry has continued to fund studies that demonstrate a false result. This has trickled down to policy change and guidelines that have led us into the mess that we find ourselves in now.

To add to the mess, for some reason, the health community has pushed an anti-cholesterol narrative, even though Keys himself never believed this. His belief was that saturated fat increased LDL cholesterol in the blood which caused atherosclerosis (and eventually heart attacks).

Recent research has shown us that the LDL cholesterol to heart disease connection is not a very reliable predictor of heart disease.

The true culprit

We are still, to this day, told to avoid saturated fat and cholesterol.  We are instead told to eat vegetable products (including vegetable oils). However, vegetable products contain phytosterols which are the plant equivalent of cholesterol. The evidence that phytosterols somehow help you avoid atherosclerosis is limited. Vegetable fats are also very high in the inflammatory Omega-6 fat.

It's important to note that dietary cholesterol has very little effect on your serum (blood level) cholesterol. Most of your cholesterol is regulated internally through processes of recycling. [2]

LDL and HDL cholesterol are measures of the cholesterol stored within blood transporters known as lipoproteins. LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is one of the transporters , so is HDL (High Density Lipoprotein). These transporters are required to move the cholesterol wherever it's needed throughout the body.

Not having these transporters means that the cholesterol can't go anywhere, including not to your artery walls. So measuring the free cholesterol in a person's blood is not very helpful. It's the balance of the lipoprotein transporters that  truly provides some insight.

"The free amount of cholesterol that I measure in your bloodstream or my bloodstream, is as relevant to your heart disease as perhaps your eye color." - Dr. Peter Attia

LDL is not bad cholesterol. All cholesterol is good cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential to life.

Digging deeper into LDL and HDL numbers (which I'll discuss below) help to provide insight into a person's heart disease risk.

Now, the 2 major contributing factors to true heart disease risk are inflammation and insulin resistance. [3]

Insulin resistance (also known as pre-diabetes) is a condition which is developed through abuse of the blood sugar/insulin response mechanism of your pancreas. When you consume carbohydrates (sugar, flour, rice, bread, etc.) your digestive system breaks them down into the simplest carbohydrate molecule, glucose. Glucose then enters your bloodstream and requires insulin to be released to bring the blood sugar levels back down to nominal levels.

After many insulin spikes (eating large amounts of sugar or carbs), the cells build a resistance (or tolerance) to the insulin and require more. Beyond a certain point of resistance, your pancreas can no longer keep up with the demand. This is known as insulin resistance and it can progress to type 2 diabetes.

Increases in inflammation are common in people with insulin resistance. Inflammation is a natural part of the body's immune system. However, having an overactive inflammatory response can result in countless health issues.

Inflammation can be caused by many different sources: Environmental pollutants, allergens, poor diet, injury.

The alternatives to saturated fat that were suggested by government authorities actually increased inflammation. These included whole grains (gluten and herbicide exposure), hydrogenated vegetable oils and low calorie sugar-filled snacks.

The accumulation of insulin resistance and inflammation has an effect on your LDL and HDL. HDL drops and LDL goes up but these numbers have to be viewed more closely.

Something that is consistent with the development of inflammation and has a much higher correlation with heart disease is small dense LDL. This type of LDL is the true bad guy. [4]

Some people may have high LDL but no sign of small dense particles whereas others may have low LDL but a large number of small dense LDL. That's why people with low LDL still experience heart attacks and why athletes have extremely high cholesterol levels (using a lot of body fat for fuel therefor require more transporters) yet have superior health.

It's unfortunate that the tests required to be able to measure small dense LDL are hard to come by. The specific test is referred to as NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance).

Another good indicator of inflammation is a blood marker known as CRP (c-reactive protein). This can be picked up through a regular blood test.


Sure, eating saturated fat will increase your LDL but is that really the true concern? Probably not. Your body needs more HDL and LDL in order to transport more fat soluble molecules throughout the blood. The direct correlation seems to come from small dense LDL.

Dietary cholesterol also has a negligible impact on your blood cholesterol. What should be the concern is chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. Both of which you can fix by cleaning your environment (diet, air quality, injuries, allergies, etc.) .

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[1] The JAMA Network. "Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research". [Online]. Available: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2548255

[2] YouTube. "AHS12 Peter Attia, MD — The Straight Dope on Cholesterol". [Online]. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GDx5sObceI

[3] NCBI. "Adipose inflammation, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease." [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18974244

[4] AHA Journals (Circulation). "Small, Dense Low-Density Lipoprotein Particles as a Predictor of the Risk of Ischemic Heart Disease in Men". [Online]. Available: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/95/1/69

Published by Alaa Allen Elbanna