Is saturated fat bad for your health?

March 27, 2014 Edited by  
Filed under Fat, Heart disease

Welcome to the latest and greatest wrinkle in the world of nutrition science: a recent study has suggested that saturated fat – long considered a primary culprit in the development of heart disease – is perhaps no more than an innocent bystander. The meta-analysis, published March 18th in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found no association between saturated fat intake and increased risk of heart attacks or other cardiac events.

To be clear, the researchers did find a link between trans fat intake and heart disease. But they found no evidence that saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease, or that unsaturated fats decreased the risk of heart disease. Does this mean that you can now inhale steak, butter, and whole milk with abandon? Or stop taking those expensive flaxseed and/or fish oil supplements? Well, it depends.

On one hand, some folks believe that this study demonstrates a need to more specifically analyze individual types of saturated and unsaturated fats (e.g., some saturated dairy fats are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, whereas some unsaturated vegetable fats are associated with a higher risk of heart disease).

On the other hand, some folks believe that this study demonstrates a need to stop focusing on nutrients altogether and start focusing on whole foods. For instance, Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health who was not involved with the study at hand opined that “The single macronutrient approach is outdated. I think future dietary guidelines will put more and more emphasis on real food rather than giving an absolute upper limit or cutoff point for certain macronutrients.”

Food for thought

The whole food approach is nothing new. For instance, take a look back at Jamie’s October blog post about the Mediterranean Diet. Or, for a more lengthy review, read Michael Pollan’s essay, Unhappy Meals, that was originally published in the January 2007 edition of the New York Times Magazine. Pollan’s take-home message is definitely good food for thought: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

What do you think? Should saturated fat be avoided like the plague? Or is it more complicated than that?… Or perhaps more simple?

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