By Marika Sboros
It’s no surprise that global investment bank Credit Suisse is fighting dodgy science behind fat phobia. Its research arm, the Credit Suisse Research Institute, has produced an extensive report, Fat: The New Health Paradigm. Global head of equity research and report author Stefano Natella says the conclusions have “distinct implications for investors”.
The Institute works with distinguished experts, academics, institutions and a global network of 400 analysts. The report authors considered data on saturated fat intake – in this case butter, lard and palm and coconut oil. They conclude that the evidence shows that saturated fat intake poses “no risk to our health and particularly to the heart”.
That’s a big change to conventional low-fat “wisdom” that some doctors and dietitians regularly dish out to patients. Here’s why:
The report vindicates the groundbreaking work of US investigative science writers Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz. Taubes is author of, among others, Why We Get Fat And What To Do About it. Teicholz is author of the seminal book, The Big Fat Surprise.
The Credit Suisse report gives a global green light for low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets. In other words, Credit Suisse also supports “Banting” as LCHF diets are known in South Africa. The pioneer of Banting in that country is University of Cape Town emeritus professor Tim Noakes.
The report’s authors say that they arrived at their conclusions after “triangulating several topics”. These include anthropology, breastfeeding, evolution of primates, height trends in the human population and “energy needs of our various vital organs”.
One conclusion is that “natural fat consumption is lower than ‘ideal’.” If anything, the report authors say that most people can increase intake “well beyond current levels”.
They quote from a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010. They describe it as “probably the most important epidemiological study published on the subject”.
Dr Patty Siri-Tarino of Children’s Hospital, Oakland Research Institute in California led that study. The researchers found no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). In other words, it doesn’t raise your risk of heart disease. They also concluded that saturated fat is “a healthy source of energy”.
The Credit Suisse report authors cover the period in the 1960s because it heralded “a major change in the perception of fat in the world”. They say that this was particularly the case in the US. That’s where experts started blaming saturated fat for causing the epidemic of heart attacks.
However, they say that all the evidence since shows that saturated fat did not cause the epidemic. One sign: saturated fat consumption declined between 1930 and 1960. Research showed that smoking and alcohol were “far more likely factors behind the heart attack epidemic”.
In effect then, this evidence was available 30 years ago. Studies since have confirmed that eating cholesterol-rich foods has “no negative effect on health in general or on CVD risk in particular”.
In addition, the authors say that the focus doctors and patients still have on “bad” and “good” cholesterol is “superficial at best”. At worst, it is “most likely misleading”.
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The same applies to the true driver of the obesity epidemic. All the reliable evidence shows that saturated fat is not the driver. In other words, fat does not make you fat. Significantly, they say that the “most likely culprit behind growing obesity level of the world population is carbohydrates”. That’s at current consumption levels.
They identify a second potential factor: “solvent-extracted vegetable oils”. These are seed oils such as canola, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil.
They have also done a proper review of so-called “fat paradoxes”, not just in France, but also Israel, Japan and other countries. They say that available evidence suggests that saturated fats are “actually healthy”. These paradoxes also show that current levels of consumption of omega-6 fats in the developed world are “not necessarily so”.
The report authors dismiss concerns around cholesterol-rich foods, such as eggs, as “completely without foundation”. They say that there is “basically no link between the cholesterol we eat and the level of cholesterol in our blood”.
They identify polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids as possibly “the most controversial area” of research on health implications of fat intake. In addition, they say that the per capita consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has increased by 89% over the past 50 years. The driver has been the food industry’s wider adoption of solvent-extracted vegetable oils and trans fats.
The report includes two proprietary surveys the authors conducted of doctors, nutritionists and consumers. They say that all three groups showed “superficial knowledge on the potential benefits or risks of increased fat consumption”. These groups also took guidance from bodies such as World Health Organisation and the American Heart Association, rather than medical research.
Even on the “easy” topic of cholesterol, the authors say that myths still exist. Their survey shows that 40% of nutritionists and 70% of GPs “still believe that eating cholesterol-rich foods is bad for your heart”.
Clearly, some bad habits die hard.
The authors present a “final hypothesis” on why health authorities continue to demonise saturated fats. They say that health authorities “advance very slowly and are afraid to change the market’s status quo”. They describe that as “not a wise medical posture” because it means they “lag behind” when it comes to real potential health hazards.
The authors also say that there was “no fundamental reason” to move from butter to solvent-extracted vegetable oils”. Health authorities claimed at the time that research was the main reason. They now have “enough information to change their recommendations”. Further, if they are still in doubt, they should issue “no recommendations at all”.
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In future, say Credit Suisse researchers, the main shift will be from carbohydrates to fat. Consequently, “the correction of one major nutritional mistake — if not the biggest — is finally under way on a global basis”.
A Bloomberg article on the Credit Suisse report said that consumers are “increasingly eschewing bread in favour of butter and red meat”. It described carbohydrates as taking “a back seat to fat and protein in a worldwide shift”. A changing medical consensus is underpinning this shift and promises to “transform the food industry”.
Research shows that natural unprocessed fats are healthy, Natella said. They are “integral to transforming society into one that focuses on developing and maintaining healthy individuals”.
The Credit Suisse researchers estimate that global demand for fat will rise 43% by 2030 with per-capita consumption jumping almost a quarter. In the case of red meat, estimates are that demand will increase by 23% and fall by 8.3% for carbohydrates.
Other trends show that US whole-milk sales are 11% higher while skimmed milk is down 14%. As well, eggs are back in fashion. The Credit Suisse authors predict that other winners in the next 15 years will be dairy, red meat and fish. Losers will include sugar.