Credit Suisse puts the knife into fat phobia


By Marika Sboros

Credit Suisse
The iconic Credit Suisse headquarters  building in Zurich, Switzerland

The global investment bank Credit Suisse is fighting dodgy nutrition science. Its research arm, the Credit Suisse Research Institute, has produced an extensive report titled Fat: The New Health Paradigm.

Why would any financial institution involve itself with dietary advice? It’s really very simple.

Credit Suisse global head of equity research and report author Stefano Natella says that the report’s 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, based on the evidence, that saturated fat intake poses “no risk to our health and particularly to the heart”. That’s a big change from conventional low-fat “wisdom” that some doctors and dietitians still regularly dish out to patients.

The report, therefore, 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.

Green light to low-carb diets

Thus, Credit Suisse gives a global green light to low-carbohydrate, high-healthy-fat (LCHF) diets.

Natella says that the report authors arrived at 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”.

Nina TeicholzOne conclusion is that “natural fat consumption is lower than ‘ideal’.” If anything, most people can increase intake “well beyond current levels”.

The authors 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 is lead author of the study.

The study found no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat  increases risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  It also concluded that saturated fat is “a healthy source of energy”.

Changing face of fat

The Credit Suisse authors cover the period in the 1960s because it heralded “a major change in the perception of fat in the world”. This was particularly in the US where experts started blaming saturated fat for an epidemic of heart attacks.

Growing evidence shows that saturated fat did not, in fact, cause the epidemic, they say. For example, saturated fat consumption declined between 1930 and 1960. Evidence pointed fingers at smoking and alcohol as “far more likely factors behind the heart attack epidemic”.

All 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”.

As well, the authors say that the focus doctors and dietitians place on “bad” and “good” cholesterol is “superficial at best”. At worst, it is “most likely misleading”.

The same applies to the true driver of the obesity epidemic. All the reliable evidence shows that saturated fat is not the driver, say the report authors. 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.

Fat paradoxes

The report identifies a second potential factor: “solvent-extracted vegetable oils”. These are seed oils such as canola, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil that are high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids (PUFAs). PUFAs are possibly “the most controversial area” of research on health implications of fat intake as benefits are mixed.

The report notes that globally,  the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has increased dramatically 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 also reviews the so-called “fat paradoxes”, not just in France but also Israel and Japan. These are all countries with a high intake of dietary saturated fat and a low incidence of heart disease.

Available evidence suggests that saturated fats are “actually healthy”, says Natella. These paradoxes clearly demonstrate that concerns around cholesterol-rich foods, such as eggs, are “completely without foundation”. In effect, there is “basically no link between the cholesterol we eat and the level of cholesterol in our blood”, he says.

The report includes two proprietary surveys that the authors conducted among doctors, nutritionists and consumers. 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 cutting-edgemedical research.

Cholesterol myths

Even on the relatively “easy” topic of cholesterol, Natella and colleagues 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 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”.

Click here to read: Doctors who betray patients’ trust 

Shift from carbs to healthy fats

In future, say Credit Suisse researchers, the main shift will be from carbohydrates to fat. “The correction of one major nutritional mistake — if not the biggest — is finally underway on a global basis”.

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.

A Bloomberg article on the Credit Suisse report supports the findings. It says that consumers are “increasingly eschewing bread in favour of butter and red meat”. Carbohydrates are 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”.

Natella has the final words: “Research shows that natural, unprocessed fats are healthy. They are integral to transforming society into one that focuses on developing and maintaining healthy individuals.”


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