The Israeli Paradox

You’ve heard of the French Paradox (140K Google hits), the fact that the French have little heart disease in spite of a diet high in saturated fats (the supposedly bad fats). You haven’t heard of the Israeli Paradox (<1K Google hits), which may be more important. (The French Paradox may be an historical accident.) The Israeli Paradox is the fact that Jewish Israelis have very high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in spite of a diet low in total fat, high in polyunsaturated fats (the supposedly good fats), and low in saturated fats.

The best guess is that the Israeli Paradox is due to a high intake of omega-6 fats (from soybean oil). Non-Jewish Israeli citizens have rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer roughly half the Jewish rate. The non-Jews consume lots of olive oil (low in omega-6) rather than soybean oil. This is not an omega-3 effect; olive oil is low in both omega-3s.

“Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats [such as omega-6] is a safe, proven, and delicious way to cut the rates of heart disease,” wrote Walter Willett, the Harvard epidemiologist, in Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy (2001, p. 71). The Israeli Paradox shows that this way of reducing heart disease is anything but safe and proven.

4 Responses to “The Israeli Paradox”

  1. OrenT Says:

    The linked article about the Israeli Paradox is more than 10 years old. In the last decade the Israeli diet has started to shift from soybean to canola oil and the consumption of olive oil in the jewish population has increased dramatically. I wonder if this is starting to show in the statistics.

  2. Tim Lundeen Says:

    Fascinating links, thanks. A complex subject to be sure…

    Re red wine, there is more and more evidence that resveratrol (one of the components of some red wine) does very good things re metabolism. See http://ouroboros.wordpress.com/2006/11/13/resveratrol-lifespan-and-an-unhealthy-diet/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resveratrol. I started taking a very low dose (20mg/day) about a month ago and noticed an immediate effect on my glucose metabolism, which went from low-grade diabetes to high-end of normal within a week (monitored via a home glucose meter).

    I am going to try increasing my resveratrol intake at some point, but first want to bump up my omega-3 levels from ~600mg/day to ~1g/day, based on what you’ve experienced re sleep/balance.

    BTW, my experience with the Shangri-La diet (based on the original paper), is that you have to be eating a relatively low glycemic-index diet for it to work. I would suggest that people who are not seeing effects try low-GI diet with is (which also lowers weight 10-15% as you note).

  3. JR Says:

    Updated article from pubmed, which I can’t find a copy of.

    World Rev Nutr Diet. 2003;92:81-91. Links
    Omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio: the Israeli paradox.

    * Dubnov G,
    * Berry EM.

  4. Joe Says:

    The so-called “French Paradox” is no paradox…they have low rates of heart disease BECAUSE they eat more saturated fat!

    Saturated fat has long fallen under the curse of “guilty until proven innocent”. Despite there being virtually no evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease, as well as lots of evidence that it PREVENTS heart disease, it’s still considered the “bad fat”.

    Wanna live longer and healthier? More saturated fat, less omega-6. Eat butter, not margarine. Eat fatty meat, not lean meat. Cut your carb intake to less than 20% of your daily caloric intake, and try to eat a few eggs a day.