On Monday, my blog featured mooted plans in New York to ban so-called ‘trans fats’ from restaurant and fast food joints. Later this week, I though I would check how this initiative is getting on, and one of the sites I checked for information on this was www.bantransfat.com. The folks at bantransfats have been instrumental in the States with regard to the raising of awareness about the hazards of trans fats. While on the site, I noticed that individuals are advised not to avoid just trans fats, but saturated fats as well. Actually, cutting back on saturated fat is described on the site very important.
I’m currently writing a book, and this has necessitated me digging out the research on the relationship between saturated fat, obesity and heart disease. Not only have I not been able to find decent evidence that saturated fat causes such ills, but more importantly, the evidence shows cutting back on saturated fat does us no good either.
So, fearing I might have missed some crucial information, I emailed the founder of www.bantransfat.com, Mr Samuel Joseph. Mr Joseph is not only founder and CEO of bantransfats, but also a lawyer. He has been a lobbyist in Washington, and has been involved in some high-profile cases including the suing of Kraft foods which led to this company removing trans fats from Oreo cookies ” a food of iconic status in the States.
My email to Mr Joseph went like this:
First of all, well done on providing a pertinent and useful website regarding the hazard of trans fats.
On your site, you state that limiting saturated fat is ‘very important’.
So here’s my question ” why? What evidence is there that saturated fat is harmful to health?
I’ve looked (Medline/PubMed), and can find little or no evidence to support this notion.
Perhaps you’ve got some studies that I’ve not been able to lay my hands on. Could you help?
The response Mr Joseph read:
There is a huge amount of evidence but I don’t keep a list of links about saturated fat.
I recommend you read the following document which provides a list of references.
You can take a look at this report yourself. Actually, despite the claim of huge amounts of evidence and a list of references you’ll see the report contains little, if any, evidence which is relevant to my query. So, I wrote back to Mr Joseph asking for more information:
I’ve had a look at this report, and all I can find is a brief reference to the fact that saturated fat and trans fats are associated with raised LDL levels.
However, for that to be of relevance, we also need evidence that LDL is strongly tied to heart disease risk/mortality.
Also, there are no studies quoted in this paper that link saturated fat with heart disease risk or risk of cardiovascular mortality.
And there’s no evidence quoted which shows that when individuals eat less saturated fat, this reduces their risk of cardiovascular disease and/or mortality.
I know you may be busy, but would you mind providing some more validation for your stance on saturated fat.
The response I got from Mr Joseph went as follows:
I shall leave it to you to find the studies showing the effect of saturated fat on LDL and the effect of LDL on CHD. I cannot get into a long and detailed debate as I am having enough trouble keeping up with what is already on my plate. Sorry.
I thought this reply very odd. I mean, I’m asking for Mr Joseph ” a lawyer ” to validate his stance on saturated fat. And then it seems he suggests that I provide the evidence for it. How does that work?! So, I replied, writing:
That sounds as though you’re asking ME to validate YOUR stance on saturated fat.
I’ve looked for the studies I’ve suggested are needed, and can’t find good evidence here at all. Which is why I wrote to you in the first place. It seems you don’t have the evidence either.
I applaud what you’re doing re trans fats (mainly on the basis that industrially produced fats that are alien to nature are highly likely to hazardous to health). However, if you are unable to validate your position on saturated fat, don’t you think you might want to look a little deeper into it? Perhaps when you have more time.
I’ll leave it with you.
I wrote about trans fats in my blog this week, and might write about our exchange as an addendum to it.
I’ve had nothing further from Mr Joseph, so I suppose that’s the end of that.
After this little exchange, I wondered who might be advising Mr Joseph from a ‘scientific’ perspective. Chief advisor to bantransfats.com turns out to be Dr Mary Enig, a nutritionist and biochemist who, wait for it… is well known for her pro-saturated fat position. In fact, Dr Enig has even written a diet book based on eating coconut ” a food very rich in saturated fat.
So, either Dr Enig has had a major change of heart on saturated fat, or perhaps Mr Joseph should be pointing out to his chief scientific advisor the error of her ways.
I genuinely believe that the work being done by Mr Joseph and his organisation with regard to trans fats is important and relevant. But I don’t think that absolves him from needing to provide evidence for the information he provides and promotes. I’m left wondering how his stance on saturated fat might stand up in a court of law.
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