Guest Article by Mark Hyman, MD

If you’re feeling completely confused about whether you should cut fat from your diet, you are not alone. But here’s the bottom line: fat does not make you fat or sick. So, why do so many people believe that fat is bad for you and causes heart attacks?

This all started in the Dr. Key’s Seven Countries Study decades ago that examined heart risk based on lifestyle and dietary habits. He found that in the countries where people ate more fat—especially saturated fat—there were more cases of heart disease, and he concluded that the fat caused the disease. But here’s the problem with this study: correlation is not causation. Just because both fat intake and heart disease were higher among the same population doesn’t mean the heart disease was caused by the fat consumption. Here’s another way to look at it: Every day, you wake up and the sun comes up, but although these events happen at the same time, you waking up doesn’t cause the sun to come up.

A study that observed this would show a 100% correlation between these two events, but it would be wrong to conclude that you caused the sun to rise. Because of studies like this, we became sidetracked into believing that saturated fat causes heart disease. But in fact, we are now learning that sugar is the true culprit, not fat. A review of all the research on saturated fat published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found there was no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. And a recent editorial in the British Journal of Medicine hammers home the same point and shatters the myth that fat causes obesity and heart disease. Researchers have found that, while it’s true that lowering saturated fat in the diet may lower total cholesterol, it’s actually lowering the good kind of cholesterol, the light, fluffy, buoyant LDL that’s not a problem.

When people eat less fat, they tend to eat more starch or sugar instead, and this actually increases their levels of dangerous cholesterol, the small, dense cholesterol that causes heart attacks. In fact, studies show that 75% of people who end up in the emergency room with a heart attack have normal overall cholesterol levels. What they do have is pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

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