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The Outrageous Hype Behind Butter Is Back

If you follow nutrition headlines, you undoubtedly saw the announcement last year that butter was back both in the New York Times and on the cover of Time magazine in June 2014. Although these media articles were quickly analyzed and addressed by faculty of the Harvard School of Public Health, the steamroller announcing the fallacy of restricting fats was spun to the notion that adding fats was the new skinny.

It is of interest that one of the foundations for claiming that a paradigm shift in nutrition was upon us was a statistical analysis of research published in 2010 by Patty Siri-Tarino and coauthors. This meta-analysis of prior studies analyzing the relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease concluded that, “there is no evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. More data are needed…” One of the coauthors, Ronald Krauss, received funding from the Dairy Research Institute and the Atkins Foundation. Nowhere in the article was it recommended that increasing fat intake was healthy or beneficial. Yet, the media, such as CNN, quickly spun this report into a new message, that saturated fat was good for us. This was despite scathing reports on the quality of the research study by Siri-Tarino and coauthors in peer reviewed literature and on widely read blogs.

Fast forward to 2015 and a new review paper published this week by the same Patty Siri-Tarino and co-authors including Ronald Krauss. This review offers no new research but reviews the importance of addressing what replaces saturated fat in the diet. It is of no surprise that the authors found support that if saturated fat was replaced with sugar, like Snackwell cookies that were so popular a decade ago, “no improvement or even worsening of cardiovascular risk” may result. This is no surprise and no credible nutrition body ever recommended reducing dietary saturated fats and replace them with refined and processed food products. What are the recommendations of Siri-Tarino and coauthors in 2015? They state “dietary patterns emphasizing vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole versus processed grains for the basis of heart-healthy eating” are recommended.

What does all this mean? I am waiting for Time magazine, CNN and other media outlets to blast out a headline that states “fruit and vegetables now recommended by a former butter-slinging researcher.” I doubt however that this will happen, nor is it fair to Siri-Tarino et al. Headlines sell media spots without regard for the health of the public. The possibility that there is an ongoing organized effort by at least the dairy industry to influence health professionals in terms of their views on milkfat has been reported after a global meeting in Mexico City in 2008. Whether it is a conspiracy or just media spin, it important to know that Siri-Tarino et al never suggested increasing fats in the diet, butter or others, and is now promoting a diet that is actually modest in fat when based on produce, whole grains and fish. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like the Okinawan Diet which is <10 percent fat by calories. The truth is hard to parse in the age of digital reporting but butter was never back according to these studies. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants again rules the day.

Originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com