Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats is important for protecting your heart, but it’s not the only precaution you should be taking.
“This may sound surprising, but saturated fat is not the issue that it was 30, 40, 50 years ago. That’s not because it’s less harmful. It’s because we have changed our diets,” explains Martijn Katan, an emeritus professor of nutrition at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a world-renowned expert on diet and cardiovascular disease.
“Less of our fat is saturated, and blood cholesterol levels have gone down markedly since the days when President Eisenhower had his heart attack,” says Katan.
“And in the Netherlands, just about everybody who’s at risk for heart disease is taking statins. That has a huge effect on cholesterol levels. The big issue now is not cholesterol, but obesity.”
Obesity is important because it leads to diabetes and the metabolic syndrome, which raise the risk of heart disease.
“Obesity is not caused by carbs or fats or proteins or whatever. That has caused a huge amount of confusion,” explains Katan.
“Obesity is caused by foods that are tasty, attractive, cheap, convenient, and present 24/7. The easiest way to realize that is to think of foods that we all know to be obesogenic, like a double hamburger, a large Coke, french fries, and ice cream. Just before you’re going to eat it, put it into a bucket and stir it around. The fats and carbs are the same, but it’s no longer obesogenic, because it’s disgusting.”
The problem is that we’re surrounded by appealing foods.
“It’s this intricate wizardry that the food industry does with our foods that makes us want to eat more. It’s not just the salt, fat, or sugar. It’s also the sound that the food makes when you chew it. It’s the smell, and which smells are released in your mouth after one second, two seconds, four seconds. Also, that food is cheap and easy to stuff in your mouth,” explains Katan.
“This is a billion-dollar industry. And that is what is making us fat. Trying to couch that in terms of fat or carbs obscures the issue.”