Think saturated fat contributes to heart disease? Think again

Oct 01, 2010

For the past three decades, saturated fat has been considered a major culprit of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and as a result dietary advice persists in recommending reduced consumption of this macronutrient. However, new evidence shows that saturated fat intake has only a very limited impact on CVD risk -- causing many to rethink the "saturated fat is bad" paradigm.

A series of research articles published in the October issue of Lipids provides a snapshot of recent advances in and health research, based on science presented at the 100th American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS) annual meeting in Orlando, Florida (May 2009). During a symposium entitled "Saturated Fats and Health: Facts and Feelings," world-renowned scientists specializing in fat research analyzed the evidence between saturated fat intake and health, and overall agreed upon the need to reduce over-simplification when it came to saturated fat dietary advice.

"The relationship between of fats and health is intricate, and variations in factors such as , life stage and lifestyles can lead to different responses to saturated fat intake," said J. Bruce German, PhD, professor and chemist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California at Davis. "Although diets inordinately high in fat and saturated fat are associated with increased in some individuals, assuming that saturated fat at any intake level is harmful is an over-simplification and not supported by scientific evidence."

Professor Philippe Legrand of Agrocampus-INRA in France confirmed this by discussing various roles that different saturated fatty acids play in the body. His main conclusion was that saturated fats can no longer be considered a single group in terms of structure, metabolism and , and recommendations that group them together with regard to health effects need to be updated.

Effect of Saturated Fat Replacement on CVD Risk

Results from a research review conducted by Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard University School of Public Health, found that the effects of saturated fat intake on CVD risk depend upon simultaneous changes in other nutrients. For example, replacing saturated fat with mono-unsaturated fat yielded uncertain effects on CVD risk, while replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates was found to be ineffective and even harmful especially when refined carbohydrates such as starches or sugars were used in place of fat . Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat gave a small reduction in CVD risk, but even with optimal replacement the magnitude of the benefit was very small. According to Mozaffarian it would be far better to focus on dietary factors giving much larger benefits for CVD health, such as increasing intake of seafood/omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and decreasing intake of trans fats and sodium.

''Carbohydrate intake has been intimately linked to metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of risk factors that can increase CVD risk,'' said Jeff Volek, PhD, RD, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut. His research showed that very low carbohydrate diets can favorably impact a broad spectrum of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk factors, even in the presence of high saturated fat intake and in the absence of weight loss.

Kiran Musunuru, MD, PhD, MPH. Cardiovascular Research Center and Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, focused on the role of carbohydrates and fats on atherogenic dyslipidemia - a new marker for CVD risk often seen in patients with obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. He showed that low-carbohydrate diets appear to have beneficial lipoprotein effects in individuals with atherogenic dyslipidemia, compared to high-carbohydrate diets, whereas the content of saturated fat in the diet has no significant effect.

Full-Fat Dairy: An Unnecessary Target?

As long as saturated fat targets remain firmly rooted in dietary advice, nutrient-rich foods that contribute saturated fat to the diet, like full-fat dairy products, will continue to be unduly criticized regardless of their health benefits.

A recent meta-analysis of epidemiological and intervention studies of milk fat conducted by Peter Elwood, DSc, MD, FRCP, FFPHM, DUniv, Hon DSc, Honorary Professor at the School of Medicine, Cardiff University, found that milk and dairy consumption actually was associated with a decrease in CVD risk.

"It is clear that we have barely scratched the surface in our understanding about the biological effects of saturated fatty acids," said Cindy Schweitzer, PhD, Technical Director, Global Dairy Platform. "Scientific meetings where researchers from different disciplines within the field of nutrition share information are extremely important to identify both the gaps in our knowledge and the studies that are needed to answer the important questions about diet and health."

All of these recent research advances add to the growing body of science re-assessing the role of saturated fat in the diet. Whether it's nutrient replacement or better understanding the role certain foods can play in CVD risk, saturated fat is definitely not be as bad as once thought.

Explore further: Health insurance signups coming to shopping malls

More information: Visit www.springer.com/life+sciences/journal/11745 to view the open access papers from Lipids.

Provided by Global Dairy Platform

3.8 /5 (12 votes)
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User comments : 11

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Squirrel
2 / 5 (3) Oct 01, 2010
"Provided by Global Dairy Platform" says it all.

One reason to be wary of saturated fat is overlooked here: it was never was part of our evolutionary diet (wild animals have hardly any fat on them). We are not adapted to eating fats in the way we are to veg and nuts.
dollymop
not rated yet Oct 01, 2010
Our hunter gatherer ancestors ate marrow, and many wild animals getting ready for winter do have stores of fat. I bet they ate as much fat as they could get, along with wild grains, vegetable matter and, of course, they got lots of exercise.
BaldNerd
not rated yet Oct 01, 2010
The Global Dairy Platform sounds like a neutral source--NOT!
sstritt
1 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2010
"Provided by Global Dairy Platform" says it all.

One reason to be wary of saturated fat is overlooked here: it was never was part of our evolutionary diet (wild animals have hardly any fat on them). We are not adapted to eating fats in the way we are to veg
and nuts.

Our ancestors ate the entire animal, not just the lean meat, but the liver, brain, bone marrow etc. which are all fat rich. besides think about it- does it make any sense that our ancestors would leave behind the 9 kcal per gram of fat and only eat the 4 kcal from protein? Furthermore- there is a condition known as "rabbit starvation" so called because inexperienced explorers would often die of malnutrition after only a short while of consuming lean rabbit meat and not having a source of fat.
TJ_alberta
not rated yet Oct 01, 2010
The ancestors probably walked everywhere and did not sit on the couch eating snack food and beer. Except for a tiny portion of ruling class, they burned all the fat they ate.
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2010
The type and quality of fat is significant. Fat from corn fed beef is different then that from grass fed.
Early humans ate wild game, not corn feed beef.
deatopmg
1 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2010
Marjon - not only did they not eat corn fed beef they didn't eat corned beef either.
marjon
3 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2010
Marjon - not only did they not eat corn fed beef they didn't eat corned beef either.

Was that supposed to be a funny?
7 reasons to eat more saturated fat:
http://www.nouris...ted-fat/
deatopmg
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 02, 2010
Marjon - yes!

It appears that the saturated fat myth was started, or at least highly promoted, by the American Seed Oil producers to reduce competition from palm and coconut oils in the '60's. It worked until recently.

The myth continues unabated.
sstritt
1 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2010
marjon and deatopmq-
The Spanish Inquisition will come down on you for your heretical notions! They sanctioned me last week for posting a blog entry with similar ideas. Hang in there though, the truth will eventually be recognized!
marjon
3 / 5 (2) Oct 02, 2010
Marjon - yes!

It appears that the saturated fat myth was started, or at least highly promoted, by the American Seed Oil producers to reduce competition from palm and coconut oils in the '60's. It worked until recently.

The myth continues unabated.

Govt is complicit in promoting soybean oil. Coconut and palm oil were commonly used prior to WWII but the war cut off supplies.
Because seed oils were not hard at room temp, they were hydrogenated and promoted as healthy, even by CSPI.
The first choice in eating fats is eat natural fats. Humans are well adapted to them.

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