Saturated Fat is Back... Really!

A slew of recent magazine and newspaper articles is introducing laypeople to what holistically-minded healthcare practitioners have recognized for years: the advice to severely limit dietary fat in favor of starchy carbohydrates-which has been institutionalized and entrenched in government nutrition recommendations, with popular belief following in lock-step-may, in fact, be one of the primary drivers of the obesity and chronic disease epidemics it was originally intended to prevent.


The first step was the popularization of the Mediterranean diet, thanks to mainstream medicine's embrace of monounsaturated fats-most commonly found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds-as well as the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in fatty cold water fish, flax, and chia. But what is really making headlines these days is the massive shift in thinking regarding saturated fats-the ones found in many of the foods we have long been advised to avoid for the sake of heart health and maintaining a healthy body weight: red meat, butter, full-fat dairy, and egg yolks.

The turning of this tide owes itself to a growing body of scientific literature supporting the efficacy of reduced carbohydrate diets-even ones that contain relatively high amounts of not just total fat, but of saturated fat, in particular-for improving a wide array of health conditions, including diabetes, PCOS, heart disease, hypertension, and multiple features of metabolic syndrome.

Researchers who have surveyed the body of evidence supposedly linking saturated fats to a slew of health woes have come to some surprising conclusions. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease." And, "Despite the conventional wisdom that reduced dietary saturated fat intake is beneficial for cardiovascular health, the evidence for a positive, independent association is lacking." This reflected an earlier AJCN paper, which found that, regarding the influence of saturated fat on heart disease, "The evidence is not strong, and, overall, dietary intervention by lowering saturated fat intake does not lower the incidence of nonfatal CAD; nor does such dietary intervention lower coronary disease or total mortality."

Other researchers have reported similar findings: "The lack of any clear evidence that saturated fats are promoting any of the conditions that can be attributed to PUFA makes one wonder how saturated fats got such a bad reputation in the health literature. The influence of dietary fats on serum cholesterol has been overstated, and a physiological mechanism for saturated fats causing heart disease is still missing."

Dwight Lundell, MD, a heart surgeon with over a quarter-century in practice, has said, "The science that saturated fat alone causes heart disease is non-existent. The science that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol is also very weak. Since we now know that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, the concern about saturated fat is even more absurd today." Moreover, he goes on to affirm that some of the poor health outcomes medical practitioners commonly see today are the result of overconsumption of the PUFAs that were recommended in place of the naturally occurring saturates: "Mainstream medicine made a terrible mistake when it advised people to avoid saturated fat in favor of foods high in omega-6 fats." We have "simply followed the recommended mainstream diet that is low in fat and high in polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates, not knowing we were causing repeated injury to our blood vessels. This repeated injury creates chronic inflammation leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity." 

Not only are biochemical mechanisms for the supposed dangers of saturated fats largely lacking, but evidence is accumulating that certain types of saturated fats-specifically, the medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut and palm kernel oils-may be beneficial, particularly regarding cognitive function and neurodegenerative diseases.

Of course, the vindication of saturated fat is not an excuse for patients to load up on the bacon. But the good news is, they might be willing to eat a lot more vegetables now, knowing it's okay to melt a nice pat of butter on top!

Are you getting the quality protein powder you thought you paid for?

Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN at Designs for Health

Did you know there's a chance you may be wasting money on your protein supplements? Over the past year there have been issues with what is known as "protein spiking," as well as with protein powders that failed to meet their label claims.

Protein spiking is adding some non-protein substances to a protein powder to increase the overall nitrogen content of that powder. Proteins are the only nutrients that provide nitrogen; carbohydrates and fats do not. In the dietary supplement and food industries, the current standard used to test for protein analysis measures the total nitrogen in protein products. Since this test determines the nitrogen content, it is then used to calculate the total grams of protein in a protein supplement. This has created an easy way to manipulate the final test result by spiking the protein with other compounds that contain enough nitrogen to artificially inflate the final protein results. As a result, the tests may indicate that a protein powder contains more protein then it actually does if the test measures a non-protein substance simply by its nitrogen content. Companies that spike their protein powders are well aware of this limitation in regards to testing methods and use it to their advantage.

In the past, protein spiking has occurred by using the compound melamine, which is dangerous. However, this is not an issue in the industry anymore. More recently, manufacturers have been spiking proteins powders with amino acids such as glycine and taurine. This method uses compounds that are inexpensive, not toxic, and are extremely easy to mask due to the product's flavor profile. In addition, arginine and creatine have also been used. Arginine has approximately three times more nitrogen than whey protein, and creatine has one and a half times the nitrogen content, and at half the price. Protein spiking is a low-cost way to increase the nitrogen content without adding high-quality protein.

In some cases it may make sense to add an amino acid to a protein powder, which should not be confused with spiking. For example, adding an amino acid like glycine can improve the taste, texture and consistency. This is important because compliance of a product oftentimes is based upon taste. However, adding glycine should not be used to increase the nitrogen content and should not be calculated in the total protein present in the product.

There are many applications and benefits to amino acids; yet, they do not have the same beneficial effects as whole proteins do. Proteins are digested and absorbed differently than amino acids. Di- and tripeptides from proteins are absorbed intact and then released as free-form amino acids or released into the circulation. Less than 1% of protein that passes through the gastrointestinal tract is lost in the stool. Free-form amino acids do not have the same high level of absorption as these large amounts of protein.

The best way to avoid products that have been subjected to protein spiking is to understand the basics of the product in question and to use NSF-GMP professional companies that conduct in-house testing on every lot of their protein powders for quality, purity and potency. This would ensure that rigid standards are being adhered to and that the end product is what you are looking for.

Vitamin C may help people who suffer from respiratory symptoms after exercise

Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN at Designs for Health

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may have significant effects on intense exercise since physical activity increases oxidative stress. In several studies, vitamin C mitigated the increased oxidative stress caused by exercise. Vitamin C is also involved in the metabolism of histamine, prostaglandins, and cysteinyl leukotrienes, all of which are mediators in the pathogenesis of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

A meta-analysis of three studies that looked at pulmonary function demonstrated that vitamin C halved post-exercise FEV1 decline in participants who suffered from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. FEV1 - forced expiratory volume at timed intervals of 1 second - measures the large-airway obstruction and is the standard test for pulmonary function for assessing if a person suffers from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.  Five other studies also revealed that vitamin C halved the incidence of respiratory symptoms while an additional study showed that it halved the duration of respiratory symptoms in adolescent male swimmers.

The analysis showed that exercise induced a decline in forced expiratory flow 25-75% (FEF25-75), twice as great as the decline in FEV1. While FEV1 measures the large-airway obstruction, FEF25-75 measures small-airway obstruction. Therefore, FEF25-75 or FEF50 (50%) might provide relevant additional information about the possible effects of vitamin C.

A secondary analysis of a study with 12 participants was carried out by Dr. Harri Hemila of the University of Helsinki in Finland. All of the participants had asthma for approximately 26 years and suffered from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. In 42% of the participants, exercise caused a decline greater than 60% in FEF60. This dramatic decline indicates that the post-exercise level of FEF60 is an important outcome. Vitamin C administration increased the post-exercise FEF60 level in these five participants by 50-150% while no difference was seen between the vitamin C and placebo days in the other seven participants. The increase in post-exercise FEF60 level by vitamin C is a unique finding, which demonstrates that vitamin C may have a significant effect on small airways.

Nine randomized trials confirmed the benefits of vitamin C against exercise-induced bronchoconstriction and respiratory symptoms. Due to the safety and low cost of this vitamin, it makes sense for physically active people to supplement with vitamin C if they have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or suffer from respiratory symptoms such as cough or sore throat after exercise.