Is Saturated Fat Good, Bad, or Neutral?

by Jackie Wicks

Last week, I wrote an article about nutrition for heart disease. If you are aware of the current nutritional standards for the treatment of heart disease, then you know that for the most part I stuck pretty close to them. I also tried to explain why they are the recommended practice, because for some of them (such as omega-6 fats) it can seem almost contrary to what we might expect. The biggest reason I, and most other health professionals, make these recommendations, though, is that they are the most consistently linked to improved rates of mortality in populations with heart disease.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]At the very least, we need to realize that saturated fat gives no benefit to a patient with heart disease. It may be as troublesome as we believe, but no science has ever shown that consuming it offers an advantage to someone at risk for heart disease.[/quote]

I want to track back to a topic I covered last week, but did not give as much attention as perhaps it deserved: saturated fat. The primary reason for this is because regardless of whether saturated is good or bad in the end, no studies whatsoever have evidence that increasing saturated fat intake would improve clinical outcomes in heart disease patients. There are studies which suggest that we shouldn’t really care about saturated fat intake, but these studies only demonstrate a lack of any observable relationship between saturated fat and mortality—they don’t demonstrate that it’s good!

Still, there are plenty of people on the internet, including doctors, nutritionists, and dietitians, who have made the claim that because saturated fat is NOT linked to mortality in heart disease, that the recommendation to reduce saturated fat is wrong! I don’t doubt that these people are well-intentioned, but they’re missing a critical component in the whole saturated fat / heart disease relationship: where does the saturated fat come from, and what does it replace?

As with my article last week, this discussion of saturated fat is really most relevant to individuals who are at a high risk for heart disease or who already have it. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot you can learn if you’re not currently at risk, but rather that the research I discuss was all done on populations with heart disease (or at risk), so we can’t interpret the findings beyond these populations. If you are not at risk, then you do not need to be as careful, though you will probably still benefit your health tremendously by taking the message of this article to heart!

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