Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Trick question? Perhaps. The tootsie roll has no known nutritional value. It weighs in at 99 calories an ounce and is made up of sugar, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, condensed skim milk, cocoa, whey, soy lecithin, and natural and artificial flavors, whatever they are.
Bacon weighs in at about 45 calories (one strip). Of the 45 calories, approximately 65 percent comes from fat. Is that bad? Well, you need some fat in your diet to help absorb your fat soluble vitamins and fat helps with several other functions, including hormonal functions. Granted you may not need that much fat, but bacon will not spike your insulin and will not cause your leptin to spike either. Bacon does not have any hydrogenated fats in it, so it will not increase your bad cholesterol while lowering your good cholesterol. If consumed as a part of a well-balanced diet, bacon does not pose a significant risk of heart disease either, not even with its nitrates.
But it’s fat! Doesn’t fat cause heart disease? Actually, for the past 60 years, conventional medical authorities have warned that saturated animal fats cause heart disease and should be severely restricted in a heart-healthy diet. Dr. Ancel Keys, an American researcher got most of the credit for “saving American’s” from heart disease beginning with his 1953 study in which he pointed out that countries that consumed more saturated fat had more heart disease. But it took another decade to learn that he cherry picked data from 7 countries out of 22 that gave him the conclusions he wanted, not exactly scientific.
But, it actually goes back a bit farther than 1953. Way back. To some Russian studies in about 1910. Here the scientists fed rabbits a high cholesterol diet and found that they developed atherosclerosis and heart attacks. So conclusive right? Cholesterol must be bad for you. Well, other than the fact that rabbits don’t eat meat or eggs or anything else than vegetables, no. You really cannot give an animal something not inherently typical to its diet and expect accurate results. The Russians did not prove that cholesterol caused heart attacks in rabbits, but Ancel Keys took that huge leap of faith and said it did, and everyone believed him. And most still do!
The nutritional myth that saturated fat is bad for you continues to fall apart as a steady stream of new books, articles and studies on this topic hit the market. The latest work to challenge this old dogma is a book called The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz. Her book continues to raise questions about the long-held belief that cardiovascular disease is related to fat and cholesterol intake.
Teicholz continues to point out the flaws in the original Ancel Keys study; how saturated fat has been a healthy human staple for thousands of years, and how the low-fat craze has resulted in excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates, which has resulted in increased inflammation, disease, and obesity. Teicholz reported in the Wall Street Journal: "There has never been solid evidence for the idea that these [saturated] fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics, and bias."
She’s right, along with other authors such as David Perlmutter and Kristin Loberg who wrote the book Grain Brain and Brain Maker, or multiple other papers and researchers who conclude the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, if you ate nothing but saturated fat you would die. But put in perspective, Steve Jobs ate nothing but fruit and he died of pancreatic cancer! So before we get all off base, we are supposed to eat a balanced diet, not a fat only one or a fruit only one or, for goodness sake, a Tootsie Roll only one.
The fat and cholesterol dogma has suffered a bit of a triple whammy of late, making it harder and harder for heart specialists to uphold the company line and presumably still justify their big pharma bonus checks. The cholesterol information is just the latest in a long line of science disproving the saturated fat phobia or a low fat or fat free one to be sure. Why is that? In 2012, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined the health and lifestyle habits of more than 52,000 adults ages 20 to 74, concluding that women with "high cholesterol" (greater than 270 mg/dl) had a 28 percent lower mortality risk than women with "low cholesterol" (less than 183 mg/dl). Researchers also found that, if you're a woman, your risk for heart disease, cardiac arrest, and stroke are higher with lower cholesterol levels.
In 2013, a prominent London cardiologist argued in the British Medical Journal that you should ignore advice to reduce your saturated fat intake, because it's actually increasing your risk or obesity and heart disease. Then in March 2014, a new meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, using data from nearly 80 studies and more than a half million people, found that those who consume higher amounts of saturated fat have no more heart disease than those who consume less! They also did not find less heart disease among those eating higher amounts of natural unsaturated fats.
Going back forty years or more, fat has been consistently misidentified as the culprit behind heart disease, when all along it's been sugar! A quick look at the research and studies available confirms this. A high-sugar diet raises your risk for heart disease by promoting something called metabolic syndrome—a cluster of health conditions that includes inflammation, high blood pressure, insulin and leptin resistance, high triglycerides, liver dysfunction, and visceral fat accumulation. Yet the sugar lobby industry remains the strongest lobby group in Washington today. They are almost untouchable because of the money they pay lawmakers. What’s worse is that they have spent almost 40 years actively shedding doubt on studies that reveal how sick sugar makes you.
Fact is sugar causes inflammation, something considered the root cause of most all disease. Also, insulin and leptin resistance is caused by factors inherent in our modern lifestyle, including diets heavy in processed carbohydrates, sugars/fructose, refined flours, and industrial seed oils. In reality, sugar should be the obvious culprit in most of the problems associated with our health, but the powerful sugar lobbyists have done a great job of paying off the people who ordinarily would be looking out for your health.
Making matters worse, the average American gets inadequate exercise, suffers from chronic stress and sleep deprivation, is exposed to environmental toxins, and has poor gut health (dysbiosis). This is the perfect storm for chronic disease.
Understanding the saturated fat dilemma is difficult, but a group of people living in Kenya and Tanzania called the Maasai sheds light on the quandary we have with fat versus sugar. The Maasai don’t run much, they don’t lift heavy weights and they have a high fat diet. But they are not obese, very few suffer from heart disease or other western diet diseases. But they are active, they move about 75% more than we do, they have avoided grains and eat lots of fermented foods! Sounds familiar? It’s not just the Maasai. American Eskimo’s have a high fat diet too and enjoy a relatively healthy lifestyle, as do people living in Finland, the UK, Iceland, Switzerland and France, all of whom have less heart disease.
Other countries with lower saturated fat intakes have higher rates of heart disease. Fact is that France, who eats the highest rate of saturated fats also enjoys the lowest rate of heart disease! We called it a French Paradox because we believed that the high intake of red wine was somehow protective. But turns out it may just be that the lower intakes of Trans fats and sugar are the likely culprits; not that I plan on abandoning my glass of red wine soon anyway, but it’s unfortunately not likely to be the wine.
In America it’s a different story. About 800,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease annually. American’s also eat about 130-150 pounds of sugar per year. At least a quarter of these deaths are preventable through simple lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight and exercising. Another 50% are preventable by managing insulin and leptin levels. Hard to believe that almost 75% of the annual deaths from heart attack are preventable by exercise and lowering the processed carb and sugar intake, but it’s true.
Western medicine would have us believe that taking a drug to reduce our cholesterol will do the trick. But, reducing your cholesterol may actually increase your risk for cardiovascular disease not reduce it. Your body needs adequate cholesterol to perform a number of critical functions, and there is strong evidence that people have a higher risk for heart attacks by having their cholesterol levels driven too low by statin drugs, and they also increase the risk of diabetes.
Cholesterol plays important roles such as building your cell membranes, interacting with proteins inside your cells, and helping regulate protein pathways required for cell signaling. Having too little cholesterol may negatively impact your brain health, hormone levels, heart disease risk, and more. Therefore, placing an upper limit on dietary cholesterol, especially such a LOW upper limit as is now recommended, is likely causing far more harm than good.
But that’s cholesterol. What about saturated fat? Well, just as your body has requirements for cholesterol, it also needs saturated fats for proper function. Yes, I did say need. One way to understand this is to consider what foods humans consumed during the years before heart disease was a problem. Did you know heart disease was not the number one killer until 1950? That was about the time when fast food franchises started and sugar consumption has been steadily increasing for the past 200 years. What’s interesting is that in the 1800’s the average person ate 6.3 pounds of sugar per year! By 1950 it was 80 pounds a year and now tops 150 pounds a year. But in the 1950’s the use of butter and lard for cooking took a dramatic drop and was replaced by vegetable oils, margarine and trans fats, something that has been proven to cause both heart disease and cancer.
It seems incredible that we continue to ignore these facts. Yet, as recently as 2010, the recommendations from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) continued to call for reducing your saturated fat intake to a mere 10 percent of your total calories or less and still do today. This is unbelievable, and quite the opposite of what most people require for optimal health! The latest science suggests healthy fats (saturated and unsaturated fats from whole food, animal, and plant sources) should comprise anywhere from 50-80% of your overall energy intake, not less than 10% (remember the fat and lard of pre-1950 when heart disease was not a huge issue?)
Saturated fats provide a number of important health benefits. These same vilified fats are responsible for providing building blocks for cell membranes, hormones, and hormone-like substances; absorbing minerals and fat soluble vitamins; converting carotene into vitamin A, even helping to lower cholesterol! Saturated fats also provide your brain with fuel, and they provide satiety when you eat a meal. Hardly an indicator for heart disease. In fact, heart disease (and dementia) have risk factors quite different from the original Framingham Heart Study markers. These newer markers include:
Being physically active. Yep, the more you move the lower your risk factor, it’s that simple. That’s why 10,000 steps a day is a great goal, and strength training is essential to longevity.
Your HDL percentage is a very important heart disease risk factor. To find it just divide your HDL level by your total cholesterol. This percentage should ideally be above 24 percent. Below 10 percent, it's a significant indicator of heart disease risk. To increase your HDL lower sugar and processed carb intake and exercise.
Your total triglyceride/HDL ratio is also important. Divide your triglyceride number by your HDL. This ratio should ideally be below 2. Lower your triglycerides by lowering sugar and processed carbs.
Possibly the most powerful test for evaluating heart disease risk is something called an NMR lipoprofile. This test determines your proportion of smaller, more damaging LDL particles. Small LDL particles get stuck easily, cause more inflammation, and are tied to insulin and leptin resistance. This test is not typically ordered, so you might need to request it from your physician.
Understand your fasting insulin levels. A normal fasting blood insulin level is below 5, but ideally, you'll want it below 3. If your insulin level is higher than 5, the most effective way to optimize it is to reduce or eliminate all forms of dietary sugar, particularly fructose, and processed grains.
Obviously, your fasting blood glucose is important too. Studies have shown that people with a fasting blood glucose of 100-125 mg/dl had nearly three times the risk of coronary artery disease of people with a blood glucose below 79 mg/dl.
Iron Levels. Excess iron can exert very potent oxidative stress, so if you have excess iron in your blood, you can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should monitor your serum ferritin level and make sure it is below 80 ng/ml. The simplest ways to eliminate excess iron is blood donation.
Body fat is a marker for heart disease, secondary to diet of course. But if you are overweight, especially if you carry excess belly fat, your risk of heart disease does increase.
So, what’s healthier, bacon or a tootsie roll? The answer is (if these are the only choices) bacon! Yep saturated fats, nitrates all. The bacon will not raise your blood sugar levels, it will not cause a surge of insulin, nor will it mess with your leptin levels and if you are pregnant the choline will help develop your baby’s brain. Bacon also has 37 grams of high quality animal protein, lots of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12, 89% of the RDA for selenium, 53% of the RDA for phosphorus, and decent amounts of the minerals iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium.
The saturated fat in bacon has many processes and uses in the body, but the tootsie roll has none, zip, zero, nada. That’s right, it is not necessary because we can convert other food stuffs into glucose anyway, so we do not need sugar. It’s not an essential nutrient. The interesting thing about all this is that the Danes eat the most bacon of anyone in the World, yet their heart disease risk just dropped by 70%. Not because they cut out bacon, but because they eliminated Trans Fats from their diets (remember the tootsie roll has hydrogenated fats, otherwise called Trans fats). So before we start wagging that finger at bacon, or for that matter blood pressure, let’s just remember those Danes. I wonder if they sell Tootsie rolls over there?