Call Me a Saturated Fat Guinea Pig

Standard

A few people I follow have been gushing over the article Scapegoats, Saints, and Saturated Fats: Old Mistakes in New Directions by Dr. David L. Katz. The article was a response to the latest admission by medical journals that saturated fat is not the unhealthy fat. Our good doctor says it was wrong to demonize saturated fat, but we would be wrong to canonize it (his words).

I found the tone of the article to be condescending. This passage especially.

So, the idea that you should liberalize your intake of saturated fat is more conjectural and less based in epidemiology than the argument to cut it ever was. Perhaps we can eat a lot of saturated fat and live a long, healthy life, but there is no real-world experience to validate the claim; it’s just a hypothesis. If you choose to test it, you are casting yourself as guinea pig in your own research. If you’re still here and I’ve checked out, I guess you get the last laugh- but I won’t be around to hear you chuckle. On the other hand, if you check out and I keep going, I guess I get to say I told you so. But you won’t be around to hear me pontificate.

I did a quick search of Dr. Katz on Amazon. He has written numerous diet books over the last decade. A quick look inside shows he was one of the very doctors that was preaching against the evils of saturated fats. Now Dr. Katz has found himself on the wrong side of science, so his defense is two fold. First preach moderation and then take a jab at those of us in the traditional food camp that welcome saturated fats as eating “a lot”. A term he doesn’t define.

Dr. Katz insults those eating diets rich in saturated fats as “guinea pigs”. I disagree. I think the guinea pigs were the fools following the advice of medical professionals like Dr. Katz that were consuming industrial seed oils, low-fat dairy and “heart-healthy” grains. Below is a recipe from Dr. Katz’s 2007 book.

katz-recipe

And this pompous fool thinks he will outlive people like me? You can have your shitty canola oil fiber muffins, I’ll be eating ice cream. Yummy saturated fat!

Dr. Katz is a classic example of the “Now I Know Better” fallacy. He was wrong and now because he changed his view, we must listen to him. By preaching moderation, he can present himself as wise. The reality is whenever our fitness and nutrition gurus get caught making errors, they always run back to the simplistic moderation arguments. It is a false defense, because moderation has both a vague and ever changing meaning.

Despite Dr. Katz’s implied warning that he will outlive all of us liberally consuming saturated fat, I’ll continue to eat foods rich in saturated fats, just like humans have since the very beginning. I have found the pro-saturated fat arguments from Paleo, WAPF, Perfect Health Diet, and Ray Peat far more compelling than the “we just don’t know” message from Dr. Katz.

24 thoughts on “Call Me a Saturated Fat Guinea Pig

  1. Hi MAS … I didn’t get this attitude from him. He is correct that there are virtually no human cultures that revel in a high saturated fat diet. So I’d rather not go ultra low fat, but there ARE a plethora of cultures that do eat and thrive on close to the 80-10-10 macro composition (C-F-P). So I think this was his point.

    Although he didn’t mention it specifically, it seemed he was responding to the recent “up the fat” movement that is taking a lack of evidence against as evidence to add more.

    I’m reading the BMJ editorial he is responding to more thoroughly and plan to blog on it. I skimmed it before and yawned but it has been touted as some sort of “new evidence” or “new study” just because it is in the BMJ. It is a pretty bad.

  2. charles grashow

    “6) Sat fat can’t sing the blues.

    I trust you’ve heard of the Blue Zones, and the diets found there. These are the dietary patterns consumed by the population groups around the world that experience the longest lives and the most vitality. There are no high sat-fat diets in the Blue Zones. Period.

    There are low-fat, plant-based diets. And there are higher-fat, Mediterranean diets- but these are diets rich in monounsaturated fat, and a mix of polyunsaturated fats including a generous dose of omega-3s. Saturated fat is at rather low levels.

    So, the idea that you should liberalize your intake of saturated fat is more conjectural and less based in epidemiology than the argument to cut it ever was. Perhaps we can eat a lot of saturated fat and live a long, healthy life, but there is no real-world experience to validate the claim; it’s just a hypothesis. If you choose to test it, you are casting yourself as guinea pig in your own research. If you’re still here and I’ve checked out, I guess you get the last laugh- but I won’t be around to hear you chuckle. On the other hand, if you check out and I keep going, I guess I get to say I told you so. But you won’t be around to hear me pontificate.”

    SO – is he wrong?? Where are the “the population groups around the world that experience the longest lives and the most vitality” who eat a high saturated fat diet??

  3. charles grashow

    http://www.gregdavis.ca/share/paleo-articles/academic/The%20Ancestral%20Human%20Diet%20by%20S.%20Boyd%20Eaton.pdf

    “The best available estimates suggest that those ancestors obtained about 35% of their dietary energy from fats, 35% from carbohydrates and 30% from protein. Saturated fats contributed approximately 7.5% total energy and harmful trans-fatty acids contributed negligible amounts. Polyunsaturated fat intake was high, with n-6:n-3 approaching 2:1 (v. 10:1 today). Cholesterol consumption was substantial, perhaps 480 mg/d. Carbohydrate came from uncultivated fruits and vegetables, approximately 50% energy intake as compared with the present level of 16% energy intake for Americans. High fruit and vegetable intake and minimal grain and dairy consumption made ancestral diets base-yielding, unlike today’s acid-producing pattern. Honey comprised 2-3% energy intake as compared with the 15% added sugars contribute currently. Fibre consumption was high, perhaps 100 g/d, but phytate content was minimal. Vitamin, mineral and (probably) phytochemical intake was typically 1.5 to eight times that of today except for that of Na, generally <1000 mg/d, i.e. much less than that of K."

    http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1135650
    Optimal low-density lipoprotein is 50 to 70 mg/dlLower is better and physiologically normal
    James H O'Keefe, MD*; Loren Cordain, PhD†; William H Harris, PhD*; Richard M Moe, MD, PhD*; Robert Vogel, MD‡

    "We live in a world very different from that for which we are genetically adapted. Profound changes in our environment began with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry 10,000 years ago, too recent on an evolutionary time scale for the human genome to adjust. As a result of this ever-worsening discordance between our ancient genetically determined biology and the nutritional, cultural, and activity patterns in modern populations, many of the so-called diseases of civilization, including atherosclerosis, have emerged. Evidence from hunter-gatherer populations while they were still following their indigenous lifestyles showed no evidence for atherosclerosis, even in individuals living into the seventh and eighth decades of life (15-16). These populations had total cholesterol levels of 100 to 150 mg/dl with estimated LDL cholesterol levels of about 50 to 75 mg/dl. The LDL levels of healthy neonates are even today in the 30 to 70 mg/dl range. Healthy, wild, adult primates show LDL levels of approximately 40 to 80 mg/dl (17). In fact, modern humans are the only adult mammals, excluding some domesticated animals, with a mean LDL level over 80 mg/dl and a total cholesterol over 160 mg/dl 15-16 (Figure 1). Thus, although an LDL level of 50 to 70 mg/dl seems excessively low by modern American standards, it is precisely the normal range for individuals living the lifestyle and eating the diet for which we are genetically adapted."

  4. @Evelyn – There are traditional cultures that have thrived at many combinations of C-F-P. So when the doctor implies – without evidence – that he will outlive those that have upped the fat, that strikes me as pure speculation from a man that has financial interest in selling books with lower fat recommendations.

    I also see the “up the fat” behavior as a logical response to decades of misguided low fat advice, especially when the fat we told to avoid by medical professionals like Katz was saturated. But the “up the fat” is a simplistic view. It is upping the sat fat and lowering the PUFA. It is a common recommendation across many divergent nutritional camps (Paleo, WAPF, PHD, Peat).

    And for those new to the site, I’m not a low-carb zealot. I probably get close to half my calories from carbs.

  5. @charles – Did you read my post? I’m not presenting myself as the authority figure here. My issues was with Katz arrogance and the fact he has a history of being wrong.

    And you should know by now I have zero interest in being a PubMed Warrior. There are people equally bright on all sides of the debate. “Proof by verbosity” doesn’t work with me.

  6. @Charles – OK, I’ll play.

    #1 – What is high sat fat? Show me where I said or advised a high fat diet? The fact that Katz dismisses “a lot” of Sat fat without evidence or defining what “a lot” is, does not mean I hold the opposite opinion. I’m just pointing out his words are meaningless and financially biased.

    #2 I’m always amused by those that derive pleasure at poking at traditional foods are the first to run back to studies of indigenous cultures when it serves their agenda. So are we suppose to emulate certain cultures or not? You can’t have it both ways. And also your line of reason assumes I emulate to have the health of some indigenous tribe member, which I don’t.

    #3 A high percentage of the fat I eat is saturated. That is not the same thing as eating a high fat diet. Nor is it is the same thing as advising that a high fat diet is superior.

    #4 I eat traditional foods, because not only are they tasty, but I believe nutritional science is still in its infancy and the best course of action in the absence of full information is a nutrient dense and diverse diet prepared in more traditional manners. I don’t need PubMed to tell me how I should or shouldn’t eat.

  7. You wrote: “There are traditional cultures that have thrived at many combinations of C-F-P”

    This is true but virtually none of these is a high saturated fat diet. The only one I can think of is not even everyone, but young warriors … that being the Masai. The rest? Inuit ate 55% fat of mostly cold water mammal fat. This is very high PUFA and O3 and low sat fat.

    http://carbsanity.blogspot.jp/2010/04/fatty-acid-contents-of-foods-beef-fat.html

    Lindeberg described the Kitivan diet as high saturated fat, but that amounts to 17% almost solely from coconut fat. This puts one under 10% long chain sat fats.

  8. @Evelyn – Nor did I ever claim there was a traditional culture that ate high sat fat. People ate what was around them. And that wasn’t the industrial seed oils Dr. Katz puts in his low-fat muffin recipes.

    Plus the fact that no traditional culture ate high sat fat doesn’t tell me that it isn’t healthy. That is speculation. It just tells me what these cultures had available to eat.

    I personally wouldn’t eat a high sat fat diet, because it probably wouldn’t taste good or it would get boring rather quickly. Also I approach nutrition using an investor mindset, which assumes incomplete knowledge. This means I hedge. However, I will happily eat foods that are rich in Sat Fat.

  9. I think you’re missing his point because of canola oil in some recipes. I’m not defending that.

    The point about the traditional cultures is that we don’t have long term RCT’s and any that would truly give us actionable data are probably impossible to implement anyway. So you look around at how traditional societies ate. The vast, VAST, majority of them are eating far lower fat than what we consider low fat to be. So all of these rationales about fat soluble vitamins and cholesterol deficiencies do not seem to play out in real, observable, human cultures with centuries of verifiable general dietary practices. So diets proposing there is something healthier about a 50+% fat diet (and let’s face it, that’s unacceptably low for most advocating these diets nowadays) — especially one where beef and dairy are the major sources — truly are in total speculation land. There is no evidence that eating more sat fat is healthy or healthier. This isn’t even what is being claimed or studied. There is only little evidence supporting harm.

    Thing is most of the studies are looking at a change in total fat from 40 to 30 which on a mixed fat diet is negligible to see a result. This is probably why even those that somewhat heeded the advice, results were nominal at best.

    That said, I will have steak for dinner tonight and not worry a wit about it.

  10. @Evelyn – I have a nutritional question on a side topic I’ve been trying to research unrelated to this post. Would it be OK if I emailed you?

  11. Jim

    @charles,
    Thanks for your contribution. Many might view your comment as impolite and not fostering productive discourse. FYI, while different blogs have different tones, the tone at this site is typically respectful. Thanks again.

  12. As someone who has eaten too much fat at times, I can tell you that if you eat too much fat your skin will break out. Or something else will go wrong. The body reacts when the diet is inadequately balanced, and that is a far better measure of whether a diet is healthy or not than statistics. IMO.

    I didn’t like the tone in the quoted paragraph at top either.

  13. Dan

    I enjoyed this article. Regarding sat fat, i like Paul Jaminet’s advice: add enough fat (including sat fat) to your food to make it delicious. I find this is pretty easy to do; if you add too much it goes past delicious into gaggy. So one generous tablespoon of butter on my veggies is delicious, 2 or 3 is gross. My 3 eggs fried in bacon drippings is delicious, but drizzling 2 more tablespoons onto the eggs on my plate is gross and too much. I find that the “delicious” guideline is pretty intuitive, at least for me.

  14. “Perhaps we can eat a lot of saturated fat and live a long, healthy life, but there is no real-world experience to validate the claim; it’s just a hypothesis. ”

    I guess this statement’s validity is tied to what one would consider “real-world experience.” As mentioned above, the Masai warriors eat a high saturated fat diet. I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Tokelau diet of which 40-50% of their calories are from saturated fat, which accounts for over 90% of their total fat intake IIRC.

    Now, you could start to discuss the type of saturated fat or make a statement like “no culture has lived on a diet consisting of high amounts of long chain saturated fats” but to say we have no evidence for a diet high in saturated fat and low in heart disease is false. Not a lot of evidence, sure, but evidence that is not transient or fleeting, if only small in comparison.

  15. @All – Charles sidetracked the point of this post. I never once defended eating a high sat fat diet. I was merely calling out the arrogance of the doctor for implying that an undefined high sat fat diet would lead to a quick mortality without a shred of evidence.

    And when it comes to being guinea pigs, it was Katz’s history of recommending of industrial seed oils, low-fat dairy and processed whole grains that is the real experiment.

  16. dhammy

    Great post, MAS. Katz is one of many who is starting to get a clue that our SAD diet has yielded horrible results. But you are exactly right… these pundits for the low-fat, high-carb diets for decades are ‘hesitant’ to recommend eating fat just yet. This idea that this would be ‘experimenting’ on your own body is condescending? That’s the nicest possible way of putting it in my opinion. Insulting and hypocritical are the two words that come to my mind.

  17. @Dhammy – Thanks. I’m doing a follow-up post using quotes from Katz’s newest book. Turns out he hasn’t learned a damn thing.

  18. Skyler wrote: “Now, you could start to discuss the type of saturated fat or make a statement like “no culture has lived on a diet consisting of high amounts of long chain saturated fats” but to say we have no evidence for a diet high in saturated fat and low in heart disease is false. Not a lot of evidence, sure, but evidence that is not transient or fleeting, if only small in comparison.”

    He evoked the Masai and Tokelau. Katz and others invariably bring up the Inuit. The latter is easily dismissed as support for a high saturated fat diet, as it is high in unsaturates, and it is even scarcely relevant to high fat diets in general when their diet based on rotting seal meat and such averaged under 60% fat and many are now promoting far higher than that.

    The Masai? You’re talking a portion of that culture during a certain period in life. The children are not reared on the same diet, and let’s not forget the atherosclerosis that does indeed plague the Masai. But lifestyle is key as their vessels expand to accomodate the arterial wall thickening.

    The Toukelau? Seriously. You cannot equate coconut fat with beef and dairy. You just can’t. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/34/8/1552.full.pdf And they weren’t low carb either.

    Regardless of Katz’ biases or how some perceived his comment in tone, unless you are going to adopt the actual dietAND LIFESTYLE of the these remote cultures, you are indeed experimenting on yourself. Not demonizing sat fats is one thing, but promoting them as “protective” as Malhotra did (in the BMJ editorial Katz was responding to) is irresponsible to say the least.

  19. steve

    Katz said: “There is no need to obsess about cutting saturated fat. But I advise against any particular effort to add saturated fat to your diet” Says would not obsess about sat fat; just eat whole foods and will get moderate amount of sat fat.
    His issue is with viewing it as beneficial and therefore suggests not to add for example butter to a steak; the steak is fine in the amont of sat fat it contains.
    Hardly seems inconsistent with what you state your views are

  20. @Steve – My view of additional saturated fat being beneficial is “I don’t know”. Katz implies he does know that “additional” sat fat is bad, but provides zero proof. Two different opinions. I would never imply higher levels of sat fat are unhealthy. I’m not a doctor or a researcher. But if I were such a researcher, I’d link to the research that defends that position.

    I put the word “additional” in quotes, because it really is a false narrative. The nutritional camps I follow, replaced the industrial seed oil PUFAs with saturated fat. Sure there are some that loading up on the sat fat, but those likely represent a very small percentage.

    I did a follow-up post where I showed Katz in a book published in September is still a believer in the lipid hypothesis. Still refers to butter as “artery clogging”.
    https://criticalmas.com/2013/10/whis-guinea-pig-dr-katz/

    Katz is trying to sell books defending nutritional views that can’t be defended anymore.

Comments are closed.