This is about a subject that I have often espoused as ‘bullshit’.
It’s the old butter vs margarine debate again; which is healthier for you?
Basically, you have been fed manufacturers crap for so long it’s taken as gospel.
Now it appears as though the truth is coming out.
Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong
Eggs and red meat have both been on the nutritional hit list – but after a major study last week dismissed a link between fats and heart disease, is it time for a complete rethink?
Could eating too much margarine be bad for your critical faculties? The “experts” who so confidently advised us to replace saturated fats, such as butter, with polyunsaturated spreads, people who presumably practise what they preach, have suddenly come over all uncertain and seem to be struggling through a mental fog to reformulate their script.
Last week it fell to a floundering professor, Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation to explain why it still adheres to the nutrition establishment’s anti-saturated fat doctrine when evidence is stacking up to refute it. After examining 72 academic studies involving more than 600,000 participants, the study, funded by the foundation, found that saturated fat consumption was not associated with coronary disease risk. This assessment echoed a review in 2010 that concluded “there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease”.
Neither could the foundation’s research team find any evidence for the familiar assertion that trips off the tongue of margarine manufacturers and apostles of government health advice, that eating polyunsaturated fat offers heart protection. In fact, lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury spoke of the need for an urgent health check on the standard healthy eating script. “These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines,” he said.
Chowdhury went on to warn that replacing saturated fats with excess carbohydrates – such as white bread, white rice and potatoes – or with refined sugar and salts in processed foods, should be discouraged. Current healthy eating advice is to “base your meals on starchy foods”, so if you have been diligently following that dietetic gospel, then the professor’s advice is troubling.
Confused? Even borderline frustrated and beginning to run out of patience? So was the BBC presenter tasked with getting clarity from the British Heart Foundation. Yes, Pearson conceded, “there is not enough evidence to be firm about [healthy eating] guidelines”, but no, the findings “did not change the advice that eating too much fat is harmful for the heart”. Saturated fat reduction, he said, was just one factor we should consider as part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Can you hear a drip, drip in the background as officially endorsed diet advice goes into meltdown?
Of course, we have already had a bitter taste of how hopelessly misleading nutritional orthodoxy can be. It wasn’t so long ago that we were spoon-fed the unimpeachable “fact” that we should eat no more than two eggs a week because they contained heart-stopping cholesterol, but that gem of nutritional wisdom had to be quietly erased from history when research showing that cholesterol in eggs had almost no effect on blood cholesterol became too glaringly obvious to ignore.
The consequences of this egg restriction nostrum were wholly negative: egg producers went out of business and the population missed out on an affordable, natural, nutrient-packed food as it mounded up its breakfast bowl with industrially processed cereals sold in cardboard boxes. But this damage was certainly less grave than that caused by the guidance to abandon saturated fats such as butter, dripping and lard, and choose instead spreads and highly refined liquid oils.
Despite repeated challenges from health advocacy groups, it wasn’t until 2010, when US dietary guidelines were amended, that public health advisers on both sides of the Atlantic acknowledged that the chemical process for hardening polyunsaturated oils in margarines and spreads created artery-clogging trans-fats.
Manufacturers have now reformulated their spreads, hardening them by chemical methods which they assure us are more benign. But throughout the 20th century, as we were breezily encouraged to embrace supposedly heart-healthy spreads, the prescription was killing us. Those who dutifully swallowed the bitter pill, reluctantly replacing delicious butter with dreary marge, have yet to hear the nutrition establishment recanting. Government evangelists of duff diet advice aren’t keen on eating humble pie.
But what lesson can we draw from the cautionary tales of eggs and trans fats? We would surely be slow learners if we didn’t approach other well-established, oft-repeated, endlessly recycled nuggets of nutritional correctness with a rather jaundiced eye. Let’s start with calories. After all, we’ve been told that counting them is the foundation for dietetic rectitude, but it’s beginning to look like a monumental waste of time. Slowly but surely, nutrition researchers are shifting their focus to the concept of “satiety”, that is, how well certain foods satisfy our appetites. In this regard, protein and fat are emerging as the two most useful macronutrients. The penny has dropped that starving yourself on a calorie-restricted diet of crackers and crudités isn’t any answer to the obesity epidemic.
Take the egg problem, speaking from personal experience. I eat between six and a dozen eggs per week… my cholesterol is just great, perhaps a little on the low side. I also eat the fat on meat, I use lard for cooking and I don’t have margarine in the house and I don’t buy products made with it. I don’t drink soda, but sparkling mineral water, often with fresh juices added.
So, more than two years ago, I bucked the system and stopped believing manufacturers’ claims.
My advice, stop being a sheep and following the herd, think for yourself.