By: Jo Willey
Published: October 23, 2013
A DIET packed with fat is the healthy way to prevent heart disease, a leading British expert has claimed.
After 40 years of cutting fat from our diet, doctors may now be turning their advice on its head [GETTY]
Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra says the obsession with a low-fat diet has “paradoxically increased” the risk of heart disease.
Other experts have added their voices to his controversial call to end 40 years of advice to cut saturated fat – which has been described as “the greatest medical error of our time”.
They claim the guidance has left millions of people at risk of developing cardiovascular disease and “led to the over-medication of millions of people with statins”.
The public could just as effectively protect themselves by eating “real” food such as butter, milk and cheese and adopting the Mediterranean diet.
Dr Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London, slammed the routine prescriptions of statins and claimed a diet high in saturated fats could be three times more effective at lowering cholesterol.
Writing on bmj.com, he said a preoccupation with levels of total cholesterol “has diverted our attention” from the worse risks of a condition known as atherogenic dyslipidaemia, which is an unfavourable ratio of blood fats.
He said saturated fat has been demonised since the 1970s when a landmark study found a link between coronary heart disease and total cholesterol, which correlated with the percentage of calories provided by saturated fat.
He said: “But correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, we were advised to cut fat intake to 30 per cent of total energy and a fall in saturated fat to 10 per cent.”
Some doctors claim a diet high in fat could help to lower cholesterol (PIC POSED BY MODEL) [GETTY]
Lowering cholesterol, by whatever means, lowers risk
Professor Peter Weissberg, of the British Heart Foundation
But recent studies “have not supported any significant association between saturated fat intake and risk of cardiovascular disease” and saturated fat has actually been found to be protective.
A Journal of the American Medical Association study recently revealed that a “low fat” diet showed the greatest drop in energy expenditure and increased insulin resistance – which is a precursor to diabetes – compared with a low carbohydrate and low glycaemic index (GI) diet.
Dr Malhotra refers to the United States, where obesity has rocketed despite the percentage of calorie consumption from fat falling from 40 per cent to 30 per cent in the past 30 years. One reason is that the food industry “compensated by replacing saturated fat with added sugar”.
He says eight million Britons take statins yet there has been no major impact on heart disease trends.
Adopting a Mediterranean diet largely based on vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, olive oil and fish after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing mortality as taking a statin, he says.
“Doctors need to embrace prevention as well as treatment. The greatest improvements in morbidity and mortality have been due not to personal responsibility but rather to public health,” he said. “It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease and wind back the harms of dietary advice that has contributed to obesity.”
It seems a Mediterranean diet could be three times more power in reducing mortality than statins [GETTY]
Commenting on Dr Malhotra’s article, Timothy Noakes, a professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, said: “Focusing on an elevated blood cholesterol concentration as the exclusive cause of coronary heart disease is unquestionably the worst medical error of our time.
“After reviewing all the scientific evidence I draw just one conclusion – never prescribe a statin drug for a loved one.”
Professor David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: “The assumption has been made that increased fat in the bloodstream is caused by increased saturated fat in the diet, whereas modern evidence is proving that refined carbohydrates and sugar in particular are actually the culprits.”
Professor Peter Weissberg, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Lowering cholesterol, by whatever means, lowers risk. Cholesterol levels can be influenced by diet, exercise and drugs, in particular statins.
“There is clear evidence that patients who have had a heart attack, or are at high risk of one, can benefit from taking a statin. This needs to be combined with a balanced diet, not smoking and taking regular exercise.”