Food Debate: Has the Time Come To Exonerate Saturated Fat?

by The Health Sciences Academy — Get free science updates here.

Meat, egg yolk, butter, milk, cheese, coconut oil, palm oil – they all have saturated fat.

For decades, we have all been led to believe that limiting your intake of saturated fat will help lower your ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, and therefore reduce the risk it poses to your heart.

Would you feel shocked if I told you that it has never been 100% proven that consuming saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease?

Yet, government guidelines and even the World Health Organisation tell us that we shouldn’t get more than 11% of our daily calories from saturated fat.

Is saturated fat really bad for your heart?

Saturated fat is said to increase blood cholesterol, which clogs major arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

In contrast, some scientists believe that this unproven theory (which was originated by Ancel Keys, PhD, in 1953) is one of the greatest errors in modern medicine.

Ancel Keys’s published paper, termed the Seven Countries Study, compared saturated fat intake with heart disease mortality. Keys chose results from seven countries out of the entire group. He ignored the results of 15 other countries.

In other words, there were 22 countries involved but the results of only seven fit his hypothesis. So he said goodbye to the other 15. Had he kept the entire 22, he would have no case and the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease would be nil.

Many experts believe that this research was key for bolstering the possibly flawed low-fat approach to diet and health that has ruled the world over the past several decades.

So, is it time to bring back the butter, or is the jury still out on saturated fat? Let’s explore further, shall we?

Those who stand firm on the evils of saturated fat

Researchers don’t agree themselves, so let’s first share what the ‘against saturated fat’ position has to say.

This side insists that saturated fat is bad for you. They strengthen their position by maintaining the fact that high levels of cholesterol cause arterial damage. Period.

David Richmond Sullivan at the University of Sydney Central Clinical School is one of those not ready to exonerate saturated fat. He clearly states that it’s not even debatable; saturated fat is bad for you.

Both the NHS and the American Heart Association urge us to cut down on saturated fat intake or avoid it altogether to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.

What’s this all about: heart health or weight loss?

This is a really meaningful clarification because this is where most people get lost: in the context. The saturated fat debate is about heart health.

I want you to remember this: whether saturated fat is linked to heart disease or not, it can still make you fatter. Particularly when combined with sugar and digestible carbohydrates.

If you’re watching your weight, here’s some worthwhile background: saturated fat is stored in your fat cells directly (on average, out of 100 calories, 3 are lost via food thermogenesis and the other 97 are stored).

Unfortunately, fat is much easier to overeat because it is energy-dense (more calories per gram than any other food). So if you have a tendency to eat until having a full stomach, you might struggle with high-fat foods. Yes, this even applies to nuts, seeds, and coconut oil.

You’ll often hear me say that what works for others may not work for you, so be mindful of your own body and energy needs.

If you gain excess body weight as a result of overeating butter and coconut oil daily, your risk of heart disease will be higher. In this case, it’s the excess body fat that increases your risk.

Has saturated fat been exonerated for good?

Previous studies support the concept that replacement of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (such as vegetable and fish oils) results in improved lipid profiles – i.e. lower bad cholesterol.

But a 2014 meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which pooled data from over half a million people, concludes that consuming polyunsaturated fats to replace total consumption of saturated fat is by far an unfounded decision. In other words, these new findings do not clearly support the cardiovascular guidelines that tell us to use more polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fat.

If things weren’t confusing enough, the medical community questions the poor quality of the data pooled in the 2014 meta-analysis and still urges us to stick to a low saturated fat intake.

Let’s get practical

Even more curious is that if people are decreasing saturated fat in their diets, what are they replacing it with? And how healthy is the replacement?

Ideally, the replacement would be in the direction of supporting proper nutrition towards good health. David L. Katz, MD, the director at Yale University Prevention Research Center, guides us to consider the whole diet, not simply the individual pieces or nutrients in isolation. As he says:

No one thing is THE thing wrong with our diets, and no one food, nutrient, or ingredient will be our salvation either.

In her book What to Eat, Marion Nestle inspires us to:

…pay attention to the overall dietary pattern rather than worry about whether one single food is better for you than another.

Wholesome foods are the way to go for optimal health. Blaming disease on one aspect of our diet is foolish and unrealistic.

Why do we have a tough time getting the answer?

Essentially, the large amounts of data from the 2014 meta-analysis imply that there is “no significant link between saturated fat and heart disease.”

The big scream over fat and what the studies showed was that saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease. However, when a fresh systematic review like this one raises an even bigger question of that reality, it is of our best interest to be curious.

This is where a tiny focus can bring big trouble. Again, it is looking at the whole instead of the parts. Broaden your diet to include minimally processed varieties of foods.

And don’t discount the big picture: obesity does increase cardiovascular risk – no matter how you gained the weight in the first place!

Have your say

Do you think saturated fat has been exonerated after this new meta-analysis has come forth, failing to draw a link with heart disease? Or do you believe that we should stick to the dietary guidelines? Could it be that more research is needed?

Tell us what you think in the comments below! Share this with someone who might be able to use the information.

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  • Tanya

    Reply Reply September 4, 2014

    I’m not sure exonerated is the right word for it, but certainly we can’t paint saturated fats as the “bad” fats and polyunsaturated fats as the “good” fats. Neither is healthy in too large of quantities, and neither is harmful in proper quantities. There have been many more studies and probably will continue to be studies showing conflicting results. The problem is people keep trying to show that one is wonderful while the other is horrible. We need both. The studies should be focused on how to balance it.

  • Gillian McDonald

    Reply Reply September 4, 2014

    I believe by looking at even the consistency of saturated fats – once consumed as hidden fat this offers little benefit to the bodies systems – only clogging the flow of energy – I would avoid where possible- using purified natural oils , hemp , coconut or olive .. :)

    • Rye

      Reply Reply October 20, 2018

      A reminder that coconut oil is mainly saturated fat.

  • Naghmana

    Reply Reply September 4, 2014

    We need both saturated fat and unsaturated but because we get more calories with fat we need to be careful of portions. When we heat the fats saturated fats are more heat resistant and do not emit a toxin as opposed to unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats which do. We cannot get away from the fact that obesity increases the risk of heart disease. We also have to accept that by consuming fat whether it’s saturated or unsaturated can lead to obesity so portions should still be smaller. Studies and research is useful but it does boil down to having a sensible well balanced diet rich in essential nutrients.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply September 6, 2014

      Indeed, Naghmana. And since each one of us is unique biochemically, you need to monitor yourself very carefully whenever you change your diet. Same principle applies when you work with a client :-)

    • Teresa Williamson

      Reply Reply February 8, 2019

      Coconut oil comes from a fruit, coconut, and is a plant saturated fat which is totally different to animal saturated fat. It is one of the healthiest oils you can use, with olive oil next, which also is a plant oil. Stop confusing the two. Coconut oil lowers cholesterol better than any other oil. Fact.

  • LK

    Reply Reply September 4, 2014

    I believe it’s the source of saturated fats as well as the entire diet which creates the negative effects traditionally associated with saturated fat intake. Coconut oil has saturated fat but it’s actually not at all harmful. Simply because it is natural and actually has many beneficial properties and uses. The build-up of fat usually occurs when their is too much acid within the body and the fat builds up to protect the body from that acid. Acid forming foods include animal protein, simple and complex carbohydrates, sugar and all forms of processed foods because of the preservatives and additives. If one ate all fresh foods and choose to eat butter, milk, oil on a daily basis I don’t imagine they would see an increase in ‘bad’ cholesterol (there is no such thing as bad cholesterol) or even a weight gain as the fat would be used up as energy simply because it has no reason to store itself within the body if the body is in an alkaline state.

    Cholesterol is essential for the renewal and repair of cells therefore it can not be bad for you. The increase in cholesterol is most linked to high table salt intake- refined salt is made up of 1/3 salt, 1/3 glass and 1/3 same-sex this tears the arteries when consumed and cholesterol increases to repair the tissue damage. Consume sea salt and cholesterol will lower. Consume fresh, non-profit processsed, organic foods and the fat will melt away.

    Processed foods are the enemy. Fat from natural sources I.e nuts, milk, butter and oil on their own shouldn’t cause damage especially when eaten in conjunction with foods which are fresh, natural, non- processed and organic.

    • Maureen

      Reply Reply January 6, 2015

      I agree with you LK, except on one point. I know that coconut oil is touted as a miracle food. Yes, it has its healing properties, but it is also very high in arginine, and since almost all of us eat a diet higher in arginine than lysine (and lysine needs to be the dominant amino acid for health), foods high in lysine need to be stressed. This means a diet of organic pastured animal, cooked vegetables, and low in grains (fermented and cultured), while avoiding nuts and seeds, as they are very high in arginine. Dr. Lawrence Wilson of the Nutritional Balancing Diet also states that coconut oil is very yang, which makes it toxic in large quantities.

  • LK

    Reply Reply September 4, 2014

    *Consume less acid forming foods (animal protein, carbohydrates and sugar). Replace animal proteins with plant based protein or fish, chicken and eggs which aren’t as difficult to digest- thus producing less acid in the process- as meat. Consume low starch vegetables in lieu of bread, pasta, rice, pastry. Eliminate sugar entirely as the body has no dietary or nutritional requirements for it- it hads only negative impacts on our health. Even too much fruit intake can create acid due to the sugar and acid content so vegetables are safest and sugary fruits consumed less regularly is recommended.

  • N8

    Reply Reply September 4, 2014

    Obviously more (and MUCH better) research needs to be done in this area, but I currently reside in the camp of looking at the source. Even “healthy” sources of saturated fat can be harmful if there is a flaw in the process. Animal fats from organic sources (grass-fed, free range, etc.) are by and large healthier than that from contaminated sources. Then again, even statements like “free range”, “all natural”, and “grass-fed” (among others) don’t necessarily mean the food is safe.

    • LK

      Reply Reply September 4, 2014

      Unless organic, most foods have harmful contaminants. And even then you need to be careful re: labelling standards as not all certification boards require 100% organic ingredients, processes, sources etc. For eg, farmers are allowed to turn non- organically reared cattle into organic milk producing cattle. For food the cattle needs to have been fed organically from the third trimester for the offspring to be born ‘organic’. The truth is, it’s a great feat if at all possible to acquire wholly organic foods and that’s a testament to what we’ve done to our world and what we’re doing to our bodies.

  • Ruty Tuty

    Reply Reply September 5, 2014

    Thanks for a well balanced article. It’s really interesting that new research such as this is being produced. I think, as many have already said, we need further research and if we stick to the adage ‘all things in moderation’ I suspect we can’t go to far wrong.
    I understand there’s more research to be done on the role of inflammation and stress in cardiovascular disease. I anticipate the results will be fascinating.
    I believe exercise and movement is as equally important in looking after our whole bodies, as well as cardiovascular health, as a good diet is.

  • Chris CS

    Reply Reply September 5, 2014

    A great article for causing a debate and yet there really shouldn’t be a debate over this. There simply is no reliable evidence that proves or even comes close to showing saturated fat is bad for you. Its quite the opposite.
    The simple fact of the matter is, Keys results were skewed. For whatever reason this was not challenged at the time and ever since we have been riding the wave of drug company and media created fear of fat and cholesterol.
    It has no scientific basis. It has no factual or statistical basis!! lets face it, you really cant escape the fact that as fat consumption has lowered CVD has risen to become the western Worlds biggest killer.
    The simple physiological fact is, fat and cholesterol are vital for our bodies cells. The fact that cholesterol is found at the site of the cause of a heart attack / stroke, does not mean it caused it. ….mmmhh perhaps we should look at what damages our endothelials, for instance man made chemicals, vitamin D deficiency, chronic inflammation from a diet built on the consumption of processed carbohydrates / sugar etc etc etc.

    I truly wish ‘expert commentators’ and doctors alike would actually spend the time and look at the available data. If they did it would be nigh on impossible for them to maintain this idiotic and out right dangerous mind set that fat and cholesterol is bad. The majority of the reliable data actually suggest the opposite, that our propensity towards low fat and lowering our cholesterol is actually causing serious long term health problems.

    • Maureen

      Reply Reply January 6, 2015

      Agreed Chris!

  • Patricia Howard

    Reply Reply September 5, 2014

    As many have said….too much of anything is bad. And, some “bodies” can process some foods easier or harder than others and in a different way. We need to be aware of our bodies and adjust our intake to work with our own systems. Yes, more research needs to be done.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply September 6, 2014

      Patricia, your comment is spot on and I’ll tell you why: although dietary cholesterol does not significantly raise serum cholesterol for most people, around 10% of the population is sensitive and should watch how much they eat, especially if they have familial heart disease risk. Other factors are explained in the summary of this study:

  • Paul Simmons

    Reply Reply September 9, 2014

    It’s all about getting the right balance of all nutrients!!
    I am an amateur boxer so weight control has always been a big factor in my life. For the past month I have been keeping an eye on my eating habits and tracking my weight loss. I started at 76kg on 10th August and today, 9th September I am down to 72kg. This is not only down to my diet but also regular exercise. Regardless of exercise as long as the body uses more calories than it consumes it will lose weight. The composition of these calories is dependant on my activity levels. On days that I train I have higher ratio of carbohydrates, and on my rest days I get the majority of my energy from fats. A typical ratio breakdown for a training day would be roughly 40%-50% carbs 30%-20%fats and 30% proteins. On rest day this would change to 30%-20% carbs 40%-50% fats and 30% proteins. This is only approximate but some days I am consuming maybe double the recommended in take of saturated fats, mainly from nuts, coconut oil, milk, eggs and meats, but I am still managing to lose weight. I am in the best shape I have ever been in to be honest. Too much of any thing is a bad thing, so a balanced approach is the best way forward. If your having more fat then decrease your carb intake, and visa versa decrease fat when carb intake increases. Carbs are a quick energy source so are best used on days when you are exercising. For your every day to day activities where you don’t really exert yourself, slow burning fat energy sources are adequate. Fats are an energy source at the end of the day and as long as this energy is being used up then it won’t be stored, weight won’t be gained, and your heart won’t be under any extra strain.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply September 9, 2014

      Paul, fantastic results, thanks so much for sharing.

  • Fred

    Reply Reply September 28, 2014

    One point I would like to make is that poison is poison. The food industry has demonized good fats so they could sell their disease causing GMO fake fats, ie soy, canola, corn, cottonseed oils that are used in every processed food items on the market. Then they say it is all about the calories, just eat less and exercise more. What a bunch of lies that the public has been brainwashed into thinking. If you say it enough times it must be true. That is what the corporate own news media says 24/7. The medical mafia has 75% of the population on one or more prescription drugs.It is about a two trillion dollar a year industry. That is why natural cures are suppressed. They do not want the truth to be known. Jack Lalanne, my idol, said it best, if it is man made do not eat it. That means anything grown with chemicals or processed with chemicals or if the plant was engineered in a lab, GMO’s anyone? The poison is in the DNA. Evil has technology on their side.

    • Maureen

      Reply Reply January 6, 2015

      Preach it Fred!!

  • julia

    Reply Reply September 28, 2014

    I don’t think coconut oil should be regarded as the same as the other fats at the start of the article – it is a medium chain fat and actually tends to help one to lose weight according to many people and from my own experience. I am not trying to lose weight, just find coconut a wonderful food for me.

  • Simon

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    This article raises some good points. If you look at the literature on the topic, you will find that high fat, low carbohydrate diets are extremely successful in weight loss, and this is a uniform consensus throughout this field of literature. Below is a full Harvard reference for just one of the many meta-analyses that supports a ketogenic diet for weight loss:

    “Bueno NB, de Melo IS, de Oliveira SL, da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition 2013; 110(7): 1178-1187 “.

    I personally don’t think saturated fat is bad for you, based solely on my own research around the subject area. There is no biological basis for these types of fats being bad for you, there is no good solid evidence for it, and there is actually no evidence to suggest that saturated fat is in any way linked to cholesterol levels! Anecdotally, Populations have, for years, lived off animal meats, full off sat fat, and the fact that the body takes any excess energy from our bodies and converts it to store as saturated fat, means that surely it can’t be bad? I would like to also point out that ANY food can be converted into adipose tissue, not just fats. So to conclude, yes, saturated fat should not be viewed as this lethal substance it has become in the public eye!

  • Theodore Wakefield

    Reply Reply January 6, 2015

    I agree with many of the comments above. It is about a balanced and varied diet taking into account what your body needs and what works best for you.

    I would also say that weight, health, stress, eating habits (etc) go far beyond the kitchen and the gym. A holistic healthy approach to our whole lives is important. Finding the time to relax, enjoying our jobs, meditating, socialising, all of these things are very important for our health and this bigger picture often gets overlooked.

    Now that mainstream science is approaching the theory that our minds create our world (the world is how we perceive it) then being happy, healthy and relaxed in the mind will create a balance throughout the rest of our bodies and life. I have read time and time again of when stress has caused disease and infection in the body and psychological issues that show themselves as physically as weight gain or migraines.

    A person who eats a healthy, balanced, even organic diet who works themselves to the bone, hates their job and never finds the time to relax will experience the same health benefits as a millionaire sitting on a beach lounger in the Caribbean all day eating jerk chicken washed down with rum!

  • Suzy Dior

    Reply Reply January 19, 2015

    You can use a urotensiometer to measure the balance of fats in the body. It will show if you are too high in fatty acids or too high in sterol fats. This will help you decide which fats you need to eat for good health. When one is much higher than the other disease can come in the body as the body is out of balance. You can have a host of various symptoms depending on your imbalance. For more email me personally – I can test you

  • Jane Hladky

    Reply Reply January 29, 2015

    I find some of these comments rather challenging, in that many are purely not based on evidence. The idea of this course is to learn to base your practice on EVIDENCE so comments about one form of fat or another, acid balance, etc are interesting but we all need to focus on the evidence which we have to date.
    Large randomized, controlled trials will never answer these questions because of the massive heterogeneity of our population. You would need to start a trial in genetically similar babies, feed them controlled diets and measure over years to see meaningful results. In the meantime, I personally believe many issues do as one person arise when people are unhappy and unhealthy, it’s interesting that no one has even mentioned the role of exercise in managing appetite and mood. I doubt we’ll ever design the perfect diet because everyone has different genetics, tastes, activity levels, etc. the best we can do is base our comments and coaching to individuals on what evidence we have.
    Theodore you nailed it.

  • Joanne Tramonte

    Reply Reply February 7, 2015

    Interesting and basic: basically eating too many carbs or protein or fats, or all of the above that, you aren’t going to use means you will likely be overweight and have health problems. Many people in the US are overweight and under exercise, portions at main stream restaurants tend to be pretty darn large. Moderation is key, so simple and yet so frequently ignored.

  • Gil

    Reply Reply February 14, 2015

    Many interesting posts

    I would like to add the importance of drinking water.

    I have seen positive results from using a reverse osmosis (with a volcanic rock filter to produce minerals) system that takes out 98% bacteria chorine, fluoride, pesticides and even drugs that come through the water supply.

    It is so important to use clean quality water when drinking cooking or washing.

  • Gil

    Reply Reply February 14, 2015

    Fred I couldn’t agree with you more with the medical mafia.
    Its such a shame that many professional doctors are becoming drug mules for the large drug companies. Didn’t Dr Woolridge Liberal Health Minister in 1998 allow for back handers to doctors that sell pharmaceuticals!!

    I was shocked to learn that Miracle Mineral Solution has been attacked in the courts in the USA.
    I was curing locals there of malaria with 2 doses 15 drops x 15 drops in 15 mil of water. cost me about 25 cents per person

    In the medical world they don’t have a cure because the want to make money by giving people side affects, so they take another drug and then often onto surgery later.

    I find herbs along with food intake a great way to stay healthy and worthwhile researching for the prevention of sickness. Aloe Vera, Bee propolis, Noni. Australia’s own Emu oil just to mention a few

  • Debbie

    Reply Reply February 17, 2015

    A book called “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” talks about what people ate before processed foods. It was written by a man named Weston A. Price. He was a dentist in the the 1920’s and he wanted to know what caused cavities. He and his wife traveled the world and studied what people ate. This is when processed foods just started making it’s way around the world. He found that white flour, white sugar and vegetable oils was the main cause of cavities. He also found that what made people have straight teeth with no cavities, and were also in excellent health were people who ate saturated fats from animal products. Mainly, raw milk, pastured eggs, organ meats and seafood. He found that in all the countries he visited they all ate different foods but they all valued fat soluable vitamins A and D. Which is found in raw milk, eggs, organ meats, etc. A lady named sally fallon read this book and she wrote a coook book to go with it. It’s called “Nourashing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. The documentary Fathead is also good.

  • Sopia

    Reply Reply February 21, 2015

    I agree with some of the previous comments, that it is all about moderation and individual situations. And it good to be in tune with our bodies and monitor. This may even be by carrying a food and exercise diary. Yes, as the person training said there will be days when we will need more of a nutrient than another. For example if we take the argument of how much water we consume a day, it may vary depending on our activity level. For example, if you are training and sweating then you may need more hydration or a little more sodium. I found the article and discussion interesting.

  • Jennifer Huse

    Reply Reply May 24, 2015

    I would say that it comes down to the reason for cutting saturated fats. If the reason if for it would be for weight loss then that would be the reason to cut out the saturated fats. When it comes to heart disease, I would have the client address it with their Primary Care Physician. In other words, I have the philosophy of eating them in moderation.

  • Nick

    Reply Reply August 7, 2015

    I am a strong believer that if the stigma of the word fat was changed and people weren’t scared of eating “fats”, therefore opting to eat/buy low fat, high sugar more processed foods, peoples health would be in a better way.

    Imagine if people started thinking that sugar was as bad as fat?

    The problem is that the whole foods are a lot more expensive and take more time and equipment to prepare than going to get fast-food.

    Eat as natural as possible!

  • Janet Cousins

    Reply Reply September 25, 2015

    The comments that have been made are very interesting. However, I feel that butter substitutes and other manufactured fats still come under the heading “Processed” foods. As we learn more about this group of foods, most of which is not good, I would always prefer to eat moderate amounts of naturally produced foods such as butter, rather than a chemical compound that calls itself “low fat, low cholesterol”.

  • Giorgio Silberberg

    Reply Reply October 18, 2015

    There are two other factors that I’d like to throw into the debate. I watched a documentary called ‘Cereal Killers’ which debunked the low fat myth but instead of seeking a well balanced diet the guy went unto a high fat, Atkins style diet. Now I take all such documentaries with a pinch of salt because often the author is trying to make his own point and this can lead to bad science if no source material exists to support the claims. Anyhooow, an interesting point that was made during the documentary is that saturated fats produce bigger particles of cholesterol and that these are unlikely to get stuck in the small crevices of our arteries whilst polyunsaturated do the opposite and produce very small particles of cholesterol which are much more likely to clog arteries. Just putting it out there as I’m sure it remains to be proven so interested to hear other views about this…ideally backed by real science. =)

    The second point I want to add to the mix is that cholesterol seems to be painted by default as bad. If we look at acidity and alkalinity it is said (sorry can’t remember the article) that it plays a role in protecting our arteries by lining them on the inside to avoid damage from acidification caused by unbalanced diets and stress and that cholesterol will subside as soon as the PH balance is restored. If we combine this with the knowledge that fat cells often store toxicity to stop it from harming our bodies the question is: Could it be that science has drawn the wrong conclusions about cholesterol?

    Example (This could be a non-sequitur but just illustrating): If I’m extremely stressed and work in an environment that submits my body to a lot of electromagnetic pollution I would feel anxieties an on edge all the time. This would cause a chain reaction overworking my adrenal glands, making me tired, affect my sleep, make my blood extremely acidic. So at this point if I suffer from a heart attack what would be the cause? A Dr. could look at my arteries and establish a high level of cholesterol and having learned this previously at medical school (without questioning the science) conclude it was that. On the other hand that same cholesterol could (if the info I remembered has any validity) have been the one thing that stopped that same heart attack and more serious damage from happening a long time ago. Keen to hear other views about this too. I hope I’ve not gone completely off-topic? =)

  • Dr Rob Lyon

    Reply Reply October 22, 2015

    Firstly, this kind of debate continues to be interesting, if not simply for the way peoples’ ideas seem to shift in opinions about fats. I think the information presented can be valuable in prompting people to think more carefully – and in hopefully more informed ways – about this issue.
    My own take on the fat debate is in line with what has already been pointed out; no one thing can be blamed for the woes of ill-health through poor diet. In this sense, I endorse a broader view of what constitutes a healthy diet, taking into account the different ways in which we use the nutrients in our diets. For example, what’s interesting to me is the way in which I understand fats seem to react when they are heated. Now everyone is switching to unsaturated fats for all their cooking/dietary needs based on the ‘good/bad’ fat/cholesterol issue without any thought for how fats react when heated in cooking. It seems that certain byproducts are released from fats in the heating process and that these ‘aldehydes’ can be very damaging – potentially carcinogenic. The aldehydes are produced much more through the heating of unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, than they are through the heating of saturated fats, such as butter and lard. Without chucking the baby out with the bath water, which is so often the case in these highly charged health issues, I would advocate using unsaturated fats for your salads but cooking with butter or lard. At the end of the day, a fat is a fat and will always contain twice as many calories as the same amount of protein or carbs, whether it’s saturated or not. So eat (cook) healthy and try to keep your overall calorie consumption down whilst moving around a lot between meals :O)

  • michael mckee

    Reply Reply October 22, 2015

    I actually read the 2014 meta-analysis study that suppusedly exonerated saturated fats. I wish more of the people who believe the press on it had. If you go back an read the source studies, in several cases the authors of th meta-analysis directly contradict the conclusions of the original authors.
    Further, if you read the original Seven Countries study, you’ll see that the author didn’t “…ignore the results of the other 15 countires for the sake of convenience”, he only included the countries for which he had complete data.
    What we see with the popular representations of the “science” stating that cholesterol is not harmful is deep a lack of rigor that would get most dissertations laughed out of university. To date, there is no strong evidence that cholesterol does not lead to cardiovascular disease and a lot of good evidence indicating that it does. To say that there is no conclusive proof of this is to simply acknowledge that health sciences have surprisingly little conclusive proof in general. To say otherwise is wishful thinking.

    • Hi Michael – thanks for sharing! Yes, science is an evolving field and this topic remains “debatable” – not even leading scientists and university professors agree with each other on this one… To your point, here’s what Alex (our Research Director) wrote the other day, in a recent Science Catch up:

      “We also need to consider that the results of most studies are based on averages. New research shows that “on average” saturated fat does not raise the risk of heart disease. However, within those averages, there’s room for individual variability. Some individuals may see no effect, while others may experience an increased risk.
      There are definitely some individuals who may want to minimise saturated fat in their diet. This includes those with a genetic disorder called Familial Hypercholesterolemia and those who have a specific variant at the APOE gene (epsilon3 and epsilon4 alleles).
      Nutrigenomics is constantly discovering more ways in which certain foods affect our individual risk for disease, that’s why general findings may not apply to everyone so I always like to keep an open mind. All of this reminds us that nutrition science is not black and white and that’s an evolving field, which I personally find quite exciting :-)”

      You can find more here: Thanks! Maria (THSA Team)

    • Paul Quirk

      Reply Reply May 25, 2016

      Hi Michael,
      re your comment “to date there is no strong evidence that cholesterol does not lead to cardivascular disease”. It may be true that people with high cholesterol levels have more heart disease but is this cause and effect or two effects with a different cause? E.g. inflammation.
      I rather enjoyed the work of Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride. She points out that blaming cholesterol for cardiovascular blockages is like blaming ambulances for road traffic accidents. Yes, where you find one you find the other but ambulances do not cause the accidents.
      I have read her book and found it quite helpful.

  • Paul

    Reply Reply May 31, 2016

    Hi Maria,

    thanks for your comment.

    I actually intended to refer to blood cholesterol levels, HDL and LDL levels more specifically. I was referring to the suggestion that cholesterol leads to heart disease and seeking to challenge the cause-effect assumption therein.

    I see you have had to remove the link I put to Dr Campbell-McBrides talk but I’m sure a web search should turn it up for anyone interested. (Search for “Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride” and from her home page click on the link for the book “Put Your Heart In Your Mouth” to find the page I linked to.)

    I did enjoy the science article you mentioned, which I read last year I think.

  • Salome

    Reply Reply May 31, 2016

    I do not believe that saturated fat is directly responsible for heart disease etc – except as the article suggests – by the link to obesity. The health profession,, heart foundations, govt medical authorities and the media told us that margarine was better for us than butter ( at the time hard margarine) and we all know how that turned out. My grandparents ate large amounts of saturated fats as farmers – and lived long healthy lives. I think simple carbs are way more problematic.

  • Pete

    Reply Reply June 6, 2016

    I’m completely in the “pro fat” camp…
    As with so many other things, as long as they haven’t been processed so far out of their natural state that they can’t be called food any more -like margarine or chemically refined vegetable oils- and as long as their heat stability is respected then they’re fine with me in any amounts.
    A spoon full of grass fed butter and MCT (coconut) oil in my filter coffee every morning with my eggs!

    • Jarrod

      Reply Reply June 7, 2016

      Another Bulletproof advocate, good to see.

      even the Paleo camp would be pro-saturated fats.

  • Jarrod

    Reply Reply June 7, 2016

    I find it amazing that any scientific study only focuses on the macro association its simply stereotyping which is rather a prejudice, or more importantly very simple minded.

    Saturated fat is more beneficial than what we are lead to believe, seeing as saturated fats are made up of primarily singular bonds, it means the Fatty acids which a very important are easier to break down.

    Fat’s are also a cleaner burning fuel source, they even assist in Ketogenesis e.g caprylic acid for example which is only found in predominately saturated sources of fats

    • Jarrod – thanks for sharing! Your own body can make saturated fat, so eating it isn’t essential either. Each person metabolises it differently based on their own genetics – some can handle it better than others. Nutrigenomics is now replacing outdated one-size-fits-all recommendations. We’re also tracking the latest studies on saturated fat, for example:

      – Balancing the evidence: Fresh study suggests negative impact of saturated fats
      – What you eat can influence how you sleep
      – Sat fat debate: ‘Butter is not back’, warn authors of new review

      Contrary to popular belief, not all Paleo humans lived on high-fat/high-meat diets:

      In biological sciences there aren’t black and white answers, and scientific knowledge keeps evolving. Individual variability and research context are important too. This means that when you review the scientific literature, you always need to look for:

      1. the study’s context (e.g. what did the scientists test exactly? did they study biochemical reactions from an isolated ingredient, or from a food as a whole, a type of diet, or isocaloric meals with different nutrients?),
      2. the study length (e.g. 6 days, vs 1-month, vs 1 year, vs longer term),
      3. the study type (e.g. observational/correlational vs intervention/biological – the former cannot prove that “A causes B”),
      4. the study design (e.g. did it include a control group or not, was it double blind, was it randomised, etc. – this is important, because if there’s no control group or randomisation the study findings can lack scientific validity or be disproved later on)
      5. which subjects they used (e.g. healthy people or cancer patients, lean vs obese subjects vs diabetics, how old are they? what’s their gender? what’s their ethnicity or genetic background?),
      6. how many subjects were involved (e.g. a small group of 19 people, vs over a hundred?), among other influencing factors.

      You probably know these, just wanted to share for the benefit of those who are new to the conversation :-)

      Maria (THSA team)

  • Salome

    Reply Reply June 7, 2016

    In South Africa Professor Tim Noakes (of the Sports Science Institute) has stated the Real Meal Revolution. A Low Carb High Fat (or healthy fat as they like to call it) diet based on Banting. There are loads of people following this way of eating and everyone that I know of that is following this ‘diet’ has;
    Lost Weight
    Increased their energy and endurance.
    Lowered high cholesterol.
    Improved brain fog.
    Improved aches and pains.
    Most of those that at know of are between 40 and 70 and it seems that this way of eating has been so good for everyone.
    Professor Noakes used to recommend Carb Loading for marathon runners including himself. He was diagnosed with diabetes and had a re-look at Carb Loading and the science around high fat / low carb.
    Professor Noakes is generally regarded as a highly ethical and honourable person.

    • Thanks, Salome! We know Tim and cite some of his research in our Advanced Sports and Exercise Nutritional Advisor course. Scientifically, we cannot assume low-carbing is “good for everyone”. Other scientists (as reputable as Tim, eg JA Hawley and LM Burke, with ca 250 published studies each) tried replicating low-carb research on athletes and found the opposite outcomes. As always, context matters and science isn’t black and white / one-size-fits-all :-)

      • Pete

        Reply Reply June 8, 2016

        I am also a firm believer in High fat low carb (At least the processed variety) living. As well as Professor Noakes, there is also Dr Jeff Volek PhD and Dr Stephen Phinney PhD who have published some interesting papers on these matters including low carb performance in both high level trained athletes and complete non athletes. One thing that comes up in my mind with other research papers is the amount of time the subjects physiology has to adapt to the high fat diet. Many papers I’ve seen show between 0 and 14 days, when it can take months to adapt.
        There is also Dominic D’Agostino PhD, an Assistant Professor at the College Of Medicine Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology at the University of South Florida, he has published some fantastic papers on the benefits of the ketogenic diet, covering subjects like cancer, epilepsy, metabolic disorders, and Alzheiemer’s

  • Salome

    Reply Reply June 7, 2016

    Thanks Maria. Yes – wonder how much – blood type has to do with it?

  • Lorry

    Reply Reply June 24, 2017

    Stick to real wholesome food and play with the combinations it has to offer. Make adjustments amongst whole foods. Adding processed and refined foods to ones diet, in my opinion, complicates the math in determining what is healthful for every individual. If you’re eating healthy saturated fats along with fruits, veggies, nuts and legumes and not seeing weight loss or gaining weight, look at these foods and modify intake. Don’t turn to manufactured industrialized foods. Then it becomes a guessing game and only increases the math.

  • Ben Glover

    Reply Reply January 2, 2018

    In my opinion and it is just that, there is much more research needed in this area. There is plenty of medical research into the cause and effect of cardiovascular disease but I tend to agree that not one aspect of a person’s diet is a causation for such. It is an accumulation of factors which include lifestyle choice as well as diet. Saturated fats are undoubtedly detrimental if consumed in high quantities but the fear factor needs to be justified through verified scientific proof.

  • Naeem

    Reply Reply March 2, 2018

    I think the problem is that we have too many sources of fats these days and the excessive intake of either saturated or unsaturated fat leads to an imbalance as well as the wider mixture of different fat sources creating its own problems.
    Upto about a hundred years ago most people ate fats which were available locally. So for example that meant for people in South Asian countries coconut oil was their main source of fats while for some people in north European countries lard was their main source of fats. This suited their climate and local lifestyle and didn’t create too many nutritional intake conflicts. Both are relatively saturated fats and didn’t seem to lead to high rates of heart disease.
    Whereas now there are a wide variety of fats and fat sources in our diet whose suitability according to local climate, lifestyles, nutritional requirements etc, is questionable

  • Jacqueline Bourne

    Reply Reply June 20, 2018

    Such a fascinating and thought provoking discussion. I believe that the emphasis should probably be on the avoidance of fats that have been subjected to heat. This is where the danger lies. Of course everyone’s right who has reiterated the need for consuming as wide a variety of foods as possible. If everything that has been taught in this course is followed, i.e making sure enough antioxidants and fibre are consumed, and enough moderate exercise is taken, then neither saturated or unsaturated fat intake should be an issue.
    I do agree with what LK has said. I’m very keen on Norman Walker’s teachings and wonder if LK has read his books also . I’ve uncovered one disparity so far though, which is that he virtually preaches on the consumption of raw food where as I’ve learned in this course that it’s not the best way. That’s the beauty of learning though. Anyway…I’ve digressed !

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