I was directed towards an interesting UK news story today - a report in the Daily Telegraph announcing that researchers have found that the idea that fried food automatically causes heart disease is, in fact, a myth. Hooray! I thought. At last they’re catching up with us paleo types, and making friends with fat.
Not quite. It turns out the article amounts to faint praise for fat, because it goes on to elaborate that researchers concluded that “it’s a myth that regularly eating fried foods causes heart attacks…as long as you use olive oil or sunflower oil”.
Apart from the fact that olive oil isn’t top of the charts when it comes to frying (and not to mention the fact that sunflower oil is best avoided due to the fact it has almost certainly been industrially processed and is too high in omega 6 fatty acids) it appears that the conclusions reached in the article are at least partly flawed.
The latest study, published in the British Medical Journal, found no association between the frequency of fried food consumption in Spain – where olive and sunflower oils are mostly used – and the incidence of serious heart disease.
However, the British Heart Foundation warned Britons not to “reach for the frying pan” yet, pointing out that the Mediterranean diet as a whole was healthier than ours.
Spanish researchers followed more than 40,000 people, two-thirds of whom were women, from the mid 1990s to 2004.
At the outset they asked them how often they ate fried foods, either at home or while out. They then looked to see whether eating fried foods regularly increased the likelihood of falling ill from having coronary heart disease, such as a heart attack or angina requiring surgery.
Dividing participants into four groups, from lowest fried food intake to highest, they found no significant difference in heart disease.
There were 606 incidents linked to heart disease in total, but they were split relatively evenly between the four groups.
The authors concluded: “In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death.”
The article goes on to point out that frying foods in previously used oils, or oils containing high levels of trans fats, isn’t healthy. So far (almost) so good. After this, things go off the rails:
Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Before we all reach for the frying pan it’s important to remember that this was a study of a Mediterranean diet, rather than British fish and chips.
“Our diet in the UK will differ from Spain, so we cannot say that this result would be the same for us too.
“Participants in this study used unsaturated fats such as olive and sunflower oil to fry their food.
“We currently recommend swapping saturated fats like butter, lard or palm oil for unsaturated fats as a way of keeping your cholesterol down and this study gives further cause to make that switch.
Pardon me, but I missed the part of the study which conclusively proved that eating butter, lard or palm oil caused heart disease. Oh – that would be because it didn’t.
Whilst it’s great that we’re at least seeing the mainstream media moving away from a general “fat is bad” stance, we now have to contend with the fact that certain healthy fats are still being demonized. It’s always a good idea to demonize industrially produced fats and trans fats – but can we please move on from this phobia about saturated fat?
Good quality saturated fats
– grass-fed butter; coconut oil; lard; tallow et al – are nourishing, healthy fats, and a far better choice for frying than either olive oil or (horrors!) sunflower oil.
I only wish that all the people who read that article – which amounts to faint praise for fat – could cast their eyes over Real Food Digest’s Complete Guide To Fats and Oils. Everything they really need to know is right there, and it explains why great fats – including great saturated fats – are such an important part of the paleo diet.