The Truth About Saturated Fat – Is It Really The Enemy?

Rebecca Pound

We all know the rhetoric: avoid saturated fats at all costs, if you want what’s best for your heart, right? We choose low-fat dairy products, the leanest cuts of meat, and of course, avoid at all costs, anything cooked with animal lard. Instead, most Americans reach for lots of carbohydrates and supposedly healthier fats, such as olive or canola oil, all for the promise of lower cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, many do not receive the results they’re seeking.

At least one group of researchers believes Americans have been duped: led to make these drastic dietary changes because of faulty evidence from the 1970s. This startling revelation gives reason to ponder whether vegetable oil laden margarine is really better for the heart than that stick of full cream butter. So, is saturated fat the enemy, or simply a scapegoat?

Examining the Facts

So, how did saturated fats get the bad rap, anyway? Interestingly, the major dietary recommendation that has been touted by doctors across the United States and Europe, is based on the finding of a singular, large study in the 70’s. Called the “seven countries” study, and conducted by Ancel Keys, it essentially pointed out a correlation between saturated fat intake and high cholesterol levels. Of course, it is vital to remember that there is a vast difference between correlation and causation. For example, a lot of kissing could lead to conceiving a child, but kissing is certainly not the causative factor of becoming pregnant. Keys’ study came after a previous study in 1952, which used data from six countries to support the idea that saturated fat intake had a direct effect on deaths due to heart disease. More recent examination of that study reveals that data from 16 other countries was ignored, because it did not fit the researcher’s hypothesis.

Current Facts

An impressive study funded by the Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation, Gates Cambridge, and Cambridge National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Center, and involving researchers from some of the most prestigious medical education institutions in the world, including the University of Oxford, Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Cambridge and Medical Research Council, Imperial College London, and Erasmus University Medical Center delved into the wealth of information surrounding fatty acids and heart disease. The comprehensive analysis looked into many studies, including 32 studies involving 530,525 people. At the conclusion of the study the researchers reported that “current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats”. Essentially, current research takes the punch out of all the anti-fat rhetoric we have been hearing for the past few decades.

Finding the Villain: Misplaced Blame

Perhaps you have tried the low-fat diet routine: shopping the low-fat selections at the grocery store and learning to master the challenge of frying with ultra-lean ground beef. At the end of the day, did you really see lower cholesterol levels and a shrinking waistline? Many Americans have not seen those results, and research suggests that we are barking up on the wrong tree. Refined carbohydrates and processed foods may be the real villains in the obesity and heart disease problem. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study revealing that individuals on low-carb diets demonstrated better cholesterol levels and faster weight loss than those on a low-fat diet, and other studies give similar results.

The Friendship Concept

If saturated fat is not a foe, is it really a friend? Ah, this is a question surrounded with much debate. Saturated fats are known to be needed for proper hormone production, energy, and other bodily functions. How much and what type of saturated fats to consume is beyond the scope of this discussion, but hopefully it will at least spark some research and cause you to think before you pass over that bacon and reach for a high-carb muffin instead.

Sources for this article include:

About the Author: Ever since receiving her Master Herbalist certificate in 1999, Rebecca Pound has continued pursuing a knowledge of health, herbs, natural healing, and healthy eating. She has also worked as a health consultant. Rebecca currently works as a volunteer serving underprivileged people in Central America, while nurturing her interest in health through research and writing. To read more articles by Rebecca, please visit
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