The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
By Marika Sboros
It took me completely by surprise, but shouldn’t have.
Given the powerful vested interests, and fortunes food and pharmaceutical industries make globally, it’s not surprising that one of the world’s top multinational financial services companies has come up with the research goods to knock fear of fat flat on its dogmatic head once and for all.
Swiss-based Credit Suisse advises clients on “all aspects of finance, across the globe and around the clock”. All credit to the company for subscribing to a view of health in the broadest sense, not just in terms of financial wellbeing, but also economics, changing risk profiles of individuals, and financial implications of healthy lifestyle habits.
The company’s research arm, The Credit Suisse Research Institute, has produced an extensive report presciently titled: Fat: The New Health Paradigm. (For a business perspective of it scroll down below for a Bloomberg view.)
It vindicates the work of US investigative science writers Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz (author of the groundbreaking The Big Fat Surprise) – and also vindicates the work of Cape Town University emeritus professor Tim Noakes.
Based on medical and their own research (the Institute works with “some of the world’s most distinguished experts, academics, institutions” and a global network of 400 analysts), the authors conclude have concluded that the intake of saturated fat (butter, palm and coconut oil and lard) poses “no risk to our health and particularly to the heart”.
It’s probably putting it mildly to say doctors and dietitians wedded to conventional “wisdom” on health and nutrition will choke on that message.
It couldn’t be more of a global green light for Banting, as low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) or ketogenic dietary regimens are known, if Noakes had written it himself.
The report’s authors arrived at their intriguing conclusions after “triangulating several topics”: anthropology, breast feeding, evolution of primates, height trends in the human population, and “energy needs of our various vital organs”. One conclusion is a restrained observation that “natural fat consumption is lower than ‘ideal’, and if anything could increase safely well beyond current levels”.
The world’s top medical LCHF specialists, Noakes among them, might put that slightly stronger.
The Credit Suisse researchers quote “probably the most important epidemiological study published on the subject” in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010.
That study, led by Dr Patty Siri-Tarino of Children’s Hospital, Oakland Research Institute in California found “no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD”, and that saturated fat is actually “a healthy source of energy”.
The report authors cover the seminal period in the 1960s, which they rightly point out “brought a major change in the perception of fat in the world and particularly in the US, where saturated fat was blamed for being the main cause behind an epidemic of heart attacks”.
They say all the evidence since shows saturated fat did not cause the epidemic, since “consumption declined between 1930 and 1960”. Smoking and alcohol were “ far more likely factors behind the heart attack epidemic”. This evidence was “already known 30 years ago and has been confirmed time and time again”: that eating cholesterol rich foods has “no negative effect on health in general or on risk of cardio- vascular diseases (CVDs), in particular.”
Likewise, the authors say the focus doctors and patients have on “bad” and “good” cholesterol is “superficial at best and most likely misleading”.
The same applies to the true driver of the obesity epidemic. The authors say all the reliable evidence shows saturated fat has “not been a driver of obesity”, “fat does not make you fat”, and the “most likely culprit behind growing obesity level of the world population is carbohydrates” – at current consumption levels.
They identify a second potential factor: “solvent-extracted vegetable oils”, in other words, canola, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil).
They say a proper review of so-called “fat paradoxes” (not just France, but Israel and Japan and probably many more countries) suggests that saturated fats “are actually healthy and omega-6 fats, at current levels of consumption in the developed world, are not necessarily so”.
They dismiss the concern around cholesterol-rich foods (such as eggs), as “completely without foundation”, and say there is “basically no link between the cholesterol we eat and the level of cholesterol in our blood”.
The authors identify polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids as possibly “the most controversial area in the research on the health implications of fat intake”. They say the per capita consumption of omega-6 fatty acids has increased by 89% over the past 50 years “driven by the wider adoption of solvent- extracted vegetable oils and transfats by the food industry”.
Interestingly too, the authors conducted two proprietary surveys of doctors, nutritionist and consumers to understand better their perception of the issues we mentioned previously. They say all three groups showed “superficial knowledge on the potential benefits or risks of increased fat consumption”, and their views are influenced “significantly more by public health bodies or by WHO and AHA rather than by medical research”.
Even on the “easy” topic of cholesterol, the authors say 40% of nutritionists and 70% of GPs they surveyed “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 have remained so certain of their position and unwilling to change their view on saturated fats, omega-6 or carbohydrates.
It couldn’t be more damning of public health authorities, and says these should not be looked at as leading indicators of potential health hazards, but rather as “lagging behind”.
I’d put it a whole lot stronger than that.
The authors say there was clearly “no fundamental reason to move from butter to solvent extracted vegetable oils. If we assume research was the main reason — as claimed at that time — the health authorities now have enough information to change their recommendations, or if still in doubt issue no recommendations.”
They say in future, the main shift will be “from carbohydrates to fat”, and that “the correction of one major nutritional mistake — if not the biggest — is finally under way on a global basis”.
The hope is that the authorities will do the decent thing, show the courage needed to say they got it wrong for so long, and take quick action to correct it all.
Given the behaviour of the doctors and dieticians involved so far, I’d say that will be a triumph of hope over experience. I’m happy to be proved wrong.
(Bloomberg) – Consumers are increasingly eschewing bread in favour of butter and red meat as carbohydrates take a back seat to fat and protein, a worldwide shift underpinned by a changing medical consensus that promises to transform the food industry.
Global demand for fat will rise 43 percent by 2030 with per-capita consumption jumping almost a quarter, according to a report released by the Credit Suisse Research Institute.
Demand is seen gaining 23 percent for red meat and falling 8.3 percent for carbohydrates.
“Natural unprocessed fats are healthy and are integral to transforming our society into one that focuses on developing and maintaining healthy individuals,” said Stefano Natella, global head of equity research at Credit Suisse and one of the report’s authors.
“Consumers are at a turning point, and this has distinct implications for investors.”
Fat has been at the centre of a medical debate for at least three decades, with traditional advice in the US linking it to obesity and heart disease. More recent research has thrown doubt on that connection and has supported consumers as they buy more of the things once considered harmful.
Cholesterol isn’t likely to be a cause of heart disease and the link between saturated fat and cardiovascular risk has never been proven, according to the Credit Suisse report, for which the authors say they evaluated more than 400 medical research papers and books from academics and industry experts.
In the US, the leading culprits for obesity are now thought probably to be vegetable oils and carbohydrates.
Fat consumption will eventually account for 31 percent calorie intake by 2030, from 26 percent now, according to the report.
The trend, epitomised by protein-rich Paleo diets, can also be seen in the global intake of butter, which is growing as much as 4 percent each year. US whole-milk sales are 11 percent higher while skimmed milk is down 14 percent, the report shows.
Even eggs, laden with cholesterol, are back in fashion – consumption of the organic variety is up 21 percent from last year. Each person in the world will eat the equivalent of five eggs a week by 2030, according to the report.
Other winners over the next 15 years will be dairy, red meat and fish, while losers will include sugar.
Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.