Is Saturated Fat Good, Bad, or Neutral?

by Jackie Wicks

Maybe It’s Not Saturated Fat, but Saturated Fat Still Doesn’t Help

If you have heart disease or are at risk of it, then optimizing your diet to lower that risk is important, and regardless of the role saturated fat ultimately plays we know already that it’s at most neutral. Optimizing your diet doesn’t just mean getting rid of the bad foods, it also means moderating the foods that don’t have any substantial benefit. Fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains all have substantial benefits (fruits and veggies especially), but most types of meat really don’t. Sure, we can maintain the same intake of high-saturated fat foods (like meat) and potentially no suffer any further downsides, but we also miss out on the upsides of a healthier diet.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Some of the diets recommended by those who don’t believe in the saturated fat/heart disease link have been shown to increase risk. Even if saturated fat isn’t a problem, their recommendations can still be harmful.[/quote]

The health professionals telling heart disease patients that saturated fat isn’t a risk are missing the point. It’s not just about saturated fat, it’s about diet in general. Unless you eat too little, you can’t add foods without either taking other foods out or eating more than you already were. The diets they recommend, typically low-carb and high-protein/fat, are relatively unstudied for heart disease risk and the studies which have been done don’t paint a pretty picture (at least not when they’re based on animal protein, the only type of high-protein food which is also high in saturated fat).12,13

Don’t gamble with your health. The recommended diet for heart disease isn’t sexy, and it’s not the type of diet that attracts devotees. What it is is a diet that will decrease your risk of developing or dying or heart disease. Considering that it’s a diet designed solely for the prevention and treatment of heart disease, I’d say it does its job well!

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  1. Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725.
  2. Schoenaker DA, Toeller M, Chaturvedi N, Fuller JH, Soedamah-Muthu SS; EURODIAB Prospective Complications Study Group. Dietary saturated fat and fibre and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality among type 1 diabetic patients: the EURODIAB Prospective Complications Study. Diabetologia. 2012 Aug;55(8):2132-41. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2550-0.
  3. Houston DK, Ding J, Lee JS, et al. Dietary fat and cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease in older adults: the Health ABC Study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2011 Jun;21(6):430-7. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2009.11.007.
  4. Wallström P, Sonestedt E, Hlebowicz J, et al. Dietary fiber and saturated fat intake associations with cardiovascular disease differ by sex in the Malmö Diet and Cancer Cohort: a prospective study. PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31637. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031637.
  5. Ramsden CE, Zamora D, Leelarthaepin B, et al. Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis. BMJ. 2013 Feb 4;346:e8707. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e8707.
  6. Khaw KT, Friesen MD, Riboli E, Luben R, Wareham N. Plasma phospholipid fatty acid concentration and incident coronary heart disease in men and women: the EPIC-Norfolk prospective study. PLoS Med. 2012;9(7):e1001255. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001255.
  7. Fung TT, Rexrode KM, Mantzoros CS, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Mediterranean diet and incidence of and mortality from coronary heart disease and stroke in women. Circulation. 2009 Mar 3;119(8):1093-100. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.816736.
  8. Jakobsen MU, O’Reilly EJ, Heitmann BL, et al. Major types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of 11 cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1425-32. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27124.
  9. de Oliveira Otto MC, Mozaffarian D, Kromhout D, et al. Dietary intake of saturated fat by food source and incident cardiovascular disease: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;96(2):397-404. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.037770.
  10. Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med. 2010 Mar 23;7(3):e1000252. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000252.
  11. Scarborough P, Rayner M, van Dis I, Norum K. Meta-analysis of effect of saturated fat intake on cardiovascular disease: overadjustment obscures true associations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Aug;92(2):458-9; author reply 459. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2010.29504.
  12. Fung TT, van Dam RM, Hankinson SE, Stampfer M, Willett WC, Hu FB. Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: two cohort studies. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Sep 7;153(5):289-98. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-153-5-201009070-00003.
  13. Lagiou P, Sandin S, Lof M, Trichopoulos D, Adami HO, Weiderpass E. Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and incidence of cardiovascular diseases in Swedish women: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2012 Jun 26;344:e4026. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e4026.

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