The Axis of Paradox
We are constantly being told to avoid "artery clogging" saturated fats, found in delicious foods like butter, eggs, cheese, pork and beef. It's for our health, they say. That's a problem for me, since I have a chest freezer full of beef and pork that I raised. I had steak (grassfed) and eggs (free range) for breakfast. But I'm not worried.
Most of you reading this have probably heard of the "French Paradox", which is the idea that it is paradoxical that the French eat a very high fat diet yet suffer from very low levels of heart disease (CHD). Jefferey Steingarten claims to have been the first one to have popularized this idea. But the French paradox is only a paradox if you believe that eating saturated fat plays a role in causing heart disease. I don't.
After the French paradox became widely known, researchers rushed out to explain why the French were so different from the rest of the world. Maybe they were protected from heart disease by the red wine they drank. Maybe it was the fruits and vegetables that they ate. And on and on.
Apparently no one ever actually bothered to check whether or not France was an outlier, a statistical anomaly. Until now. I looked, and it isn't. In fact, in Europe, the countries that eat the most fat from butter, cheese, pork and other animal sources have the lowest rates of heart disease. France is simply the most dramatic example of this. See for yourself:
How did I create this magical chart? Through tricky statistical manipulations? No, I'm not a statistician and I'm too lazy for that anyways. All I did was go to the British Heart Foundation's international statistics page, then got the FAO food disapearance data to see how much animal fat the people of each European country eat on average each day. I popped the two lists of numbers into Excel and got a scatter plot. You can easily replicate my little experiment given an hour or two.
The axis of paradox is composed of all European countries, whose dietary habits and health profiles stand in direct opposition to the idea that heart disease is primarily caused by the high consumption of saturated fat. On average, the people of Eastern Europe eat about 50 grams of fat from animal sources per day while the men suffer from 435 deaths from heart disease per 100,000 people per year. Their Western European contemporaries enjoy eating about 84 grams of animal fat per day while only losing about 170 men per 100,000 to heart disease each year.
If you'd like, you may bash my little study on the grounds that it's unscientific, but that's loser talk. If eating saturated fat is the primary cause of heart disease, how is it possible that French men have one NINTH the rate of heart disease mortality of Russians despite eating 125% more fat from animal sources? How is it possible that the people of Uzbekistan have four and a half times the rate of heart disease mortality of the Swiss despite eating only one fourth the amount of animal fats? Are the Swiss doctors 18 times better? I don't think so. How is it possible that Belgians have less than a fifth the heart disease mortality of the Ukrainians despite eating twice the fat from animal sources. I could go on, but you can see the chart and the following table - the table lists country, daily consumption of animal fat per capita, then heart disease death rate per 100,000 people among males aged 35-74.
|Country||Animal Fat Cons||CHD Rate|
|Country||Animal Fat Cons||CHD Rate|
And just for the record, the US daily consumption of animal fats was 71.6 grams per in 2002, and American men died of heart attacks at a rate of 230 people per 100,000 in 1999, the last years available for both statistics. You may notice that our animal fat consumption is exactly the same as Italy's, where they eat a "low-fat Mediterranean diet" yet our heart attack death rate is almost exactly double theirs. Whoopsie! And if you're wondering, they eat slightly more total fat than us too, 158 grams to 157.
Discussion and Conclusions
Even if you still want to cling idea that eating saturated fat causes heart disease, you have to admit that in Europe the consumption of saturated fat is AT BEST a secondary cause of heart disease. A more direct conclusion would be that saturated fat doesn't cause heart disease there. Keep in mind that although correlation does not imply causation, a lack of correlation casts serious doubts onto causation.
Eastern Europeans suffer from far less heart disease than Western Europeans despite eating far less saturated fat. There is not a single country in Europe in the top quartile of both saturated fat consumption and heart disease rates nor is there a country in the lowest quartile of both. Conversely, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Switzerland are in the top quartile of saturated fat consumption but in the lowest quartile of heart disease deaths. Armenia, Georgia, Kazakstan, Krgyzstan, Russia, The Ukraine and Uzbekistan are in the lowest quartile of fat consumption but the highest quartile of heart disease.
You may think that it's unfair to compare heart disease rates between Eastern and Western Europe due to different socioeconomic factors in the two areas, but actually that is exactly the point. For too long, heart disease has been considered a "disease of affluence". Google it, you'll see. The idea is that as we become more affluent we get lazy and fat. We can afford more luxury items like steak and cheese. Then we die of heart attacks. This graph shows that that theory is exactly wrong, methinks. Furthermore, although there is no trend amongst Western European countries, among Eastern European countries there is a clear trend that the ones that eat the least animal fat have the most heart attacks.
There is no French Paradox. France follows the general European trend of wealthy countries eating more animal products and having less heart disease. If there is a paradox here, all of the European countries stand together, united and unyielding in the "Axis of Paradox".