Years ago, 60 Minutes had a segment on a phenomena called the French Paradox to explain how the French eat a diet high in saturated fats (think of all the cream, cheese and butter they use in their dishes) yet enjoy one of Europe’s lowest incidences of heart disease.
At that time, the paradox was attributed to the French’s penchant for wine consumption, leading wine sellers everywhere to toast 60 Minutes for the 44% increase in wine consumption among Americans.
In addition to increased wine sales, another important effect of this paradox was the beginning of a scientific re-assessment of the hypothesis that consumption of saturated fats leads to heart disease, a hypothesis originally made by one Ancel Keys, on the basis of bad science (bad because data was cherry picked to “prove” a theory) and that was later used as the basis for the low-fat dietary recommendation started in the 1980s.
The reviews of the weak links between saturated fat intake and heart disease was blogged by one of my favourite bloggers, the DietDoctor, who highlighted a graph taken from an NIH study illustrating the weak correlation between heart disease and saturated fat intake.
Actually, the graph shows an actual INVERSE correlation between the two factors, whereby the more saturated fats a country consumes the lower the incidence of heart disease.
So the French, who consume the highest rates of saturated fats in Europe, have the lowest incidences of heart disease, whereas the Azerbaijanis, who consume low rates of saturated fats have high incidences of heart disease.
I don’t have a graph to illustrate this but on the other side of the pond, Americans and Canadians preferred form of fat is industrially made seed oils like soybean, canola and corn oils. These are government-subsidized, genetically modified cash crops that are processed within an inch of their lives. In addition, an oil like canola is heavily treated with pesticides. And because it’s subsidized all of these oils are prevalent in all sorts of processed packaged foods that are the basis of the Standard American Diet.
A stick of butter or a cup of coconut oil, both found in nature, sounds infinitely more appetizing than any of those seed-oils, no?.
Check out this site for more information about the deleterious effects of industrial seed oils like canola.
Back to the study.
Of course, as every well-informed high school science student knows, correlation does not equal causation but as Diet Doctor notes, this type of well-designed study can be used as a starting point to disprove the long-standing theory that saturated fats lead to heart disease, a theory that has been taking a beating in the past couple of years but is still a long way from being dead.
Until that happens, be like the French and use saturated fats like butter, animal fats, cream in your meals.