Allan Barber investigates why our health outcomes have got worse despite a clear move of most people towards the official guidance of eating less saturated fats. Is that guidance flawed?

Allan Barber investigates why our health outcomes have got worse despite a clear move of most people towards the official guidance of eating less saturated fats. Is that guidance flawed?

By Allan Barber

For at least the last 40 years international health guidelines have recommended minimising intake of saturated fats contained in red meat, dairy, cocoa and palm oil in a mistaken attempt to improve public health, particularly in first world countries. Heart disease skyrocketed to become the leading cause of death by 1950 and scientists hypothesised the cause to be dietary fat, particularly the saturated variety.

Although there have been sceptics who did not believe this apparently irrefutable scientific conclusion, they have been unable to inspire a rational debate of the facts, because the hypothesis was adopted by public health institutions (WHO, FDA, American Heart Association and others) before it had been properly tested. Any attempt to challenge them resulted in public reactions of anger and accusations of sacrilege, remembering this was many years before the internet and social media enabled the instant spread of online vitriol. As is the case today, the problem was compounded by the media taking a position and refusing to present the counterargument.

I have been interested in this topic for quite some time because I believe red meat and dairy are unfairly vilified, while personally I have neither an increase in cholesterol nor a heightened risk of heart disease. Suddenly last week I received an article from The Australian entitled “How dairy and fat could save your life” and I was also lent The Big Fat Surprise - Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet, an authoritative book based on thousands of scientific studies and hundreds of interviews by New York author and journalist Nina Teicholz.

These two publications confirmed what I had always believed intuitively – what our ancestors have been eating for centuries can’t be all bad for us, while the true damage is much more likely to be caused by high carbohydrate foods, sugar-laden snacks and fizzy drinks. Equally to be fair I must accept the detrimental impact on my waistline of persisting with bread, pasta, wine and beer.

Less than a month ago the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a scientific review based on the most recent trials, concluding there was no evidence cutting saturated fats from the diet would help people live longer, while eating more meat and dairy could help avoid strokes. In July Dr James Muecke, 2020 Australian of the Year, wrote in the Canberra Times “A flawed dietary guideline, which we have obediently and blindly followed for 40 years, is literally killing us. We’ve been encouraged to eat less fat and consume more carbs and yet we’ve never been fatter, our teeth never more rotten, and type 2 diabetes and its complications never more prevalent.

The JACC review specifically references the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological study of 135,000 people across 18 high, medium and low income countries on five continents which conclusively demonstrates the lower risk of death from a high unsaturated fat diet, as well as a neutral likelihood of heart disease.

Another relevant trial was the Sydney Diet Heart Study published in 1978 which was conducted because of an epidemic of deaths from heart disease in Australia in the late 60s and early 70s, peaking at 55% of all deaths compared with 27% today. Preliminary figures showed a 50% higher mortality rate for people on a diet using vegetable oil and margarine than those on a butter, meat and three vegetable diet, but funds dried up before deaths from heart disease could be separated from total deaths. It was another 30 years before a full analysis of the data was to prove deaths from heart disease showed an identical pattern. Also when the control or high fat group changed of their own accord to the low fat diet, their chances of dying increased.

According to Teicholz, red meat, butter, whole milk, creamy cheeses, sausages and bacon have not been found to cause obesity, diabetes, or heart disease, nor are genetics to blame. The single biggest factor is increased intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. In 1993 the Women’s Health Initiative trial enrolled 49,000 women to validate the benefits of the low fat diet, but after a decade of eating more grains, fruit and vegetables while reducing meat and fat intake, the women failed to lose weight or see any reduction in their risk for heart disease and cancer. This was the largest ever trial of the low-fat diet and it failed to prove any benefit at all.

Nevertheless government institutions appear cautious or unwilling to reconsider their long-held positions on dietary guidelines. The USA is in the process of updating its guidelines, but apparently will not consider the JACC paper or any other controlled studies on saturated fats, so it has already made its mind up. Australia’s Federal Health Minister has provided A$2.5 million to review the guidelines, but the National Medical Health Research Council has not stated which of the relevant studies will be considered; however the recommendations will be based on the body of evidence, not on individual trials.

In New Zealand the Ministry of Health guidelines, last reviewed in 2016, specify a healthy diet as consisting of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products and a catch-all category that includes legumes, fish, eggs, poultry and lastly red meat with the fat removed. The evidence suggests low-fat dairy contains more carbohydrates than whole fat, while a certain amount of fat on red meat is beneficial.

Given the many years of health institutions espousing the benefits of the low fat diet, I won’t hold my breath for a major change in the official stance.

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So Guy was wrong (previous article) - beef cow is likely to make a comeback?

I hope so, I love beef cows, makes farming so much fun.

I am a meat eater, but taking to the cashier in the supermarket the other day she told me they hardly sell any meat, people can longer afford it.
I shoot it or kill for house meat so Im am very lucky. When I was young we had a house cow, (cream galore for my porridge), two pigs ,killed a sheep a week for the house and a steer once a year. Unfortunately my parents and grandparents also ate loads of sugar.

Re supermarket meat. There is such a huuuuuge difference between supermarket meat and homekill. There is no way Id eat the amount of meat I do if I purchased it over the counter.
My wife got told the other day that her cholesterol was high and she should drop back the egg consumption, I thought that was another debunked theory?
For mine the idea that margarine is better than butter was always such a baldfaced lie and surely people need holding account for the damage done.

I eat ~ 5 eggs a day. No issues with cholestrol.

And imagine life without brisket and T-bone, how dire would that be!

We used to get milk from the farmer as kids, cream and sugar on cornflakes, how good was that as a kid! Litt

I buy half a cow at a time. The last one was $8.50 a kg. Part of the reason supermarkets sell so little is because of their insane markups.

from my personal experience, small amount of carbohydrate, no sugar, good amount of good fat, good amount of protein, 5 days of both weight and cardio training a week will keep you young and wealthy.

Xing - Was that a Freudian slip? Wealthy not healthy?


how about wheathly?


I agree with xingmowang, which is somewhat uncomfortable.

Sugar is the enemy. The low fat movement was a huge mistake. Avoid carbs, especially processed. Bread, cereal, oats, corn - it's all crap. Sugary fruit should be limited.

Eat high quality fatty meat and organs, fish, eggs and non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower).

Ancel Keys has a lot to answer for. I've been ignoring low-fat options for a few years now since I started engaging with the science. Really amazing how society has been duped - wonder how many decades it will take to undo. Personally I've seen a slight positive movement in my cholesterol, no effect on weight, probably because I eat more refined carbs than I should. I have seen some studies that show benefits of low fat if kept below 20% of calories but that is almost impossible to achieve. Similar to benefits of high fat/very low carb but that is also difficult for the average person. Everything in moderation like my mother used to say.

This is a bit like a tobacco industry consultant writing an op-ed saying 'Society smokes less but people are getting cancer more, it seems to me cigarettes are healthy?'

It’s a good effort and now all that is required is to refute the link between red meat and bowel cancer.

I think that's already been done, many of these cancers were unheard of before sugar arrived in the UK.

I’ll refrain from conspiracy theories and pass the buck to the world health organisation.

The studies linking red meat and cancer are plagued by “healthy user bias.” This is a fancy way of saying that people who engage in one behavior perceived as healthy are likely to engage in other behaviors they perceive to be healthy. On the flip side, people who engage in one behavior perceived to be unhealthy are likely to engage in other behaviors perceived to be unhealthy.

In an ideal world, we would be able to conduct a randomized, controlled trial to determine whether red meat causes cancer. We’d create two groups of people that are relatively similar in age and other characteristics. Then we’d isolate them in a medical ward, strictly control their diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors, and then feed one group more red meat and the other group less.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. Cancer can take decades to develop, so these poor souls would be living in a ward for at least 20 years. Even if we could find people to volunteer for such a study, it would be astronomically (and prohibitively) expensive.

As a result, we’re left to rely on observational studies to shed light on the question of whether red meat causes cancer. The problem with this is that observational studies do not prove causality—they just demonstrate an association, or relationship, between different variables. Sometimes the association is causal, and sometimes it’s not.

Let’s consider red meat. Regardless of whether consuming fresh and/or processed red meat is unhealthy, it has certainly been perceived that way for the past half-century in the industrialized world. What this means is that people in observational studies that eat more red meat also have a tendency to smoke and drink more, eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise less, and engage in other unhealthy behaviors that could influence cancer risk. This isn’t just speculation; it has been shown in numerous studies. (4, 5)

For example, most Americans that eat red meat eat it with a huge bun made of white flour, with a serving or more of other refined carbohydrates (chips, fries, soda) cooked in rancid, industrially processed vegetable or seed oils. How do we know that it’s the red meat—and not these other foods—that is causing the increase in cancer?

The better observational studies attempt to eliminate the influence of these other factors, but in practice that is difficult if not impossible.


Exactly. The writer clearly has vested interests here.

Time for a repeat of Scarfies two rules of cooking. If in doubt add bacon or chocolate.

Closely followed by cheese.

I think sugar is more the culprit.

To copy from my post from 90@9 today. .... I've got a document in my possession that is a rough recipe for longevity. It came about from a PhD thesis and I twice had the pleasure to sit in front of the elderly author giving lectures on the Gold Coast. At the top of the page there are four categories, the rest of the page mainly deals with the first category. Those four categories, Nutrition, Exercise, Spirituality, Meditation.

The work to get to that point was studying the small grouples of long lived peoples all around the world. He wanted to find common factors, and he did. I obtained this document in the early 90's, the work had been done a well before that time as the guy was 72 and still surfing everyday in Byron Bay. To quality for the study subjects had to be over 85, be fully mobile, have full eyesight and hearing, be free of degenerative disease, be sexually active, and a bit more but you get the picture I hope. His oldest couple were 110/111.

The diet is largely vegan and definitely organic is paramount.

You could say this study isn't so much theory, it is oberservation based and is what is.

In an if you must column he does have meat. It must be moderate in the diet, we don't need as much as we have been eating, and it should be organic or wild. My own take on this is a wild animal gets to choose the food it wants to eat and it knows what it needs. It has cheese also, but naturally matured. Yoghurt is good, so dairy isn't an issue but please make it organic also.

Beer should be naturally brewed also, which means batch fermented rather than the continuous process.

Generally I think keep clear of wheat, and eat less grains unless you have 5+ workouts a week of moderate or high intensity. You just don't need the highly processed and high GI that comes with refined grains.

I do know of a couple of a few people doing really well on a more Keto type diet, with large amounts of meat and animal fats. Healty and functioning, sure, longevity I'm less certain about. One guy healed up his IBS with this diet.

There are marathon runners doing a Keto diet, they train their body to burn fat. There isn't yet a champion in that category though.

This guy stated he had cured over 1000 people of cancer with a 100% success rate. Clincher was that he was just an advisor, they all went through their own GP so the records are all there just dispersed.

I recall a few stories he told, one is a customer cured of his parkinsons disease, which he puts down to sugar. One bowl of icecream was enough to bring the symptoms back.

I was involved in Herbalife at the time. One notable set of results we (my ex wife and I) was four different customers that cured their asthma just with the Herbalife product. Two of them were regular hospital admissions and those stopped. They could have done better following the old guys advice also I reckon, but I've learnt most people are not willing to do what needs to be done.

The JACC review specifically references the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological study of 135,000 people across 18 high, medium and low income countries on five continents which conclusively demonstrates the lower risk of death from a high unsaturated fat diet, as well as a neutral likelihood of heart disease.

I don't know. I think people have known healthy fats exist for quite a while. It's important to note 'unsaturated fat' is linked with a lower chance of cardiovascular death. This is things like nuts, avocados (good for millennials!) etc. rather than animal products. It's also worth noting that red meat consumption has been linked to an increased risk of developing bowel cancer.

Butter butters better. Meat is damn expensive but plenty of deer in the hills these days. Freezers full.

That's the weekend's mission

Thats right, there are tons of deer and goats out there. They need to be kept under control so not only are you filling your freezer with good meat but you are doing an enviromental service plus keeping fit.

No saturated fats, Paleo, Keto, Gluten-Free, Whole30, Fat-Free, low carbs, flouride, low salt, Atkins diet, sugar, TV dinners, gelatin, deep-fried, crock pot, bacon, oat bran, cooking fruit and vegetables, fruit rotting your teeth, carrots to help you to see in the dark, eating celery to burn more calories, organic fruit being healthiest, chocolate an aphrodisiac, omega 3, vitamin supplements, avocados, nuts, dairy products, takeaways, KFC . . . .
Not really bothered; now very old but still alive and no medications at all.
Love my food, love my daily red wine, love eating out, love being fit and healthy.

It is important that we do not conflate saturated and non saturated fats, using evidence from one in relation to the other. I think you have done that. Each needs to be considered as a separate issue.
Old-style margarine was an issue because of trans fat.
The evidence for processed meat (e.g bacon and corned beef) in relation to bowel cancer is strong. It is the additives that are the problem. The evidence for blackened steaks in relation to stomach cancer is also strong. The evidence for other forms of red meat is very weak.
In relation to dairy, the strongest evidence for heart disease relates to A1 beta-casein, which links strongly to antibodies to oxidised LDL. Fortunately, NZ dairy is now moving strongly towards animals that do not produce A1 beta-casein although we still have a considerable distsance to travel.

Keith, did you see this bit of news? always a curve ball out in the world somewhere.

'A wild boar in Germany has tested positive for African Swine Fever, apparently something feared and prepared for by Germans. The German government has enacted the National Animal Diseases Crisis Unit to contain the spread. South Korea has banned imports of pork from Germany. This news sent lean hog futures up the 300-point limit and gave cattle a spurty rally taking the Oct and Dec LC just under their respective 40-day moving averages.'

I had not seen this but I think it is significant

Ivor Cummins aka
Worth watching some of his stuff about the badness of sugar and carbos etc.

Two best bits of diet advice I ever got. There is no such thing as a superfood, and if you are dehydrated, drink water. If you need anything else, eat something.

This is all very cute. However when you look at the actual numbers, and they are readily available, for anyone who wants to look a bit deeper. Suggest that any (if any) decrease in the percentage of fat in our diet, has only been achieved through an increase in total calories. We have not reduced our saturated fat intake over the last 50 years. We now drink low fat milk but eat Camembert. We started eating lean steak and ate more McDonalds. The average diet has increased by over 500 calories in the last 30 years, this is largely due to increased availability, and relative decrease in cost. Just saying.

Just FYI, from Allans user page on

Allan Barber has held senior roles in the meat industry, as a Chief Executive (Elders Pastoral), Chief Operating Officer (AFFCO) and General Manager (Quality Packers division of LD Nathan) and marketing and export manager for other companies. He is now a business consultant advising on strategy, structure and governance in agribusiness.

Not sure why forgot to add that to the bottom of the article, they are usually pretty good at that.

There's nothing to hide, although realistically my days of consulting and advising on strategy etc are over and I amuse myself as a freelance journalist writing about the meat industry (which I left 23 years ago), playing golf, walking dogs and cooking, hence my interest in the dietary topic. I will update my details, so you don't have to worry about conflicts of interest.

I didn't intend to conflate saturated and unsaturated fats, but clearly the dietary advice over 60 years to avoid red meat including fat and dairy and replace with vegetable oils has resulted in an increase in heart disease, obesity and cancer, especially with the addition of carbohydrates and sugar. So in that sense, replacing lard and butter with spreads and vegetable oils has led to a deterioration in general health.

Some thought is required, New Zealand and Australia have the highest global cancer rates but that is not true of obesity or heart disease.
The question may be what aspect of our diet or lifestyle makes us top of the pops for cancers?
Heart Disease is topped by the Pacific Nations and Obesity by Northern Europe.


Heart disease is much lower in NZ now than 50 or so years ago. The major reasons are likely to be less saturated fat combined with much better medical treatment. An improved ratio of A2: A1 beta casein may also be starting to show up. Most cancers have also decreased on an age adjusted basis, but we now live longer and hence get more cancers. Type 2 diabetes does seem to be very much on the rise. Lack of exercise combined with too much sugar lie at the numb of that issue. In the same way that people get confused between saturated and non saturated fats, there can also be lots of confusion between simple sugars and complex carbohydrates.