In going through the Science section of the New York Times I came upon the Personal Health article by Jane Brody on the next to last page. When writing on most medical subjects Ms. Brody is typically fairly reasonable and usually covers most of the pros and cons of whatever medical procedure or subject she’s writing about. Unless, of course, that subject is nutrition. When Ms. Brody writes on nutrition, especially if the subject involves fats, she becomes a foaming-at-the-mouth imbecile.
This week’s article is a case in point. Ms. Brody decided to tackle the issue of the health dangers of trans fatty acids in the diet, but instead of sticking to the case in point–trans fats–she decided to mount a jihad against saturated fat in the process.
She starts out mildly enough:
The culinary battle between butter and margarine has raged for decades, but, it turns out, for the wrong reason. We now know that the partly hydrogenated fatty acids in margarine and many processed foods are harmful to health — more harmful, in fact, than the saturated fat in butter. [my italics]
The clause I italicized implies that saturated fats are harmful, which hasn’t really been shown in the scientific literature.
She goes on to report that
Gram for gram, trans fats, as they are commonly called, are more hazardous to the heart than the saturated fats that damage arteries. Like saturated fats, they raise the “bad,” or L.D.L., cholesterol that can become glued to arteries; but unlike saturated fats, they also lower the “good” H.D.L. cholesterol that clears away these harmful deposits.
More of the same. She’s saying that trans fats are more dangerous than saturated fats in oh so many ways, which, of course, implies that saturated fats are dangerous as well. She, strangely, for her, gives saturated fats a left-handed compliment by implying, at least, that they do raise HDL. Of course, she doesn’t say this directly–our Jane would never do such a thing.
She charges on with her anti-saturated fat zealotry
Butter is not a heart-healthy choice because its saturated fat far outweighs the trans fat in traditional stick margarines.
And finally in describing the substitutions available for trans fats she takes a swipe at saturated fats of non-animal origin:
The bad news is that some substitutions — to tropical oils like palm, palm kernel and coconut — are reintroducing more heart-damaging saturated fats [my italics] to American diets and causing environmental devastation in several countries where palm and coconut trees grow.
Two statements that have no substantiation. To paraphrase Tom Cruise’s client in the movie Jerry McGuire, SHOW ME THE PAPERS! If Jane Brody (or anyone else) can show me well done medical studies showing that saturated fat causes heart disease, I’ll eat my words and quit eating and promoting saturated fat. But they can’t do it. You would think with as many people–both medical and non-medical–spouting the anti-saturated fat line out there as there are, that the scientific literature would be crawling with studies demonstrating how saturated fat causes heart disease. But the scientific literature isn’t crawling with such papers. In fact, there really aren’t any. If you think there are, well, SHOW ME THE PAPERS.
I’ll admit that there are a lot of scientific papers out there that mention saturated fat as a risk factor in the same way that Jane Brody does in her article. The authors of these papers assume that everyone ‘knows’ that saturated fats have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be a major cause of heart disease. Whereas such non-scientific dolts as Jane Brody describe saturated fats as being ‘artery clogging’ (in fact, most of them think of the term saturated fats as being incomplete unless written as artery-clogging saturated fats), the scientific dolts talk of the ‘putative risk for heart disease’ concerns about saturated fats. Most authors of medical literature have so been taken in by the anti-saturated fat bias that they don’t even bother referencing another article when making such pronouncements, and if they do reference another article, it’s always an article that itself doesn’t really make the case against saturated fats but instead parrots the idea that these fats are bad without showing data as to why.
After her anti-saturated fat diatribe in the early parts of her article Ms. Brody goes on to write a pretty decent piece on the trans fats, discussing the health problems they cause, their sources, and how to avoid them by asking the right questions and reading labels. I have a different take than she does on the amount of trans fats eaten by the average person, but that’s a small quibble.
After multiple paragraphs of fairly sane writing, she returns to her anti-saturated fat ways as she winds her article down.
To protect heart health, you would be wise, as well, to avoid foods made with tropical oils (palm, palm kernel and coconut), which contain saturated fatty acids.
And she finishes off with a bizarre ending. Her penultimate paragraph ends with
Soft and liquid margarines have little or no trans fats. And American producers are working hard to develop alternative methods of producing shelf-stable vegetable oils, which should be on the shelf in the next year or so.
Earth to Jane, Earth to Jane. How do you think we got trans fats in the first place? American producers working hard to find a substitute for saturated fats came up with trans fats. Which, of course, Jane Brody now savages. How do you know, Ms. Brody, that what the American producers come up with to replace trans fats won’t be worse?
How about just returning to the perfectly acceptable saturated fats that humans have consumed for millennia?
I can imagine her whiny response: But those fats are artery clogging.
SHOW ME THE PAPERS!
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