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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Kinky Fats


NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence -don't ask where the H went) today published it's report on fat. Jane Draper BBC Health Correspondent  has written it about at some length, but both she and NICE, seemed to have missed some of the point and dressed up the issue of Cardiovascular disease prevention as a bit of a 'trojan horse'; the policy of hiding the bad stuff in the good.

In the haste to condemn these products (trans isomer fatty acids) they have lumped them together with saturated fats to the detriment of the report and to health care in general. Science has once more been used as a political ploy to demonise fat as being very bad for all and flies in the face of all the evidence accrued over many years. And, once more, promote a diet high in carbohydrates on the 'eat well' plate of the sister Government propaganda machine, The Food Standards Agency. I have provided a picture of the two unsaturated fat types available. The one with the trans bond is the 'evil' one. The cis bond is the 'good' one, well, up to a point.  And yes we're treated like children again; good and bad used as some sort of scientific term when it isn't.

All of these fats do occur naturally, however trans bonds are generally man made. To enable oils to be used as fats they are partially hydrogenated; that is hydrogen is fired at the molecule to create a structure with a hydrogen atom either side of a double carbon bond (see above). There are none of these naturally occurring, although some forms of trans fats do, they are very small in number or volume, in the food chain of man. These man made fats are there to enable oils to be solid to some degree or other, to prevent them becoming 'rancid', to aid in cooking and to enable storage without refrigeration. They are of course cheaper than butter, which figures quite highly so far as the food industry is concerned and of course they can be said not to be 'saturated', which these days is a big selling point although wrong.

Trans fats are now universally believed, even by me, to be harmful to humans. The very fact that they are generally not natural, should ring alarm bell's in mans diet. But more, they have been associated with most of the diseases that we have been afflicted with, in the last 50 years, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver disease and the inevitable diabetes. What has not been established however, although universally accepted, erroneously I would add, is that saturated fats have any link to any of these ailments. So by linking trans fats to these 'good' fats (bugger, I'm doing it now) terrible dangers lurk.

Saturated fats are naturally occurring. They are the fat on most meats although quite a large number of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats also occur in these (Omega 3's for one). They are lard, dripping or tallow, which was the cooking medium in use until science enabled man to 'tinker' with nature and invent foods that fulfill the almost universal goal of the food industry to make something that looks good, tastes alright but is most of all cheap. And of course there is  butter and its derivatives such as ghee. Until we started to modify or redesign the molecular structure of oils, we were on the whole, quite healthy. Heart disease and Diabetes did not figure highly on the list of  ills that befell humankind. Humans lived for a surprisingly long time, so long as we did not fall to the bacterial and viral diseases such as diphtheria or polio or the plague. Look around a Victorian graveyard and you will see that many lived into their ninety's, or sadly died before the age of five.That we are living longer today is really a bit of an urban myth. Most who actually survived early childhood lived on average as long if not longer than us. So we have increased in number, to push up the averages not increased our longevity
The image shows the difference between the two types and you will see the reason for the title. Unsaturated has a 'kink' where the double bond occurs. The bottom one is that wonder of science, incidentally, Omega 3. It has a cis not a trans bond.  If you boost your intake of this particular one you could live for ever, or so the health lobby tells us. I tend to agree, but not without some reservation.  But, I also would say that grass fed organic meat, is almost as high in PUFA's as is salmon or other oily fish, except of course if it's farmed when it's less. But NICE do not suggest banning that source, any more than they advocate, in this latest misinformed missive, the banning of high fructose corn syrup (which they should), another man made product as dangerous as trans fats but more universally utilised, in the soft drinks industry,  when sucrose was previously (common sugar).

The essence is, that they suggest a reduction in trans fats and saturated fats, such as butter, cream, cheese etc,  by the imposition of tax on these products in the form of VAT (probably). Probably also, some sort of tax on 'fast food', to curb its consumption. The former would decimate the already faltering dairy farmers, especially the organic one's whose cows yield products high in butterfat and form the backbone of what I believe is a healthy diet, and the latter would hit the poorer members of society, who eat an unhealthy diet with large quantities of the rubbish peddled by the likes of companies with Scottish names or with a military ring. Far better to educate than regiment, has always been my view, but NICE and governments of all parties cannot cease to impose rather than cajole, so we tend to end up with the worst policies usually founded in bad or out of date science. They are still telling us to eat '5 a day', lower our saturated fat consumption and have a third of our nutrition from carbohydrates; all policies that have been shown to be worthless or even dangerous.

I quote from renowned Cardiologist, E H Ahrens Jnr, who did support low fat diets at one time but changed his mind; " If the publics diet is going to be decided by popularity polls and with diminishing regard for the scientific evidence, I fear that future generations will be left in ignorance of the real merits, as well as possible faults in any dietary regimen aimed at the prevention of coronary heart disease".

If we are to believe NICE, who allege to be an evidence based advisory and research body, then what is that evidence that links heart disease to saturated fat intake? Simply there is none really, there is largely however the absence of proof. In the presence an unproven hypothesis, rebuttal should sound it's death knell, but in the fat-diet-heart hypothesis, which has been denied any proof of it's existence in many huge and expensive studies since 1948, it suits its defenders to keep trotting out the same unproven drivel over and over again. I could list these endlessly but Mary Enig has succinctly achieved it better than I. One study does stand out though. That of Framingham; the longest in the history of the world. In more than 60 years no link has been found at all, between saturated fat consumption and CVD, despite many efforts to find one. I repeat none.

Even better, fat consumption actually helps to make you thin, as well as enabling the better absorption of fat soluble vitamins and minerals, essential for health. Reduction in our dietary intake,  in the last thirty years has done nothing to achieve the goal of it's propounders, in fact the converse is true. There is in fact, considerable evidence that omission from our diet of saturated fats has gone some way toward increasing levels of obesity, strokes and diabetes. You will notice that I do not include CHD or CVD because these have consistently fallen since the end of rationing in this country. So where they get the figure of 40,000 possible lives saved per year if we eliminate both (they do not attribute numbers to each class of fats), I know not.

Lastly we should look at the 'paradox's'. France is always the top of the list with Switzerland a close second. In these countries saturated fat consumption is the highest and yet despite many parallels with the UK such as blood pressure, exercise, serum cholesterol etc., France has the lowest incidence of CVD in Europe, even though as a percentage of calories they consume over 15% as saturated fats. Does this not tell you something? NICE needs to do the maths. An even better exposition is by Gary Taubes. It's worth a read.

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