Saturated Fat and Heart Attacks

After I discovered that butter made me faster at arithmetic, I started eating half a stick (66 g) of butter per day. After a talk about it, a cardiologist in the audience said I was killing myself. I said that the evidence that butter improved my brain function was much clearer than the evidence that butter causes heart disease. The cardiologist couldn’t debate this; he seemed to have no idea of the evidence.

Shortly before I discovered the butter/arithmetic connection, I had a heart scan (a tomographic x-ray) from which is computed an Agaston score, a measure of calcification of your blood vessels. The Agaston score is a good predictor of whether you will have a heart attack. The higher your score, the greater the probability. My score put me close to the median for my age. A year later — after eating lots of butter every day during that year — I got a second scan. Most people get about 25% worse each year.  My second scan showed regression (= improvement). It was 40% better (less) than expected (a 25% increase). A big increase in butter consumption was the only aspect of my diet that I consciously changed between Scan 1 and Scan 2.

The improvement I observed, however surprising, was consistent with a 2004 study that measured narrowing of the arteries as a function of diet. About 200 women were studied for three years. There were three main findings. 1. The more saturated fat, the less narrowing. Women in the highest quartile of saturated fat intake didn’t have, on average, any narrowing. 2. The more polyunsaturated fat, the more narrowing. 3. The more carbohydrate, the more narrowing. Of all the nutrients examined, only saturated fat clearly reduced narrowing. Exactly the opposite of what we’ve been told.

As this article explains, the original idea that fat causes heart disease came from Ancel Keys, who omitted most of the available data from his data set. When all the data were considered, there was no connection between fat intake and heart disease. There has never been convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease, but somehow this hasn’t stopped the vast majority of doctors and nutrition experts from repeating what they’ve been told.

26 Responses to “Saturated Fat and Heart Attacks”

  1. Nick Says:

    Eating butter is still a silly idea because it’s bereft of nutrients.

  2. Peter Andrews Says:

    Very nice half hour Australian TV show about the lack of evidence fir cholesterol/saturated fat hypothesis just aured October 24, 2013.

    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/heartofthematter/

  3. Richard A. Says:

    Real butter has all kinds of trace nutrients in it that are missing from margarine.

  4. Tuck Says:

    “Eating butter is still a silly idea because it’s bereft of nutrients.”

    That’s wrong.

    http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/2244512/2

  5. Mark Says:

    “Eating butter is still a silly idea because it’s bereft of nutrients.”

    Well, it’s obviously not bereft of nutrients because it’s loaded with saturated fat (besides the link Tuck provides)…. which is kind of the point. Second, Seth has found that it made him faster at arithmetic. How is that silly?

  6. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    See also this article from the Los Angeles Times:

    Time to end the war against saturated fat?

  7. Joe Says:

    It’s nice to see the tide finally turning regarding saturated fats. I eat a lot of it, and I’ve never been healthier.

    Want a really silly idea? Eating margarine!

  8. emini_guy Says:

    See also this: http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/does-butter-still-deserve-a-bad-rap–controversial-doc-says-no-002203701.html

  9. David Says:

    Seth, have you considered doing similar experiments with eggs (and especially with eggs from chickens that eat bugs and grass instead of just corn)?

    Eggs are criticized for having lots of fat/cholesterol, but certainly humans and their ancestors have been eating eggs whenever they could find them. It’s hard to believe that we didn’t evolve to take advantage of such a great source of energy and nutrients.

    Seth: I have never noticed any brain benefit from eating eggs. I haven’t specifically done an experiment.

  10. qhfgva Says:

    I was curious what the vegan response to this article would be and posted a comment here:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/104628657784485387851/posts/DR178fSBy6M

    I don’t know enough about this paper to know if his response is fair or not. As a butter eater I’d certainly *like* to believe that the 2004 paper referenced above is not misleading.

  11. Heidi Says:

    The study used questionnaires, and apparently the unsaturated fat was vegetable oil used for cooking. In other words, these polyunsaturated fats were mostly nasties, not high quality polyunsaturated oils such as flax oil, etc. I think the study would have been even better if they had asked the participants to use only certain oils, not soy and corn, which they then used to fry up something equally toxic, no doubt.

    My real question would be, if one cooks with ghee and coconut oil, and only uses high quality polyunsaturated oil without heating it, would they get better results? I’m betting my own health that … yes.

  12. Audrey Says:

    Seth, I wonder if you have ever tested if zinc supplementation has any effects on you.

    http://itsthewooo.blogspot.com/2013/10/zinc-omg-cico-is-stupid-and-useless.html
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22549093

  13. Seth Roberts Says:

    Have I studied zinc?

    I think I took it a few times and noticed no difference. Not sure.

  14. Nick Says:

    Can’t believe everyone got on the defensive about my comment on butter. It has a bit of vitamin A and perhaps some K2, that’s it. Relative to other foods, that’s nothing. If you eat, say, ground beef, (saturated fat in it too) you get lots of nutrients that tag along.

    Does this comment section just latch to whatever Seth preaches like its gospel?

  15. Brock in HK Says:

    Nick – Can’t believe you made a short, ill-informed comment on this blog, which focuses on presenting evidence from the result of (usually self-) experiments. If you had even a few facts to support your initial assertion, you might have started a debate rather than receiving a scolding.

    Still not quite there with your comment. Can you disprove that Seth benefited from his consumption of butter? That might be a more productive avenue.

  16. Joe Says:

    “Can’t believe everyone got on the defensive about my comment on butter.”

    Really?

    Even when you make comments like this:

    “Eating butter is still a silly idea because it’s bereft of nutrients”

    The 20 Health Benefits of Real Butter:
    http://bodyecology.com/articles/benefits_of_real_butter.php#.Um013hAnX8k

    7 Reasons Why Butter is Good For You:
    http://authoritynutrition.com/7-reasons-why-butter-is-good-for-you/

    Does that really sound “silly” to you?

    Really?

  17. Nick Says:

    Butter isn’t unhealthy, at least in moderation.

    I just think there’s better options. For butter’s saturated fat and CLA, eat fatty red meat. For the K2 and vitamin A, eat beef liver and eggs yolks. For the butyrate, optimize your gut microbiome and eat plant fiber (especially resistant starch).

    My gripe is that these posts lead people to eat multiple sticks of butter a day, thinking it’s healthy. Beyond moderation (e.g. a little added to meals for flavor), it’s just a pile of calories without that much added nutrition.

  18. Nick Says:

    I’m also not knocking Seth’s self-experiments. I think they’re really cool!

  19. Joe Says:

    “My gripe is that these posts lead people to eat multiple sticks of butter a day,”

    Why? You yourself said to “eat fatty red meat.” Would that automatically lead people to eat several pounds of red meat a day? Ditto for liver, egg yolks, etc.

    Really?

    “thinking it’s healthy.”

    But it is healthy! When eaten in NORMALLY consumed amounts.

    “(e.g. a little added to meals for flavor)”

    Who suggested otherwise?

    I eat grass-fed butter, red meat, beef liver, and eggs, among other things. Plant fiber is over-rated. IMO (including resistant starch), but I nevertheless eat some each day, mostly in the form of nutritionally dense veggies (e.g. kale).

    Nothing “silly” about it.

  20. Eric Anderson Says:

    Froma this web site:

    Is Butter Healthy? Butyric Acid Benefits
    So today I want to start by addressing butyric acid (also known as butyrate). Butter is the richest dietary source of butyric acid (3-4%), a short-chain fatty acid which is proving to be highly beneficial.

    Butyric Acid and Metabolic Health
    A very interesting study demonstrated the benefits of butyric acid in mice. Researchers found that feeding these mice butryic acid could reverse several harmful metabolic affects. The mice who received butyric acid in their diet were leaner and did not have a tendency to overeat. They also had lower cholesterol, triglyceride and fasting insulin levels–all pointing to better metabolic health and a decreased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

    Butyric Acid and Gut Health
    The gut actually uses butyric acid as an energy source. Butyric acid has been shown to benefit those with gut disorders like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. That’s because this short-chain fatty acid helps restore the integrity of the gut lining while also reducing inflammation.

    Butyric Acid and Cancer
    Studies have demonstrated that butyric acid has the ability to cause cancer cells to mature into normal cells. This is a unique property, since most anti-cancer substances either kill the cancer cell or cause it to kill itself. Butyric acid, however, appears to preserve the life of the cell by normalizing its function.
    http://www.livingthenourishedlife.com/2010/10/is-butter-healthy-part-one-butyric-acid

    Is Butter Healthy?
    In the end, the degree of health-giving properties in any given food is dependent upon an individual’s tolerance or dietary needs. In other words, your mileage may vary. But after today’s post and as we continue to explore butter’s health benefits, I hope that we can end the tyrade on this traditional fat and learn to appreciate what butter has to offer.

  21. Brock in HK Says:

    I’m curious as to a) how many people Nick knows that are eating multiple sticks of butter as a result of posts like this; and b) how many people are negatively impacted in the various health dimensions as a result of eating all those sticks of butter.

    I posted a request over at butterovereatersanonymous.org to see if anyone would volunteer data, but got no joy.

    Seth: Why the negative bias? Why don’t you also ask how many people are positively impacted?

  22. Audrey Says:

    I think Brock is actually teasing Nick’s dogmatism rather than being negative toward butter.

    In any event, there’s no such thing as butterovereatersanonymous.org.

  23. Brock in HK Says:

    Big, big ;) to Audrey. I better go park the url for future use!

    My rhetorical curiosity was grounded in the truth:

    I think the answer to a) is that very few people are eating tons of butter to the exclusion of other nutrient dense foods such as liver, grass fed beef, vegetables, etc., as a result of posts by Seth or anyone else with similar n>=1 evidence (see Dave Asprey, et. al.). Seth – I think people are actually positively impacted by higher butter consumption than the standard American diet and I (n=1) count myself among them.

    I think the answer to b) is that of those that would qualify in condition a, an even smaller subset of people are negatively impacted in various health dimensions by the consumption of butter in those much larger quantities. As someone who eats a lot of butter, I was just being Silly.

  24. Brad Says:

    @Nick, I read similar thoughts about butter all the time. The flaw in many people’s thinking is that butter is not nutrient dense compared to other foods because of how they are defining “nutrients”, primarily as vitamins and minerals and ignoring the fact that the fatty acids, the actual fat itself, *is* nutrients. It is nutritional and it does have positive impacts to health – therefor by definition is nutrients – regardless of the old, outdated, definition provided by the biased/inept FDA and USDA. Two other logical points… This article and MANY others and related studies support that butter has positive health impact and by association is nutrient dense. Secondly, most people would agree that whole milk, particularly raw/un-pasturized, is a very healthy food. If you don’t agree, then just begone as I don’t have time to debate with morons. Now, what is butter other than the extraction of most of the lactose and protein from milk? It’s basically the concentrated fat and other contents. Is it unhealthy merely because it lacks protein? No! Is unhealthy because it lacks lactose? Quite the opposite. People are just trying to rationalize an irrational fear of eating fat. They think eating fat is bad because it’s highly caloric and so make up all this crap to justify not eating much of it. The problem is not the fat or calories, it’s that people don’t f’ing move enough! (exercise).

  25. jon Says:

    I fry almost everything in either vegetable oil or butter. My last checkup about 1 month ago suggests that I am in perfect health. Don’t believe the hype.
    http://wilmington-wedding-dj.com/

  26. David Johnston Says:

    Being not afraid of butter is a huge convenience in the kitchen. When I make an omelette, I start with a couple of huge blobs of butter, enough to cover the whole pan bottom to a depth of a couple of mm. Then the omelette slides around easily, cooks evenly, tastes good and has more butter in it.

    I think there is something to eating fat for breakfast, irrespective of the type of fat. Things you might do if you follow the Seth plan is to drink flax oil, or chow down half a stick of butter. A common thread is that people tend to do this in the morning, because the most practical place and time to do it is in the morning while you are near your fridge. I find that a fat breakfast lasts me until dinner. So you’ve gone from a fast overnight to a 0 carb breakfast that is highly caloric that you don’t break until dinnertime.

    Without any evidence to back it up, I suggest that continuing a carb fast by eating fat for breakfast is different (in terms of outcome) to eating wheaties for breakfast and having the fat in the evening. I don’t have wheaties in the house, so I can’t test this hypothesis.

    Sign’s of change? Many of my coworkers brought in to work excess confectionary from Halloween, attempting to offload it on others. I don’t remember that in the past. Perhaps the message on sugar is being received more broadly than before.