Accusation 15: Makes “Misleading” Assertion About Saturated Fat

A number of objectionable statements appear on the website regarding Atkins…

  • Health Effects of Saturated Fat. Your assertions at page 26 regarding the health effects of saturated fats are misleading. Studies looking at the effects of saturated fat on LDL and total cholesterol have primarily been conducted in conjunction with a high carbohydrate diet.

Similarly from your website: “Is it OK for me to consume more than 20 percent of my calories in the form of saturated fat? Absolutely,” you replied, “you’re fine as long as you’re also following the rules of the ANA [Atkins Diet], which include controlling your carbs.” Dr. Frank M. Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, called this argument simply “ridiculous.”[1110]

How Can the Atkins Corporation Just Say Saturated Fat is OK?

Corporations have a long history of downplaying the risks of their products. Though over the past decades millions of children have been poisoned by lead paint in the U.S., the Lead Industries Association once threatened to sue a public health advocate for daring to say that “lead paint was bad to eat.”[1119] The asbestos industry also claimed that their product “offers no hazard to the worker.”[1120] “I’m unclear in my own mind,” said the Chairman of Philip Morris in 1998, “whether anyone dies of cigarette smoking-related diseases.”[1121]

Even though hundreds of thousands of Americans die from smoking every year,[1124] the tobacco industry has not only tried to downplay its risks but has even attempted to brag about smoking’s health benefits.[1125] Similarly, you argue the safety of your meat-centered diet based on 34 medical articles, even though there are well over a thousand articles detailing the adverse effects of saturated animal fat and cholesterol found in meat.[1126]

Atkins Corporation Mislabels and Misleads

Your website claims “saturated fats aren’t bad.”[1127] According to Colette Heimowitz, M.S., the Atkins Director of Education and Research, saturated fat has a “heart-healthy role.” “In fact,” she writes, “some large epidemiological trials, including the well-known Framingham Nurses’ Study, have shown no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, stroke or breast cancer. In fact, the more saturated fat and cholesterol participants consumed, the lower their risk of heart disease.”[1128]

There is no such thing as the “well-known Framingham Nurse’s Study.” Ms. Heimowitz must be thinking of either the Framingham Heart Study or the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study. In either case, she is mistaken.

The Atkins director presumably wasn’t talking about the Harvard Nurses’ Study, as it showed specifically that the saturated fat found in Atkins favorites like beef, pork, lamb, cheese, butter, and lard[1129] was associated with greater risk of coronary heart disease.[1130] She must have been referring to the Framingham Heart study.

In a section of the Atkins website entitled “Debunking the Myths” you “debunk” the “fallacy” that “a liberal intake of high-fat meats… will raise cholesterol levels, ultimately leading to heart disease.” The “fact,” you claim, is that according to the famous Framingham Heart Study, consuming less fat and cholesterol leads to higher blood cholesterol.[1131]

In its 56-year history[1132] the Framingham Heart Study produced over 1,000 scientific papers.[1133] So as to not misrepresent any part of this important study, let us defer to Dr. William Castelli, who directed the Framingham Heart Study for over 26 years and is currently the Director of the Framingham Cardiovascular Center.[1134]

Dr. Castelli was asked to directly respond to these claims. This is what he said: “That quote is correct but its’ interpretation by Atkins and Sugar Busters and others is wrong. The data are diet history data. Very weak science!!!… Better science, where I lock you up in a metabolic ward has taught us that lowering the saturated fat, the cholesterol in the diet lowers cholesterol. Even better, over a dozen diet trials in the history of medicine which took people off the high fat diet lowered their cholesterols and 4-5 years out they lowered their heart attack rate. Has Atkins or Sugar-busters shown that they lower the heart attack rate?”[1135]

Dr. Castelli feels Americans have been “brainwashed to eat meat,” but that the meat is killing us. “If Americans adopted a vegetarian diet,” Castelli says of the heart disease epidemic, “the whole thing would disappear,”[1136] “When you see the golden arches,” he once said, “you’re probably on the road to the pearly gates.”[1137]

Atkins Implies the Type of Saturated Fat in Beef is Benign

In the “Truth About Fat” you argue that it is “absolutely” OK to consume more than 20% of calories in one’s diet from saturated fat. “In fact,” your website reads, “one-third of the fat in beef is stearic acid, which has been found to have a neutral or cholesterol-lowering effect.”[1138] This is a classic deceptive tactic used by the chocolate industry.

If you go to the candy manufacturers’ website, not only can you learn “Fun Facts About Candy”[1139] including “Candy does not promote tooth decay more than any other food,”[1140] but you can learn that indeed chocolate isn’t bad for you because the predominant saturated fat, stearic acid, has a “neutral effect on blood cholesterol levels.”[1141] Hershey’s corporate website[1142] and that of the Mars candy bar corporation agree.[1143] So does the beef industry.[1144]

Even if stearic acid were benign, beef and chocolate also have other saturated fats, like lauric and myristic fatty acids, that do raise one’s bad cholesterol[1145] and have been strongly linked with early heart attack.[1146] And stearic acid is far from benign. In fact, in the Harvard Nurse’s Study, which followed over 80,000 women for over a decade, stearic acid was found to increase the risk of coronary heart disease even more than other saturated fats.[1147]

Though stearic acid might not affect cholesterol levels, its ability to thicken the blood and predispose it to clotting may be why it has been shown to be so pathogenic.[1148]