- Dr Aseem Malhotra is a cardiologist and founder of Action on Sugar
- Says fat has been unfairly demonised when sugar is the real villain
- Claims full fat diary can actually prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- And diabetics told to eat carbs are unwittingly wrecking their health
For decades, we were told that eating fat would lead us to early grave. Horror stories of clogged arteries and coronaries were the norm, while foods such as pasta were seen as healthy.
But research is increasingly disproving this theory - and sugar is now public enemy number one.
In fact, fat is good for us and should be our medicine, claims cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who is based in Surrey.
He says a mounting slew of evidence suggests that far from contributing to heart problems, having full fat dairy in your diet may actually protect you from heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Here, writing for Men's Health, he explains his controversial view...
This morning, as I do most days, I breakfasted on a three egg omelette cooked in coconut oil, with a whole milk coffee.
I enjoyed a wedge of full fat cheese with my lunch, poured a liberal dose of olive oil on my evening salad and snacked on nuts throughout the day.
In short, I ingested a fair amount of fat and, as a cardiologist who has treated thousands of people with heart disease, this may seem a particularly peculiar way to behave.
Fat, after all, furs up our arteries and piles on the pounds – or at least that’s what prevailing medical and dietary advice has had us believe.
As a result, most of us have spent years eschewing full fat foods for their ‘low fat’ equivalents, in the hope it will leave us fitter and healthier.
Yet I’m now convinced we have instead been doing untold damage: far from being the best thing for health or weight loss, a low fat diet is the opposite.
In fact, I would go so far as to say the change in dietary advice in 1977 to restrict the amount of fat we were eating helped to fuel the obesity epidemic unfolding today.
It’s a bold statement, but one I believe is upheld by an array of recent research.
WHY I ENCOURAGE MY PATIENTS TO EAT FAT
These days I make a point of telling my patients – many of whom are coping with debilitating heart problems – to avoid anything bearing the label ‘low fat’.
Better instead, I tell them, to embrace full fat dairy and other saturated fats within the context of a healthy eating plan.
It’s an instruction that is sometimes greeted with open-mouthed astonishment, along with my request to steer clear of anything that promises to reduce cholesterol – another of those edicts we are told can promote optimum heart and artery health.
As we will see, the reality is far more nuanced: in some cases lowering cholesterol levels can actually increase cardiovascular death and mortality, while in healthy people over 60 a higher cholesterol is associated with a lower risk of mortality. Why, exactly, we will come to later.
First though, let me make it clear that until very recently, I too assumed that keeping fat to a minimum was the key to keeping healthy and trim.
In fact, to say my diet revolved around carbohydrates - sugared cereal, toast and orange juice for breakfast, a panini for lunch and pasta for dinner was not an uncommon daily menu.
Good solid fuel, or so I thought, especially as I am a keen sportsman and runner.
Still, I had a wedge of fat round my stomach which no amount of football and running seemed to shift.
That, though, wasn’t the reason I started to explore changing what I ate.
THE TOXIC TRUTH ABOUT SUGAR
That process started in 2012, when I read a paper called ‘The toxic truth about sugar’ by Robert Lustig in the science journal Nature.
In it, Lustig, a Professor of Paediatrics who also works at the University of California’s Centre for Obesity Assessment, said the dangers to human health caused by added sugar were such that products packed with it should carry the same warnings as alcohol.
It was an eye-opener: as a doctor I already knew too much of anything is bad for you, but here was someone telling us that something most of ate unthinkingly every day was, slowly, killing us.
The more I looked into it, the more it became abundantly clear to me that it was sugar, not fat, which was causing so many of our problems.
This is why, along with a group of fellow medical specialists, I launched the lobbying group Action on Sugar last year with the aim of persuading the food industry to reduce added sugar in processed foods.
Then earlier this year I had another light-bulb moment.
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