Saturated Fat: Old Foe, or New Friend?

IMG_8348rt5x7bwYou may have seen some of the recent media articles that address the debate over saturated fat. This is based on some newly published research that suggests that adults who reduce their intake of saturated fats don’t necessarily reduce the heart risk. Popular media has covered this widely, and even the New York Times declared that “Butter is Back”. So does that mean we now have the green light to load up on red meat, butter, and other sources of saturated fat?

The short answer is – probably not. I recently addressed this topic on the video blogging site, which you can view by clicking here. Many nutrition and public health experts, who certainly have more expertise than myself, have also weighed in (one of my favorites, Dr. David Katz, has this video and this excellent article which help rebut the “butter is back” theory). The consensus is that this recent research, which was a pooled analysis of prior research, not new data, has some serious flaws. Here is what the “experts” seem to conclude:

1. Saturated fattty acids (or SFA, such as red meat, cheese, and butter) have long been known to be linked to the development of heart disease.

2. While reducing SFA can reduce heart risk, what is important is how the “bad” fats are replaced – many diets (and people) tend to increase intake of carbohydrates – especially the processed kind, which are probably worse for long term heath. That is why many “low fat” foods really don’t improve your health- they replace the SFA with bad carbs instead.

3. The key seems to be to replace the SFA with “good” fats instead – that is, unsaturated fatty acids such as nuts, olive and other vegetable oils, and fish. When this has been studied, there appears to be a beneficial effect on heart risk and overall health. In fact, this is the exact goal of the Mediterranean Diet, which has been studied extensively and shown to reduce heart risk.

More importantly, think less about the “components” of your diet, and focus more on eating whole foods. For example, butter may actually be better than some of the processed spreads, but not as good as olive or vegetable oil. So the “old foe” is still a “new foe”!

Here are some more links to our articles on diet and nutrition:

Our overall guide to a heart healthy diet

Our top 10 eating tips

Nutrition Counts

The perils of carbohydrates


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