Heart Health Myth Busting: The Diet-Heart Hypothesis

Heart Health Myth Busting: The Diet-Heart Hypothesis

Are you afraid of butter, coconut oil or even lard/animal fat? Why? Is it because of the cholesterol? Is it because you don’t want to gain weight? Or is it because of a concern for clogged arteries and heart disease? Well, let’s bust this MYTH once and for all and remove the fear about fat! In case you haven’t heard, fearing cholesterol and dietary fat is old news. If you’re still living in “fear of fat” it’s time for a paradigm shift. Don’t get me wrong, we still want to know what kinds of fats support health and what types cause a breakdown. But since we are in February, the month named for heart health, I wanted to share some information I live by as well as what I learned while becoming a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP).  

Time it is a Changin’  

If you didn’t see the coverof Time Magazine in 2014 then you may have missed the memo on the fact that the fears surrounding cholesterol and dietary (or saturated) fat have been debunked. YES, that’s right… science was WRONG. Gasp! It happens. You see, in the 1950’s this fella Ancel Keys made a big to do over cholesterol and heart health. He did some traveling and some research and came up with an idea that saturated fat caused heart disease. Mr. Key’s work was coined the Diet-Heart Hypothesis

This idea gained some esteem with some high-profile people, like post-heart-attack President Eisenhower and Key’s started to rake in some accolades and research funding. Once an opportunity became evident, he was too stubborn (or blind) to admit that outliers in the evidence existed. It was faulty science folks, and we took it hook, line and sinker. Since then, Americans bought into the fat-free craze (Britain, for one, didn’t agree). We started eating sugar-laden, processed, food-like products in place of whole foods that human populations have thrived on for centuries. We started to avoid healthy fats for fear of clogged arteries and high cholesterol. Today, this hypothesis is being referred to as the Diet-Heart Myth. As Dr. Campbell-McBride says of Key’s work, “It was a new, untested diet — just an idea, presented to American’s as truth.” It’s been more than 60 years since this hypothesis was popularized, it’s time to let it go. 


Why the cholesterol confusion? 

Anatomy and physiology tells us that cholesterol is part of every cell membrane in the body, responsible for metabolism, necessary for hormone production, critical for the brain and rich in breast milk. In her book Put Your Heart in Your Mouth, Neurologist Dr. Campbell-McBride says, “…cholesterol is one of the most essential substances in the body.” In fact, our bodies make most of our own cholesterol.    

But what about cholesterol found in food, a.k.a. dietary cholesterol? Are you worried about those egg yolks? Don’t fret. Biochemist and nutritionist Dr. Mary Enig says, “It is not possible for humans to eat enough cholesterol-containing foods every day to supply the amount that a human needs.” So why are we getting such confused information regarding fat and cholesterol in our diet. Well, the answer is more complex than I can cover here but check out my list of resources at the end of this post. These authors, have done the years of legwork, study-by-study and lab experiment-by-experiment proving that the diet-heart hypothesis was never accurate. That’s why I say it’s time this myth is sufficiently busted. As to why there is the confusion in the first place, Nina Teicholz, gives the political and economic timeline of happenings during the late 50’s and early 60’s in her book, The Big Fat Surprise. Her chronicle of the history on this topic provides a compelling picture of what occurred during Key’s life and career. 

Dr. Campbell-McBride sums it up as she writes, “The idea that saturated fats cause heart disease is completely wrong, but the statement has been ‘published’ so many times over the last three or more decades that it is very difficult to convince people otherwise unless they are willing to take the time to read and learn what all the economic and political facts were that produced the anti-saturated agenda.” 


Fat Facts      

Fat is one of the three main macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and proteins, necessary for a healthy diet. All fats are a mixture of various types even though they are categorized based on the dominant type. For instance, butter is 15% short/medium saturated, 50% other saturated and 30% monounsaturated fat even though it’s categorized as a saturated fat (Enig). 

In order for our bodies to function properly we need certain nutrients. When the body doesn’t make something on its own it’s referred to as “essential.” One of theses nutrients is EFAs or essential fatty acids. They are “essential” because the body does not make them itself therefore we must get them through food. So, we know that all fat is not “bad” because we need it for a healthy diet and for optimal health.  

So what types of fats are the “good” fats and which are the “bad” guys? Allow me to bottom line it. There are three types of fats:  saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. In general these are all the good guys, and include things like coconut oil, avocados and fish oils respectively.  

The bad fats to avoid are the hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated and highly processed vegetable oils and fried fats. Highly processed oils like canola, soy and cottonseed end up as toxins in our bodies! Other toxic fats are the trans fats which are the by-product of the hydrogenation process. No “fear of fat” is necessary when you can distinguish the healthy fats from the bad fats to avoid. 

Clear the air on Cholesterol 

Furthermore, the body actually needs cholesterol. Not only is it needed but it kind of acts as a hero. When the body has injury or inflammation (such as scaring in arteries called plaque) cholesterol is the substance that rushes to the scene of injury to work on fixing the mess. We know that it is also manufactured by the body itself so it’s obvious we can let go of the idea that it is inherently bad.  As Dr. Mercola says on his site, “ If you have increased levels of cholesterol, it is at least in part because of increased inflammation in your body. The cholesterol is there to do a job: help your body to heal and repair.” 

To Sum Up

Nutritional information is always evolving. The challenge is that the public doesn’t get to know all these changes in real time. It’s evolutionary to get the word out — it takes time. Once a rule is adopted it can be like turning a ship to change our mindset. Too many people I meet are still afraid of dietary fat or saturated fat for fear of high cholesterol numbers. That’s an oversimplification of the real story, folks. I’m hereby giving you permission to once again, love healthy dietary fat.  


#hearthealth #mythbust #diethearthypothesis #dietheartmyth #healthyfat #heartdisease #mythbusting #ancelkeys #dietaryfat #cholesterol #healthyfat #saturatedfat



Axe, Dr. Josh. https://draxe.com/high-cholesterol-foods/ 

Campbell-McBride, Natasha, MD. (2007). Put Your Heart in Your Mouth.  

Enig, Mary G. Ph.D. (2015). Know Your Fats: The complete primer for understanding the nutrition of fats, oils and cholesterol. 

Hyman, Dr. Mark. http://drhyman.com/blog/2014/09/08/saturated-fat-get-bad-rep/ 

Kresser, Dr. Chris. http://my.chriskresser.com/ebook/the-diet-heart-myth/

Mercola, J. Dr. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/06/05/saturated-fat-heart-disease-risk.aspx?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=facebookmercola_ranart-ths&utm_campaign=20170416_saturated-fat-heart-disease-risk and https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/08/10/making-sense-of-your-cholesterol-numbers.aspx 

Minger, Denise. (2013). Death of the Food Pyramid. 

Teicholz, Nina. (2014). The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. 

Wolfe, Liz. (2014). Eat the Yolks. 

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