"Dr. Hyman, I have been so confused about saturated fat," writes this week's house call. "The government still says to limit saturated fat, yet I read in the news how maybe it's not really connected to heart disease? Is butter really back?"
I understand why there is so much confusion around butter and saturated fat. The diet debates have America spinning. Some advocate for putting dollops of butter in coffee, while others shun avocados and nuts as harmful, heart-disease-promoting and fattening foods. What's the average eater to do?
Is butter really back?Shutterstock
Three recent studies add to an increasing body of evidence that saturated fat is not the evil, heart-disease-producing substance we once thought. A recent large review of the research found that the higher the saturated fat intake in the population, the lower the risk of stroke.
Another study of 3,333 people over 15 years led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts, examined not dietary history but actual blood levels of fats and found that those with the highest level of dairy fat (essentially, butter in the blood) had up to a 44 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared to those who had the lowest levels of dairy fat in their blood.
And a third study, just published after 40 years, looked at 9,400 people residing in mental hospitals who were fed either butter and saturated fats or corn oil (omega-6 fats). The researchers found surprising results. The corn oil group had a much greater reduction in LDL cholesterol (30 mg/dl vs. 5 mg/dl) but a higher risk of heart attacks than the saturated fat group.
Is butter a health food? Probably not. Should it be shunned? For sure not. A review of the literature and a growing consensus among a large group of leading scientists suggest that we, for far too long, have unfairly maligned butter and saturated fats.
America first went low-fat in earnest in 1980, when our government told us to cut the fat. That message was then reinforced with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) infamous food pyramid, which encouraged us to eat 6 to 11 servings of bread, rice, cereal and pasta a day.
Eleven servings of bread a day? That sounds a little crazy now. But back then, most Americans took that advice. As a result, we are now fatter and sicker than ever, with nearly 70 percent of us overweight and one in two with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. And while death rates from heart disease are declining due to better treatments, the percent of the population developing heart disease is increasing significantly.
What happened to our diet over the last century? According U.S. Department of Agriculture records, our intake of saturated fats, eggs and meat decreased—butter from 9 to 4.6 pounds, lard and tallow from 10.5 to 6.0 pounds, red meat 71 to 60 pounds per person, per year. Egg consumption dropped from 374 to 250 per year. But our intake of refined vegetable oils increased from 9.8 to 35.2 pounds per person, per year, chicken by 57 percent, sugar by 39 percent and grains by 45 percent.
While our total calorie consumption has increased (we eat more of everything), our fat consumption has decreased from 40 to 30 percent of our diet and our sugar and carbohydrate consumption has increased dramatically. And yet, obesity, diabetes and the incidents of heart disease are all increasing.
Today, we know some things we didn't know back when we originally received all that low-fat dietary counsel. First, review after review after independent review of the research shows that there seems to be very little link between saturated fats and heart disease. In the absence of refined (starchy) carbs and sugars, and in the presence of adequate omega-3 fats, saturated fat itself is in no way linked to heart disease.
So why all the mixed messages? Well, the fact is, dietary saturated fat raises total and LDL cholesterol. But not all cholesterol is created equal. In fact, saturated fat improves the quality of the LDL cholesterol by increasing the less harmful large fluffy LDL particles, while also lowering triglycerides and raising your levels of good HDL cholesterol. A low-fat, high-carb diet, meanwhile, makes cholesterol quality worse.
Total cholesterol, and especially LDL-C cholesterol, is not the best predictor of heart disease risk. What matters is the total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio and the LDL particle number and size. These are the factors that are the most predictive of heart disease. Eating more fat (except trans fats) and lowering sugar and refined carbs is one of the best ways (in addition to eating more non-starchy vegetables) to improve the quality of your cholesterol.
In fact, small LDL particles (from low-fat, high-carb diets) are associated with three times the risk of heart attacks compared to total LDL cholesterol. Saturated fat and fat in the context of a lower sugar and refined carbohydrate diet increases the LDL particle size (which is a good thing). Evidence also suggests that a bigger predictor of the extent of cardiac disease is the triglyceride-to-HDL ratio, not total or LDL cholesterol. That ratio is also improved by a higher total and saturated-fat diet and worsened by refined carbs and sugars. The evidence tying higher-fat diets to greater weight loss and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors has been repeated in many other studies.
What about all the calories in fat (gram for gram, it has more than twice as many calories as carbs and proteins)? Shouldn't we cut out fat to lose weight? While a shrinking number of health professionals still suggest that low-fat diets are best for weight loss, the overwhelming scientific consensus no longer supports the conclusion that total fat causes obesity.
In a recent review of 53 high-quality, randomized, controlled trials, comprising research that compared low-fat to high-fat diets, lasting at least a year, researchers found that in more than 68,128 people, the high-fat diets led to greater weight loss than the low-fat diets. The researchers included only the best quality studies (53 out of 3,517 studies).
This is why the 2015 Dietary Guidelines removed its previous limits on total dietary fat. They also removed the previous limits on dietary cholesterol, saying it was "no longer a nutrient of concern." After reviewing the evidence, the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded: "Reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk … Dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total fat."
So is butter really back? In a word. Yes.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Environmental Groups Balk as Trump Proposes Major Rollback of ›
- 'Another Blow to the Black Community': Trump Waives ... ›
- Trump to Exclude Climate Crisis Impacts From Infrastructure Planning ›
- Environmental Racism in Action: The Trump Administration's Plans ... ›
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
- 18 Cookbooks for Building a Diverse and Just Food System ... ›
- 19 Individuals and Groups Building Stronger Black Communities ... ›
- 8 Cookbooks We're Reading This Fall - EcoWatch ›
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded its list of potentially toxic hand sanitizers to avoid because they could be contaminated with methanol.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- Why Hand-Washing Really Is as Important as Doctors Say - EcoWatch ›
- If You're Worried About the New Coronavirus, Here's How to Protect ... ›
- Vodka Won't Protect You From Coronavirus, and 4 Other Things to ... ›
By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
- 4 Exciting Dam-Removal Projects to Watch - EcoWatch ›
- Jump-Starting the Dam Removal Movement in the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
- Boom: Removing 81 Dams Is Transforming This California Watershed ›
- Sea Level Rise Is Speeding up Along Most of the U.S. Coast ... ›
- Protecting Mangroves Can Prevent Billions of Dollars in Global ... ›
- Flooding Risk for U.S. Homes: Millions More Are Vulnerable Than ... ›
- 300 Million People Worldwide Could Suffer Yearly Flooding by 2050 ... ›
- Sea Level Rise Could Put 2.4 Million U.S. Coastal Homes at Risk ... ›
By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
- 7 Amazing New Fish Species Discovered in 2017 - EcoWatch ›
- Millions of Seahorses Wind Up Dead on the Black Market for This ... ›