For over 30 years, we have been told over and over by doctors, the media, nutritionists, and food companies that saturated fat is bad for us, causing us to gain weight and contributing to cardiovascular disease (CVD). It has led to a whole industry of low fat and non-fat food options, most claiming that saturated fat is bad for our health.
But new research suggests that saturated fat may have gotten a bad rap and may have only a limited impact on CVD. The new research appears in a series of articles published in the October issue of Lipids, based on science presented at the 100th American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) annual meeting in Orlando, Florida (May 2009). During a symposium entitled “Saturated Fats and Health: Facts and Feelings,” scientists from around the world analyzed the relationship between saturated fat intake and health and agreed upon the need to reduce over-simplification when it comes to saturated fat dietary advice.
Saturated fat is fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acid radicals. Examples of foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat include dairy products (especially cream and cheese, but also butter and ghee); animal fats such as suet, tallow, lard, and fatty meat; and coconut oil, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, chocolate, and some prepared foods.
Dairy has received the bulk of bad press when it comes to the saturated fat debate. But recent studies of milk fat conducted by Peter Elwood, DSc, MD, FRCP, FFPHM, DUniv, Hon DSc, Honorary Professor at the School of Medicine, Cardiff University, found that milk and dairy consumption was actually associated with a decrease in CVD risk.
J. Bruce German, PhD, professor and chemist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California at Davis, stated that “The relationship between dietary intake of fats and health is intricate, and variations in factors such as human genetics, life stage, and lifestyles can lead to different responses to saturated fat intake. Although diets inordinately high in fat and saturated fat are associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk in some individuals, assuming that saturated fat at any intake level is harmful is an over-simplification and not supported by scientific evidence.”
Another researcher spearheading this change in view on saturated fat is Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, MPH, from the Department of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard University School of Public Health. He has found that the effects of saturated fat intake on CVD risk depend upon simultaneous changes in other nutrients. According to Dr. Mozaffarian, replacing saturated fat with other macronutrients, such as carbohydrates or polyunsaturated fats, gave only a small reduction in CVD risk and was even harmful in the case of carbohydrates. According to Mozaffarian, it would be far better to focus on dietary factors giving much larger benefits for CVD health, such as increasing intake of seafood/omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and decreasing intake of transfats and sodium.
All of these recent research advances add to the growing view in science that the role of saturated fat in the diet is not as bad as previously believed.
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