Heart Health Controversy: Reducing Saturated Fats
Heart Health Controversy: Reducing Saturated Fats

For years, health professionals counseled clients to minimize their fat intake, particularly saturated fat, to minimize their risk of heart disease. This recommendation is based largely on Ancel Keys’ Seven-countries study,1  a longitudinal epidemiological study that took place in the 1950s which found heart disease risk was directly related to blood cholesterol levels. 

Since then, however, serious flaws in Keys’ study design have been uncovered … and newer research has verified that this relationship is overly simplistic:

  • Including other countries beyond the seven original ones that Keys selected for his analysis blurs the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease.
  • We now know there are various forms of cholesterol—such as HDL and LDL, and subtypes of each—that have differing effects on heart disease. 
  • There are also numerous types of fat and saturated fat, also with different effects on blood cholesterol. Some types of saturated fat, such as those found in dairy foods, are neutral or even beneficial to heart disease risk.

A meta-analysis in 2014 summarizes this newer research, concluding "current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats."3

This may be a situation where dietary recommendations have not kept pace with the research, and many people, health professionals included, are embedded in old paradigms. The bottom line is that saturated fat is not the demon once believed, and can be incorporated into healthy diets in moderation. 

For more in-depth information on this topic:

References:

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6739443 
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22585901

3. Chowdhury R et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Mar 18;160(6):398-406. doi: 10.7326/M13-1788.