I’ve alway bought into the idea that saturated fat was really bad and should be avoided, or at least consumed in moderation. The thought was that this was the bad guy in our diet and if consumed to excess would result in heart disease.
It now appears that I was wrong about this.
The New York Times has a good summary of the latest findings …
…a large and exhaustive new analysis by a team of international scientists found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacks and other cardiac events.
The new findings are part of a growing body of research that has challenged the accepted wisdom that saturated fat is inherently bad for you and will continue the debate about what foods are best to eat.
For decades, health officials have urged the public to avoid saturated fat as much as possible, saying it should be replaced with the unsaturated fats in foods like nuts, fish, seeds and vegetable oils.
But the new research, published on Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, did not find that people who ate higher levels of saturated fat had more heart disease than those who ate less. Nor did it find less disease in those eating higher amounts of unsaturated fat, including monounsaturated fat like olive oil or polyunsaturated fat like corn oil.
Ah, so I can quit avoiding fat and go eat lots of steak, chips and burgers then?
Actually no, this is not a green light to get completely daft about all this, the latest finding is not suggesting that is all now good for you.
OK, so what is going on then?
Well, it turns out that just thinking about fat in complete isolation from everything else may in fact be the real problem here. The message was clear – avoid saturated fat – and I got that message and did exactly that, as did many others. One thought is that by doing just that in isolation from any other guidance people tended to bulk up on bread, cereal and other refined carbohydrates, and all that perhaps created the illusion of a better diet, but is in fact equally bad for cardiovascular health.
Net effect: those who consumed saturated fat vs those who did not were actually on par when it came to the primary concern here – heart disease.
So what is a good diet then?
The guidance is that there should be more emphasis on real food rather than setting limits to specific types. In fact the article is specific and offers what appears to be rather sensible guidance …
people should try to eat foods that are typical of the Mediterranean diet, like nuts, fish, avocado, high-fiber grains and olive oil. A large clinical trial last year, which was not included in the current analysis, found that a Mediterranean diet with more nuts and extra virgin olive oil reduced heart attacks and strokes when compared with a lower fat diet with more starches.
Alice H. Lichtenstein, a nutritional biochemist at Tufts University, agreed that “it would be unfortunate if these results were interpreted to suggest that people can go back to eating butter and cheese with abandon,”
Just avoiding saturated fat is not sufficient, so if you are doing only that, then you may in fact be no better off.
Many questions still remain, but right now the best way to stay heart healthy is to stop smoking, stay active, and ensure your whole diet is healthy – and this means considering not only the fats in your diet, but also your intake of salt, sugar and fruit and vegetables.
- The study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine – Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk (Sorry, there is paywall to actually read it, but you do get free access to the abstract)
- The New York Times article
- Science 2.0 article