Fatty foods might be good for you? My heart leaps

I have long reasoned that, for me, the pleasure of butter outweighs the risk

Share

Twenty years ago, I worked for a newspaper that provided its employees with an annual health screen provided by BUPA. Not being one to reject a free gift I went along for my first check up out of curiosity at what it might disclose.

I have always tried to follow a reasonably healthy lifestyle and, being a health correspondent, had a reasonable grasp of what that might involve. But that day changed my life in a way I did not expect. I discovered my cholesterol level was well below the average. As a result I immediately switched from margarine to butter.

I have always loved butter. Not just a smear on my morning toast but carved thickly straight from the fridge. Through the 1970s and 1980s I had resisted its lure because of the warnings that, with its high content of saturated fat, butter was a killer. Discovering that I might enjoy some protection from its risks was a revelation.

So when I saw yesterday’s BMJ report by cardiologist Aseem Malhotra arguing that saturated fats have been unfairly demonised, my heart - still (I hope) atheroma-free - lifted a little.

Dr Malhotra thinks we are taking far too many statins for reducing cholesterol – and with eight million people on the drugs many may agree – and that greater focus should be placed on adopting a Mediterranean diet, which might  achieve the same end.

The heart charities disagree. They say it is no surprise that research findings on the link between cholesterol and heart disease are conflicting. People are not rats and much as scientists might like to, it is not possible to control what they eat in order to get clear results.

But this, as ever, leaves you and I in a tricky position. We have to weigh up the evidence and try as best we can to apply it to our own case. That is what I did 20 years ago when I reasoned that the pleasure I derived from eating butter outweighed the small risk to me from consuming that extra saturated fat.

I would not have advised my friend David to do the same, despite our shared passion for butter. He happens to suffer from familial hypercholerestaemia, an inherited condition that pushes his cholesterol level sky high. He is on a large dose of statins, and rightly so.

It is when you get down to more ordinary cholesterol levels that the decision becomes trickier. Research shows that whatever your cholesterol level is, your risk of heart disease is reduced if you lower it. Thus theoretically we would all benefit from being on statins.

But none of us wants to be on drugs for the rest of our lives, with their potential side effects, if we can avoid them. At a population level, the arguments for statins are solidly backed by gold-standard research. At the individual level, however, the chances of any individual personally benefiting from the drugs they take may be smaller than they think.

There is no simple way round this. A high risk to one person may not seem high to another. Ultimately it is for each of us to strike a bargain with our maker.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fifi Geldof (left) with her sister Pixie at an event in 2013  

Like Fifi Geldof, I know how important it is to speak about depression

Rachael Lloyd
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering