USA Swimming gives some bad nutritional advice on dietary fat, Part 1

USA Swimming offers lots of odd, out-dated, and ill-informed nutritional advice to young swimmers. This series of posts are offered as a corrective.

Today we consider “Clearing the Confusion on Fat” written by Chris Rosenbloom Ph.D., RDN, CSSD. Let’s jump right in.

Big mistake #1: The author makes a significant factual error.

The author claims:

Saturated fats, like coconut oil, butter, and palm oil, raise risk of CVD.

Eh, no. The author defines CVD (cardiovascular disease) as “heart disease, blood vessel disease like high blood pressure, peripheral vascular diseases, and stroke”.

Even researchers who are wary of dietary saturated fat note there is no link to stroke. Here’s a typical quote:

…the available evidence suggests that SAFA [saturated fatty acid] reduction has little, if any, direct effect on stroke risk, but that the consumption of SAFA-rich dairy foods may be associated with a lower risk of ischemic stroke. 

You catch that last part? Dietary saturated fat may reduce the risk of stroke. Surprise! And if you control for body-mass, it looks like dietary saturated fat is not associated with high blood pressure either.

Yes, many public health officials express concern about a link between dietary saturated fat and increased risk of heart disease. But those links only pop-up among certain populations (generally middle-aged non-athletes) and even there the magnitude of the effect is slight.

For instance, a 2015 Cochrane meta-analysis did find a small benefit associated with swapping out some saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated fats, but it was only the sicker, older study participants that received the slightest benefit, and only on one indicator – the frequency of heart disease.

That correlation would be significant except reducing saturated fat intake did not reduce the rate of DEATH from heart disease. How can that be? Well, a lot of times in dietary studies a ‘small effect’ and ‘no effect’ are kind of the same thing.

Others look at the same studies and see no benefit to reducing saturated fat intake. Their research suggests that dietary saturated fat is harmless.

Finally, for teenage female athletes, there’s reason to believe that a higher level of saturated fat intake is beneficial (the link is a study on the associations between fiber, vegetable protein, and poor bone density, but if you read through the other associations you see that the dietary element most associated with good bone density is saturated fat).

Perhaps the author of this USA Swimming article (Rosenbloom) has excellent reason to disagree with this body of research. If so, the author needs to say that. Or avoid the subject entirely.

Look for USA Swimming gives some bad nutritional advice on dietary fat, Part 2 coming soon.

The standard disclaimer: I am a parent of a serious teen swimmer. I am not a physician. I do not hold any certification in the field of nutrition. I am not a registered dietician. I read research publications and nutrition reports, but I do not do any independent research. Basically, I am lay-person, motivated by my concern for the well-being of my kid. For me to be able to tell that nutritional advice is bad, it has to be really bad.


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