What if I told you that cholesterol is GOOD and that there is no definitive link between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease? What if I also told you that replacing your breakfast of eggs, bacon, and butter for cereal, milk, juice, and margarine may be placing you at a higher risk of having heart disease?
Many like-minded scientists, doctors, dietitians, and patients believe just that. There is a huge movement going on now aiming to dispel the cholesterol-heart disease hypothesis. In fact, many have created their own network backed by research called THINCS (the international network of cholesterol skeptics).
What is the cholesterol-heart disease hypothesis? If you asked me, I'd say it's one of the driving forces behind our obesity, heart disease, and diabetes epidemic.
It all started with a health scientist named Ancel Keys. In his famous Seven Countries Study in the 1950's, he aimed at finding a link between saturated fat and cholesterol with heart disease. He concluded that the countries which consumed a higher amount of saturated fat and cholesterol had a higher risk of heart disease...and so began the low-fat/fat-free craze in America. Our government was quick to jump on the fat-is-bad bandwagon and in 1956 announced that eggs, lard, butter, and red meat should be limited or even removed from our diet. So we traded our breakfast of eggs, bacon, and butter for a super high carbohydrate (but low cholesterol!) meal of cereal, skim milk, OJ, and toast with margarine. We replaced red meat for tofu and egg whites. We started to consume more carbohydrates than ever in the form of bread, cereal, pasta, and crackers. You better believe Big Pharma and Big Food were all over this with the multi-billion dollar statin drug industry and food industry marketing "heart healthy" grain-based products.
So why has heart disease (also obesity and diabetes) increased DRAMATICALLY over the past 60 years if we are consuming less fat and cholesterol?
Because Ancel Keys had his study all wrong. Most people don't know that there were actually 22 countries in his Seven Countries Study. Either he never learned to count or he hand-picked the countries he wanted to include for the result he wanted. I'm thinking the latter. Also, in his study, he specifically stated that the countries that had the highest percentage of heart disease also consumed the highest amount of carbohydrates from sucrose, aka table sugar. Cholesterol is not the bad guy here. In fact, an article published in the 2009 American Heart Journal found that nearly 3 out of 4 patients hospitalized for a heart attack had "normal cholesterol levels (under 200)".
Cholesterol is good. In fact, it's vital. It's needed for brain development, nerve function, bone health, reproduction, digestion, mood, memory...the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, I think it may take several decades before it's common knowledge that there is no direct link between saturated fat, cholesterol and heart disease. Information is beginning to surface, however. If you've watched the news this week, you might have heard about the proposal for nutrition guidelines to be released later this year. (article on this topic). Cholesterol is no longer considered a nutrient of concern and it's now OK to eat eggs. Whoops.
For more information on this topic, I recommend reading Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore. Happy cholesterol reading!