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A review of our most recent Topic article from our nutritional therapist Josh Channin, an extensive piece entitled "The War on Fat"

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Where did it all go wrong?

The war on fat


How the war on fat began.

Let’s start at the beginning… in the 1940s Dr Ancel Keys, who was a prominent physiologist in the US proposed his “Diet-Heart Hypothesis”. In 1956 he tested his hypothesis using epidemiological data from 7 countries aptly named the “Seven Countries Study”. From this data it was concluded that diets high in saturated fat lead to a significant increased risk of coronary heart disease. Ancel Keyes, being a charismatic man combined with the need for policy makers to have concrete and simple answers to complicated problems, the US Department of Agriculture, American Medical Association, American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association were all convinced that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol caused heart disease.


“Fat Free” & “Healthy”

From these recommendations an entire food & drinks industry took aim at saturated fat and removed it from all its products replacing it with sugar (sucrose, an equal mixture of glucose & fructose) to improve the taste. The food companies needed to market these products and the “fat free” craze was born. Two other significant fallacies have helped increase our intake of sugar over the proceeding decades; Kellogg’s asserts that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and based on the oversimplified concept that “calories in equals calories out”, Coca-Cola argued “Coke can be part of a healthy balanced diet.” Nowadays this would be called “educational marketing”.


Science is science though?

So what? These ideas are all based on science. Well in science not all data is created equal. There is a huge flaw with “correlational data” such as the data used by Ancel Keys. A good example of why this type of data should rarely be used as a basis for guidelines is the positive correlation between reading ability and shoe size. Now the initial conclusion to draw is that people with bigger feet are better at reading than people with smaller feet. The participants with bigger feet are just adults who can read more proficiently than the participants with smaller feet who are in this case children. This example highlights the major limitation of drawing accurate conclusions from correlational data.

There is also another big issue with the data Ancel Keys used for his 7 countries study. He had access to 22 countries’ data and decided to omit this from his study. Dr. Keys has since been accused of cherry-picking data to support his hypothesis. When looking at the data from 22 countries there was no such correlation between diets higher in saturated fat and coronary heart disease.

The negative influence of Dr. Keys doesn't stop there. When this hypothesis became the basis for nutritional guidelines and was subsequently adopted by all the Western countries, it meant for decades most research lead with the Diet-Heart or a similar hypothesis. What a lot of people don't know about the scientific community is that if a study does not support the researcher’s hypothesis, i.e. a negative result, the study is not published. This meant any research that would have helped disprove the Diet-Heart hypothesis was never published for peer review.

The Diet-Heart hypothesis recommendations adopted by the US government in the 1960s were described as “The greatest scam ever perpetrated on the American public” by Dr. George Mann in 1977 who was a director of the nearly 60-year long Framingham Heart Study.


The great myth of fat

I would argue that one reason this hypothesis became medical dogma and was so widely accepted by policy makers is because intuitively, it makes sense. If heart disease is the result of atherosclerosis (fat build up in the artery wall) then it stands to reason that eating too much saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature, would “build up” and “clog” the arteries leading to heart disease. We now have a much deeper understanding of how the body digests and utilises fat. The topic of fat is incredibly complicated and in order to stop me exceeding my word count I will try to keep this part simple.

When saturated fat enters the small intestines, it is a liquid and is acted upon by bile salts and lipase enzymes which work like dishwashing soap to break up the fat into tiny droplets. As blood is aqueous (like water) these droplets do not mix with it. The fat is packaged into lipoproteins by the liver and transported around the body to where is it required. These lipoproteins are divided into different types, the two most commonly known being High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). So dietary saturated fat is never technically in the blood to “clog” the arteries and cause atherosclerosis. The evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease is woefully lacking even though research has spent 50+ years trying to prove it. There’s clearly more going on here.

The topic of fat and cholesterol is very complicated so I will go into more depth in a future article.


Nutripharm Nutrition Services at Whelehans Pharmacy

If you are interested in taking back control of your diet and having a healthy relationship with food again then I am available for a no obligation, free consultation at Whelehans Pharmacy on Pearse Street, Mullingar or contact me (Josh Chanin, Pharmacist and Nutritional Therapist) via email: & text: 0873801866. I offer an affordable nutrition advice and one to one consultation service.


This week’s article was written and researched by Josh Chanin Nutritional Therapist and Pharmacist at Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar


Disclaimer: This article has general information and is not meant as a substitute to medical assessment with your doctor or other health professional

For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans, log on to or dial 04493 34591 (Pearse St) or 04493 10266 (Clonmore).

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