Cruel to be Kind? The Facts Behind Limiting Fats

Find out the truth behind limiting fats
Should You Limit Fats?

J.E. Fenster

Think limiting fats is the key to losing weight? Check out this article.

Since the first governmental recommendations for dietary fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol were released in 1977, we’ve heard again and again that limiting fats is the way to lose weight. For nearly half a century, we have been advised, cajoled, and ordered to limit our consumption of those delectable darlings like eggs, butter, and red meat: also known as the triumvirate of terror. Such recommendations, made with our best interests at heart (literally), were enforced upon pain of death (literally).

The hypothesis was straightforward: fat, and particularly, saturated fat, increases cholesterol levels, which translates into a higher risk of morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular and other diseases. Remove the delicious from your diet and what you’re left with fits you to a nutritional “T.” Additionally, the thinking went, since fat contains the most calories per measure of any food group, we would all slim-down to our svelte inner selves and don muscle tees on our newly beach-ready forms.

Only one thing stood in the way of such a fairytale ending: the facts. Since the paternalistic application of such guidelines, Americans have been bombarded by low-fat, reduced fat, fat-free, and cholesterol-free options. Aggressive advertisements and entire aisles loaded with such alternatives has reduced our intake of fat and saturated fat, and yielded an over 50 percent reduction in cholesterol consumption. The results, however, are not quite as prophesied: cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States, diabetes has reached epidemic proportions, and obesity (as determined by body mass index) now affects one in three persons in the U.S.

This gastronomic whack-a-mole strategy was always doomed to fail. Even so, the goal of reducing overall fat consumption to 30 percent (or less) of total energy and reducing saturated fat consumption to 10 percent (or less) remains popular.

As a new report details, these recommendations were made without a single randomized controlled study (RCT), the gold standard for data acquisition. , Instead, the recommendation of 30 percent total fat and 10 percent saturated fat was based on secondary studies of fewer than 2,500 male subjects. Even worse, such studies showed no difference in mortality. In other words, even though the goal was to reduce the incidence of coronary artery disease (CAD) and subsequent death by reducing saturated fat intake, there was no statistically significant difference in the overall death rate or the death rate from cardiovascular disease in the six trials that form the basis of the current governmental dietary strategy.

Despite the fact that other studies have contradicted this approach to fats, we still wander lost. With artificial, calorie-free beverages in one hand and fat-free syntho-wraps in the other, we obey these half-baked proclamations that have mistakenly become conventional wisdom. It turns out there’s no reason to hold the mayo.

Roasted Tomatillo and Apple Chimichurri Recipe

Now that you’ve overcome your fear of fats, it’s time to enjoy a well-earned piece of victory. Take a slice of perfectly cooked organic, free range, grass-fed beef and drizzle it with a roasted tomatillo and apple chimichurri. Top with whatever you like (or nothing else at all!). Here, an appetizer version sits upon an ancient grains flatbread, garden fresh vegetables, pickled lotus root, red onion, and a few blue cheese crumbles

Dr. Mike is a cardiologist, chef, and author. He serves as America's Culinary Interventionist. His latest book, The Fallacy of the Calorie, is available on or at


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