Butter is not Better

“Saturated fat alone doesn’t predict heart disease risk,” reported the CBC in March. If only it were true, we could chomp down on burgers and pizza with abandonment.

Alas, there are a number of problems with this study says a world-renown expert on diet and cardiovascular disease, Dr. Martijn Katan. First, it was not an experiment but a meta-analysis, or study of studies.


Try this experiment at home suggests Dr. Katan. Buy a do-it-yourself cholesterol measuring kit and eat a lot of butter for two weeks. Test your blood for and you will find that the LDL cholesterol has gone up.

Now eat unsaturated fats for two weeks and your LDL cholesterol will go down. While your simple kitchen chemistry won’t be published in prestigious science journals and make you famous, you get the idea: saturated fats increase LDL and lead to heart disease.

The meta-analysis didn’t find increased heart disease in people with diets high in saturated fats because they weren’t looking for it. There were no control groups. People who ate margarine high in trans-fats were included.

When that group was left out, the conclusion is quite different explains Dr. Katan in a newsletter from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. “When the authors omitted that trial, they found that people who replaced saturated with polyunsaturated fats had a 19 per cent lower risk of heart disease,” That finding was buried in the supplement and didn’t make the headlines.

The meta-analysis made the news because it supposedly overturned decades-long eating guidelines. And the headlines confirmed what readers want to believe. The boring, inconvenient truth seldom makes news.

Studies are only useful if they show a significant connection between cause and effect. For example, here’s a significant connection: obese people are five times as likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as thin people. Here’s one that is less certain: the risk of heart attack is 10 per cent lower in people who eat dairy products like butter, as a different study showed. Yes, you read those improbable findings right.

It all started in 2008 when the dairy industry met in Mexico and came away with the stated goal to “neutralize the negative impact of milkfat by regulators and medical professionals.”

They funded sympathetic scientists to “discover” benefits of eating dairy products. And guess what? They did!

But there are significant problems with that study too, one of them mentioned above –a 10 per cent reduction is not a solid connection between cause (the consumption of saturated dairy fats) and effect (heart disease).

And the study is weak because it stops investigating when it finds the connection it seeks. Good science is much more exhaustive. In addition, dairy consumers tend to be health conscious, better educated, concerned with diet, smoke less, and go to their doctors more often.

Regrettably, while butter tastes great it’s just another saturated fat.


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