In a recent article for the British Medical Journal Aseem Malhotra challenged the mainstream consensus of the causes of heart disease. He presents a thorough and reasoned argument to why the mainstream belief that saturated fat is the main driver behind heart related mortality is not only wrong, but may negatively contribute towards our understanding of this area. This ‘myth’ is not only supported by the Government but also by the prevalent charity The British Heart Foundation.
It has been presented for some time by dominant players in the American fitness industry that saturated fat is not the nutritional ‘enemy’ that it is commonly presented to be. In their bestselling US book John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein go one better and make a compelling case that saturated fats are not just safe but are necessary for efficient hormonal response within the human body. Saturated fats are a key component for cholesterol which, far from being a killer, are necessary to maintain optimal levels of testosterone. Testosterone provides health benefits ranging from increased energy, libido, focus and body composition. Body Mass Index and body fat levels are key marker points for many diseases which increase mortality throughout Western society such as diabetes and high blood pressure. It seems the saturated fat myth is not only incorrect but may actually contribute towards an increase in mortality indicators.
If we consider the rise in obesity levels in the west (namely the UK and USA) there is a concurrent (and I suspect causal) rise in both the rise in body fat levels and the pursuance of carbohydrate based diets. Between 1970 and 2000 the annual average personal grain consumption rose 45% (United State Department of Agriculture Factbook) whilst obesity level rises are well documented over this time.
Why then do the Government, the NHS, British Heart Foundation and other actors refuse to depart from the status quo when the evidence to support it is tentative at best?
Personally I believe the reluctance from the advisory elements of society to adopt a more relevant stance is not directed by lack of evidence but by an implicit understanding that many members of society cannot readily afford to alter and adapt their diets to ones which actually aid heart health.
While it is easy enough for to ask people to abstain from ‘fatty’ products they understand that they need to ingest their calories from somewhere. Per gram of fat, protein and carbohydrates there are 9, 7 and 7 calories respectively. Despite there being a marked calorific similarity between nutritional groups the cost differences vary greatly.
White pasta per 100 grams can cost as little as 14.5 pence whilst value range frozen chicken breasts and butter comes in at 39 pence per 100 grams (prices accurate www.tesco.com 04.11.13). It is evident from these price comparisons that a commitment away from the traditional food pyramid that advocates a carbohydrate based diet would have a detrimental effect in the pockets of the general shopping public. At a time where people are ‘feeling the squeeze’ economically the ruling elite would be disinclined to pursue a reversal of traditional dietary advice. It is easier to allow people to follow outmoded science and wallow in ignorance than to change course.
This reluctance to address the inadequacies in public nutritional advice may save the Government of the day (and their successors) time and finances in the short term. If however, they choose not to adapt they are effectively lighting the fuse on a public health time bomb. Obesity problems, heart issues, diabetes and a myriad of associated health implications will only multiply. The additional strain to national health and welfare systems may become unsustainable. Coronary heart disease cost the UK economy £29.1 billion in 2004 alone according to a 2006 study by Luengo‐Fernández. With a large portion of this going to private healthcare companies which supply medications and other healthcare products it seems unlikely that the private medical industry would opt to pursue a course which would damage such a large revenue flow. In fact one major corporation GlaxoSmithKlein is brand owner of Lucozade which it actively advertises as a ‘sports’ product, when it knows full well the average Lucozade drinker will receive no health gains from using this product.
It is not acceptable, in the light of new evidence, for the government to continue perusing its current dietary policies. Within the free market economy there is little incentive for revenue seeking corporations to encourage a move away from a system which is highly profitable for them. It is necessary then for the government to take the lead. In order to protect the health of its public and to ensure a sustainable health and social care system it needs to act now.