‘Saturated fat is not bad for your health’, says US heart expert

Media reports emerged recently claiming that current NHS guidelines on saturated fat were wrong and that sugar and carbohydrates posed the real dangers to health. The articles that were published presented the claims of a cardiovascular research scientist, James DiNicolantonio, and aimed to refocus dietary advice on sugar and away from saturated fat modification and reduction. The Henry Mayhew Foundation's 'True or False?' project looked into the debate and found that the media's presentation of the core issues was short of both context and detail.

The Daily Telegraph reported on 6 March 2014, that DiNicolantonio's research meant current NHS guidelines may be “putting the public at risk”. The Daily Mail made more controversial claims, stating that “research now fails [emphasis added] to show a link between saturated fat intake and risk of cardiovascular disease [with saturated fat actually found to be protective]”.

Saturated fat can ordinarily be found in foods such as butter, cheese, fatty meat, biscuits and cakes. At the moment, public health guidelines advise that a person should limit their intake of saturated fat to around 10% of total daily energy intake. For over half a century, a high saturated fat intake has been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart (and cardiovascular) disease. DiNicolantonio claims that it is actually refined carbohydrates that increase blood cholesterol levels and present a health risk to individuals.

The media reports were based on DiNicolantionio's essay which was published in BMJ Open Heart, a highly respected medical journal. The reports gave the impression that current UK guidelines were misconceived and misguided. In fact, these claims did not mention several studies conducted over the past 50 years which found that foods high in saturated fat raised LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”) levels of the trial participants.

James DiNicolantonio stood by his claims and told The Henry Mayhew Foundation that “there is no proof that saturated fat from real food is harmful, not a single study”.

You can find our full report here: trueorfalse.me/2014/03/28/c...

The Daily Telegraph: Saturated fat is not bad for your heart, says heart expert - telegraph.co.uk/health/heal...

Daily Mail: 'Saturated fat isn't bad for your heart': Major study questions decades of dietary advice - dailymail.co.uk/health/arti...

British Heart Foundation: Fats explained - bhf.org.uk/heart-health/pre...

True or False? is a project of The Henry Mayhew Foundation, investigating inaccurate and misleading reports in the mass media.

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5 Replies

  • I think one of the keys to the previously claimed observational associations is the grouping of natural foods with biscuits, pastries and cakes for example. That's a bit like grouping water with vodka because they are both clear drinks. The processed foods mentioned are also high in refined carbohydrates of course.

    Some doctors are also questioning the claims about cholesterol. The ENHANCE trial for example, found by the use of electron microscopes that there was no significant correlation between the 'thickening' of arteries and cholesterol levels.

    The triglyceride to HDL ratio is used as a predictor for heart disease; saturated fat not only increases overall cholesterol, it increases HDL levels.

  • Yes, in that saturated fats are known to raise the HDL which is the good cholesterol or rather, lipoprotein, and eating carbs and sugar raises triglycerides which is the most dangerous type. However Your Total Cholesterol Level Is NOT a Great Indicator of Your Heart Disease Risk. Cholesterol is vital for our bodies, and every cell in our bodies needs it and makes it.

    Further essential reading:


  • As a member of the LCHF community, I keep asking, why is it only now that mainstream health channels are getting up to speed with what we have known for many years. Thanks to Ancel Keys, the whole "saturated fat is bad for your health" is a debacle and travesty that has put thousands, even millions of people at risk by promoting low fat and carb-based diets that actively condemn them to years of ill health, obesity and early death.

  • Scientific evidence is available showing saturated fat in high levels in the diet is very bad for health, and can lead to life-shortening chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

    Note I said, in high levels - higher than recommended maximum daily intake levels. People shouldn't exclude saturated fat from their diets completely or exclude whole food groups that contain them. Fats are a complex and misunderstood area of nutrition which requires some reading on the subject.

    Unfortunately as usual, the food industry has exploited this lack of knowledge and sells many over-priced fat fad products which claim unproven health benefits, and the media puts out the wrong message that 'saturated fat is bad' and message that 'all fat is bad' is what some people are assuming.

    To keep this short and sweet, don't exclude non-processed food groups which contain saturated fats such as red meat, dairy foods, nuts etc. Just eat in moderation, look for healthier options and/or watch your intake. Follow the governments recommended intake guidelines, particularly on what constitutes a balanced diet and healthy portions. This is backed by sound scientific studies and evidence and you can't go far wrong.

    That said, diet is a personal thing though. Each person needs to make their own decisions and choices. The governments advice is based on what is best for most of the population. If your diet doesn't follow the recommended guidelines or you have special dietary needs, i.e. you're older, overweight, a vegetarian or vegan, then you may need to look more closely at your diet to see if it's providing a healthy intake of varied fats, macro and micro-nutrients,

  • A major meta-analysis found no link between saturated fat and heart disease ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedheal...

    What studies underpin the Government's advice? Ancel Keys six countries study (that he cherry picked from the data of 22 countries)?

    The problem is that a whole industry has been built on this hypothesis, and changing the advice would be extremely difficult, which is why it has remained 'remarkably consistent' for over thirty years.

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