What’s wrong with saturated fat?

There has been so much media coverage lately about saturated fat, with newspaper and magazine articles, and even peer reviewed journal articles claiming that saturated fat isn’t that bad after all. This news is well received by people who love to hear good news about their bad habits. It allows people to avoid the difficulty of change and to keep eating the foods that are making them sick.

Lurking in the background behind the saturated fat issue are powerful industries whose products are relatively high in saturated fats. Most guides to healthy eating include the advice to eat less saturated fat, but they shy away from naming those foods we should eat less of for fear of offending the meat and dairy industries. So we end up with recommendations that mix food advice, e.g. eat more fruit and vegetables with nutrient advice e.g. eat less saturated fat. Why not just say “eat less cheese”?

The saturated fat/high cholesterol/atherosclerosis/heart disease link is well established. Nothing has changed to refute decades of research which link high fat animal products with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other diseases. The only real challenge to the ‘saturated fat is bad’ paradigm is whether some of the adverse effects of foods high in saturated fat might be due to other features of these foods such as animal protein, carnitine, choline or haeme iron. For practical purposes it doesn’t really matter whether it’s the saturated fat or something else – it’s still meat and dairy foods that are contributing to chronic disease.

Many of the stories woven to refute the health hazards of saturated fat are based on several key scientific publications:

  1. Chowdhury, R., Warnakula, S., Kunutsor, S., Crowe, F., Ward, H. A., Johnson, L., . . . Di Angelantonio, E. (2014). Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 160(6), 398-406.
  2. Malhotra, A. (2013). Saturated fat is not the major issue. BMJ, 347, f6340. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f6340
  3. Siri-Tarino, P. W., Sun, Q., Hu, F. B., & Krauss, R. M. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(3), 535-546. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725

It all sounds quite plausible until you actually look at the fine detail of the evidence given, which takes considerable time and skill… few health professionals do this, so what hope has the general public got? We are indebted to people like Plant Positive, Dr John McDougall, Dr Michael Greger, T Colin Campbell and others who invest the time and effort to cut through the smoke and mirrors. Below is an extensive list of resources that will help you understand what’s behind the sensational headlines.

Resources

Two recent (January 2015) videos from Dr Michael Greger explain how industry works to confuse the public on the saturated fat issue. The second video presents powerful evidence that saturated fat does indeed raise blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease:

An extensive analysis of this topic is provided by Plant Positive. His whole website (and YouTube channel) is designed “to correct specific falsehoods and flawed arguments that pervade the popular and academic discussion of nutrition”:

Saturated fat articles:

Cholesterol **February 2015 update**

In Feburary 2015 it was reported that the new US dietary guidelines will withdraw their recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol. Below are some responses from plant-based practitioners:

Books:

  • Campbell, T. C., & Jacobson, H. (2014). The low-carb fraud. Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc.

Related pages:

Page created 4 July 2014
Last updated 26 July 2016