Afraid of saturated fat?
Think it’s going to kill you?
The lipid hypothesis is wrong. Dead wrong.
In fact, not only is it wrong, but your gains as a bodybuilder are being hampered by eliminating foods containing saturated fat and cholesterol – more on this later.
Two recent developments have helped bolster the claim that saturated is harmless, and in fact, beneficial to your health.
Make no mistake about it, the old paradigm is dying. An untrue assertion simply cannot stand the test of time when the facts tell a different story.
Since this particular nonsense has been going since the 1950’s, I think it has overstayed its welcome by a few decades at least!
I talked about this briefly in the new Total Six Pack Abs book, but I want to blog about it for the benefit of all those who haven’t purchased the program as yet.
Low Carb & Low Fat Diets
To test the efficacy or both low-carb and low-fat in relation to heart-health markers, a 2-year study put 307 subjects on either one of the diets.
The low-carb group consumed “limited carbohydrate intake (20g per day for 3 months) in the form of low–glycemic index vegetables with unrestricted consumption of fat and protein. After 3 months, participants in the low-carbohydrate diet group increased their carbohydrate intake (5g per day per wk) until a stable and desired weight was achieved.”
If any of you have ever been on the Atkins diet, you’ll recognise that this is exactly how that diet is to be undertaken.
On the other hand, the “low-fat diet consisted of limited energy intake (1200 to 1800 kcal/d; ≤30% calories from fat)”. So they were in a Caloric-deficit and eating less than 30% of their daily Calories from fat.
So while the low-carbers could eat unlimited amounts of fat and protein, the low-fatters ate little dietary fat within the context of a Calorie-restricted diet.
Conventional wisdom would certainly favor the low-fat approach. Let’s have a look at the conclusion of that study…
The study concluded that low-carb nutrition is associated with greater reductions in diastolic blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol levels, than a low-fat diet. Interestingly, weight loss was equal even though the low-carbers were allowed to eat as much as they liked.
By the way, it is your VLDL cholesterol that is the only good marker for heart health. Total cholesterol levels tell you nothing at all. People with low cholesterol levels die of heart attacks too!
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, you know your VLDL is decreasing if your HDL cholesterol increases (good) and your triglycerides decrease (also a good thing). Typically, this is what happens when someone goes on a low-carb diet.
(Ref: Weight and metabolic outcomes after 2 years on a low-carbohydrate versus low-fat diet: a randomized trial)
The second development I’d like to bring your attention to is a recent meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease led by Dr. Ronald M. Krauss. It looked at 21 studies that referenced saturated fat and heart disease. It concluded:
“A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD”.
Dr. Krauss has also stated,
“It’s the carbohydrate that appears to have most of the effect when it comes to dietary influences. Increasing saturated fat does not appear to reduce the benefits of limiting carbohydrate.”
This means that the heart-health benefits of reducing carbohydrate intake are not diminished by increasing your intake of saturated fat.
I’ve shared the following video before, but I think it’s particularly relevant here. It’s from the documentary,”Fat Head” by Tom Naughton. Check it out…
So I said above that a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is not optimal for the natural bodybuilder. Why not?
Cholesterol is a precursor to the anabolic hormone testosterone. It is found in high-fat foods such as eggs, butter and red meat which promote maximum serum levels of the 3 muscle-building hormones:
- Growth Hormone
A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is therefore not desirable for anyone seeking to build muscle. Eat your eggs, red meat, nuts, seeds, and so on without fear. Of course you need to reduce your intake of refined carbs and sugar at the same time!
Do you know anyone that has been told to cut down fat consumption by their doctor in order to improve their heart health?
My mother was recently given this advice. She told him that she doesn’t eat a lot of fat but she was sent away with low-fat recommendations nevertheless.
I told her the problem was with all the sugar she consumes, she didn’t listen (I don’t have a white coat after all). See this post for why a high-sugar diet can give you a heart attack.
Anyway, she reduced her fat intake further and ignored what I said about sugar. At her next check-up, the doc told her the dietary changes didn’t work and she’d have to start taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. When I’ve been at her home lately, I’ve told her that she wouldn’t need the drugs if she just cut out all the sugar – she’s still taking the drugs. When a belief gets so deeply ingrained into the mass consciousness, it becomes very difficult to uproot.
The bottom line is this: eat the foods that nature provides in its natural form and you’ll be fine.
Even better, you’ll have more muscle mass and less body fat. 🙂
Can I give you my free muscle-building workout?
Join thousands over the world who are packing on slabs of new muscle for free with Targeted Hypertrophy Training (THT)
So tell us the figures
how much saturated fat is too much?
nice job Mark!..it’s a post that should increase MANS followers..or maybe a post that could make more people claims for MANS improvements or programs like TSPA =) haha..anyway, again..nice job by decoding all that fat myths..
I think most of us can sympathize with your frustration with your mom. Most everyone is going to have loved ones who are convinced the current dogma is correct and only thru articles such as this will their eyes be opened (assuming they’ll accept it) My wife harps on me constantly for taking a low carb approach. Thanks for another great read!
Great post. Sorry to hear of your mother. Mine is similar (also on blood pressure meds, meds for joint pain, IBS, etc.) She won’t listen to me either given her beliefs. Thinks I’m crazy for my paleo/muscle building way of eating.
Its a shame in our society when loved ones don’t listen to the ones who love them. But, I understand it…
I really don’t think that one side is better than the other. I’ve had clients who had killer results on both low carb and low fat. Low carb sucks for athletes. My times and health blasted past a plateau once I got off the low carb thing. The idea that you can eat to your heart’s content as long as it is low carb is wrong. I lose much more fat and retain muscle with high carb than I do with low carb. I eat about 100g of fat, 400g carbs, 200g protein every day. Then again, I exercise 2 or 3 times per day including a weight session. But I do strongly agree with limiting sugar and processed shit. Just start with 33-33-33 and fiddle with the carbs to match your exercise level. I think the type of food is more important than the type of macronutrient it contains. For instance, a diet getting 200g of carbs per day from oatmeal is so much anabolically better than a diet getting the same 200g of carbs per day from candy bars.
Just to add something to my last post…
You lose muscle on low carb if you exercise too hard. When you are exercising hard with no glycogen (no muscle carb stores), the fat energy pathway is too slow and your body has to burn muscle to keep up.
Low carb is great for people who don’t exercise heavily, but if you exercise a lot, I think you will find there is a sweet spot where you are eating only the carbs you need to work your hardest and lose the most fat instead of muscle.
Anyways good post Mark, but I would like to point out that just because carbs are being revealed as the culprit for lots of health issues isn’t evidence for low carb being the healthiest eating method. I do agree that overdose of insulin response is the problem, and you were starting to get at this in your comment about avoiding sugar to your mom.
Help!! I have been working out for years & can not get to the desired body type I want (Jessica Biel w/maybe a bit more muscle definition). Im about 5’9 & 135lbs – I have increased my muscle density over the past year (which is great) and leaned out a bit by implementing a “clean eating” lifestyle. I dont know where to start, to get what I am looking for, I cycle between heavy lifting & HIT trainging. I read A LOT of your articles & find them very helpful, Im just not sure where to begin, do I need to lean out more or should I be looking to gain more muscle mass first….. Any advice would be appreciated
Nice one Mark I have been looking into this a lot more. I do a lot of weight training and follow a lot of what you do as it does work for me. I am a type 2 diabetic and have been for about 6 years now. For ages my blood sugars were all over the place but averaged around 9 and the doctor always lectured me on eating as my cholesterol levels were high yet I was eating as they recommended, pasta, bread, veg, fruit. I got fed up and took a chance and did the CKD for a while, well for 5 months in total. On returning to the doctors for my annual blood test when the results came through he said he wished to see me in 3 months time again with a view to taking me off the medication as my bloods were fine as was my low cholesterol level which the doc was very pleased with. For one reason and another I came of the diet and went back to carbs again and when I returned for the blood tests i had gone back to high cholesterol levels. The doc accused me of everything and told me to lay off the red meat, beacon and eggs etc. I explained the CKD and he said it was dangerous and I should not go on it. i even got a second opinion and this doctor said “well if it suits you just make sure you drink loads of water”.
Also I would like to add that apart from building muscle one thing that our loverly GP’s wont acknowledge is hormone problems with guys as they get older. The symptoms are high cholesterol, decreased muscle mass, fat around abs, moods, lethargy to say but a few. High cholesterol has been linked to the fact that testosterone production has more or less stopped and as you quite rightly mention cholesterol is a precursor to the production of testosterone, obviously the body is increasing cholesterol to try and stimulate testosterone production which simply isn’t going to happen without some radical changes to exercise, diet and nutrients and even in a lot of cases HRT for guys. As we age us older guys need to do anything we can to increase testosterone production so high cholesterol isn’t necessary linked to food as you can see but more form hormone imbalance which the doctors will not recognise. Low fat diets simply don’t work for me, carbs simply increase my blood sugar and make me feel hungry again very quickly. Fruit etc gives me high blood sugar due to their sugar content, to me the 5 a day regime is not backed by strong evidence.
@johnny552, I’m doubtful exercising as much as you are is an efficient method for building muscle but maybe that isn’t your goal.
I have been on MANS for some time and not only do I have plenty of energy I have reduced body fat to single digits, added slabs of muscle, and have excellent lipid levels according to my doctor.
@Mark, keep up the good work and information– it has changed my life!
Thanks to everyone for your appreciation. 🙂
@Johnny552. You said, “The idea that you can eat to your heart’s content as long as it is low carb is wrong.” I agree. I don’t claim as such.
You also said that low-carb sucks for athletes. It would seem not. You might want to look at the 2 studies I reference in this article:
You don’t lose muscle on low carb. In Total Six Pack Abs 2 I show 5 studies that show better body recomposition changes on low carb compared to low fat. More muscle gain and more fat loss.
What you’re referring to, in terms of intensity, is crossing the lactic threshold where you are quite correct in stating that you need glucose to fuel further contractions. This is why athletes incorporate specific carb-up periods (the weekend for MANS dieters). But, it is also true that low-carbers aren’t as glycogen depleted as you might think. The high protein intake means that any excess will be converted to glucose (via gluconeogenesis) and stored as glycogen for use later on.
You don’t want too much of this when aggressively cutting fat (which is taken care of in TPSA 2), but it’s not a bad thing when bulking.
There is a degree of flexibility here too. I often recommend to CKD dieters that if they feel workout performance being hindered, they should implement a mid-week carb-up.
All the best.
@Mel. My diets and programs here are predominantly for bulking. My cutting diet and exercise program are contained within Total Six Pack Abs. Hate to be the salesman here, but I think you’ll like what you read.
@Steve. Your story is all too familiar. I hope you’ll stick to what works like the second doctor said. When your results improve again, tell him it’s BECAUSE of the bacon and eggs, not in spite of it. Be sure to let him/her know that you ditched the pasta too. 😉 Remember to have your tests done regularly so you know what’s going on.
@Tim. Excellent progress, man.
I get so frustrated at science when it comes to the human body. They do a study and decide that something is either bad or good based on limited info. They do not take the time to look at all of the contributing factors. Keep it up Mark.
Kansas City, MO
This maybe a bit off topic since this is for a bodybuilding audience but have you checked out “The China Study” Mark. It remains the largest and most comprehensive dietary study ever conducted. There’s a graph from the China study that shows heart disease rates drop to almost zero (there’s a residual amount of heart disease thats always there) when “animal fats and proteins” are not consumed at all, in other words all proteins are got from plant based sources.
@johnny552…your about as far from left field as you can get. If you will look back about 2000 years or so you will find that most people ate low carb and never had a problem. I myself have has had wonderful results with low carb including raising a bench press from 140 to 220 in just a few short months. To be honest with ya, I am amazed at what this low carb high fat/protein diet can do. It builds muscle thats for sure. No cravings, no bloating, no problems.
@Rob…What’s all this talk about thousands of years ago we ate low carb and never had a problem? I guess an average life expectancy of 20 isn’t a problem eh. Agriculture is over 12,000 years old and what do you think made up a lot of our diet 2000 years ago anyway?
I was wondering where you was going with this artical but it all does make a lot of sense. The media and drug adminstration loves feeding us bull so they can make a profit, they have a lot of doctors to thank for it. They to have sold there sole to the pharmaceuatical industry. Exercise and healthy eating is the prevetion and with that you wont need a magic pill…….for the cure.
@Barry. Regarding the China study, you should read the following 2 articles. Like Dr. Eades says, it was an observational study. All you can do with such is identify correlations, not causation. “Any scientist worth his/her salt will tell you that all you can do with data from observational studies is use them to form hypotheses that can be rigorously tested in randomized, controlled trials.”
The China Study Vs The China Study
The China Study: More Vegan Nonsense (by Anthony Colpo)
Of course Mark, but if I observe a population of people eating essentially zero animal fats and proteins with a high carb diet and having a heart disease rate of nearly zero, its decent evidence that carbohydrates aren’t the enemy Mark, and that people can have disease free lives with no animal fats or proteins in their diet.
@Barry. There are populations that eat very little carbs and mostly animal fats and proteins and have virtually no heart disease.
Scientific evidence? Definitely not.
The latest actual science is confirming that saturated fat isn’t a problem. If it can be refuted scientifically, then we all need to see the evidence, not a story.
Again, the China study doesn’t prove what you think it does. From Colpo’s article…
“Why did Campbell repeatedly claim in his book that The China Study demonstrates the value of a low-protein, low-animal fat diet when the actual data from the study show absolutely no such thing?”
Read the 2 links I gave you above if you’d like to know both sides of the coin before reaching a conclusion.
@Barry…If you will do the research, you will find a lot of information supporting a lower carb diet, high in fat and protein. If one ate only from the land, they would be eating a low carb diet. Most veggies by themselves do not contain a lot of carbs. A person can only eat so much of that along with the meat and fat. What we call a low carb diet may not be low at all if you are eating from the land. The person that coined the phrase “low carb” only called it that because people were eating in excess of 700 grams a day. When one eats 100 or less carbs, its low in comparison. That in its self does not make it a low carb diet. That may be normal for some populations. In fact there are many older people who still eat like they did growing up on the farm. Most of them did not consume over 200 grams of carbs a day and more like 100-150 grams. Whether its 2000 years or 12,000 years, people have been eating off the land since time started. Early people killed animals and ate the fat and meat. They ate plants too, including roots and seeds, but not all of this was available all the time. Even the fruit was different back then. Most if not all our fruit today has been breed to grow bigger and sweeter. An apple today is not the same apple a thousand years ago. It’s all different. Also one must add the seasonal changes and the available food at that time. There are many parts of the world where one might only eat meat for a whole season before moving on to find something else available. Do your research and if you really look at the findings available, it’s quite interesting how our modern food intake as changed. If that doesn’t help you, then look out your window and count how many skinny people there are. I use to count fat people, now I count skinny people. Obesity is going through the roof faster than most of use want to admit. Food manufactures keep churning out their products while people keep getting fatter. Have you seen a skinny diet coke drinker? I haven’t. Yes, there are a few people out there that break all the rules but on the average its does not happen. I will admit carbs are not a bad thing if used properly. The problem with carbs and processed carbs is the fact that most people over eat them to excess. White flour and white sugar are some of the most addicting substances on earth next to cocaine and heroin. We can all hide behind the facts of life, but in the end, it’s all about what you put in your mouth and how your body uses it.
Oh and since Mark made comment about his mother, I got a call from my mother yesterday after a doctors visit. My mother was diagnosed with diabetes, was over weight, and had a few other problems. I had been talking to her about eating more fat and ditching the carbs. She loves bread and flour products. I have gotten her to eat more protein, lots of fat and grease….yum mee, and have slowly helped her to change the eating habits. After some intensive blood work, the report came back excellent health. This was a check up visit as she had come off of all the insulin due to the fact that I told her to stop eating all the bread and processed carb products. The funny part to all this was that the doctor admitted that he didn’t understand why it happen, and that because of his profession he could not say that she was cured. She never told him about the diet changes as per my call. I wanted her to see the changes and understand what was happening. He also reported that a total of 56 lbs of fat had been lost over the last year. I am sorry but for some people, carbs are not the answer to a better life, and for those people who can stand up and say there is nothing wrong with them, is a complete liar.
Can i draw one inference from your article that i can Eat The Egg whites and the Yolk too. I consume up to 6 eggs and discard all the Yolks. I hate to throw away the yolk..alas… I have always been under the (ill-informed) assumption that too much yolk is not good for health.
If you take into account that i do workouts on alternate days, do you think i should not worry about putting too much of fat into my system consuming all those yolks. Your response is very much appreciated.
Also, thanks for yet another great post. I am a silent reader to all your articles!
@Ramesh. Absolutely yes. Keep your yolks. I eat egg yolks every day. I may do a post on this later.
@Rob…What do you think was the staple of the Roman diet Rob? I’ll give ya a clue, it wasn’t fat or protein.
@Mark…I read them links as soon as you post them yesterday Mark, thanks. For me the problem isn’t carbs or fats, but processed carbs and processed fats. Keep up the good work.