Last month, the American Heart Association once again went after butter, steak and especially coconut oil with this familiar warning: The saturated fats in these foods cause heart disease. The organization’s “presidential advisory” was a fresh look at the science and came in response to a growing number of researchers, including myself, who have pored over this same data in recent years and beg to differ. A rigorous review of the evidence shows that when it comes to heart attacks or mortality, saturated fats are not guilty.
To me, the AHA advisory released in June was mystifying. How could its scientists examine the same studies as I had, yet double down on an anti-saturated fat position? With a cardiologist, I went through the nuts and bolts of the AHA paper, and came to this conclusion: It was likely driven less by sound science than by longstanding bias, commercial interests and the AHA’s need to reaffirm nearly 70 years of its “heart healthy” advice.
It was in 1961 that the AHA launched the world’s first official recommendations to avoid saturated fats, along with dietary cholesterol, in order to prevent a heart attack. This “diet-heart hypothesis” was adopted by most leading experts, though it had never been tested in clinical trials — the only kind of science that can establish cause-and-effect. Thus, from the beginning, the rap on saturated fats lacked a firm scientific foundation.
The hypothesis had some backing in preliminary data, and it made intuitive sense — fat clogs the arteries like hot grease down a cold drain pipe, right? — which was enough for AHA officials seeking to address the fast-rising tide of heart disease.
Still, rigorous data was needed, and so governments around the world — including our own, through the National Institutes of Health — spent billions of dollars…