Paleo diet risks undoing good work of lowering heart disease - study

The popular Paleo diet may have its flaws.

The popular Paleo diet may have its flaws.

The Paleo movement has been given a smack in new research revealing fewer Kiwis are dying from heart disease as they eat less saturated fats.  

The study says the good work done over years by the message to eat less saturated fat could be at risk for those who've embraced the popular low-carb high-fat Paleo diet.

Research author Jody Miller, of Otago University, says after a period of "near universal acceptance" that saturated fat needs to be reduced to cut the risk of heart disease from blocked arteries, this consensus has been threatened "by a movement advocating benefits of a diet low in carbohydrate and high in fat, including saturated fat (eg the 'paleo' diet)." 

Butter is a source of the kind of saturated fat that creates blocked heart arteries.

Butter is a source of the kind of saturated fat that creates blocked heart arteries.

She calls the scientific basis for Paleo "questionable". Yet it appears to have widespread appeal – "to the extent that it has been shown to be associated with an increase in mean population cholesterol levels in some areas where uptake of the advice has been high."

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In the study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health this week, Miller says cutting saturated fat from diets to lower cholesterol remains critical to lowering heart disease risk.

Kiwi's blood cholesterol levels have dropped significantly over the last two decades and by substantially more than has been reported in other other high-income countries, according to the report. 

The study covered more than 10,000 New Zealanders between 1989-2009. The impressive drop is linked to eating less saturated fat, smoking less and taking more cholesterol-lowering medication.

In the early 1980s, New Zealanders had among the highest recorded cholesterol levels in the world and ate more high saturated fat foods, including butter dairy products, than many other countries.

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The use of statin treatment to lower cholesterol has increased dramatically in NZ since 2002, when prescription criteria were relaxed, and is likely to have had a big effect on reducing cholesterol in older age groups. But eating less saturated fat remains the key factor over all groups. 

The study points out that while intense aerobic exercise can also lower cholesterol, this is ruled out as a major factor because adults didn't work out any more during the three year period of 2002–03 and 2006–07 when the greatest declines in cholesterol were measured.

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