Is Saturated Fat Really As Bad As They Say It Is?

How many experts have you heard tell you should avoid saturated fat,because it is bad for your health and will increase your risk for heartdisease and cancer? If it is only a fraction of the time I have heardor read this, probably it's in the thousands.

The belief that saturated fat is bad for you and will increase yourrisk of heart attacks is one of the most pervasive health myths in ourculture. Well, another study in one of my favorite journals echoes thesame sentiments. The Strong Heart Study, published in the current issueof my favorite journal, was funded by the NIH and does not appear to bebiased by any outside influences.

The researchers studied nearly 3,000 Indians in the southwesternUnited States for nearly 10 years and found that total fat andsaturated fat intake were correlated with an increase in the risk of heart disease.

So why do I strongly disagree with results of this study and mostall of the other studies that adversely comment on saturated fat? Well,this study and virtually every other study I have reviewed makes no effort to distinguish between saturated fat and trans fat. It is very clear that there is some association between fat and heart disease.

I believe the missing link is trans fat.If investigators were to more carefully evaluate the risks of heartdisease by the ingestion of trans and saturated fat they would find acompletely different story.

Your body needs some amount of saturated fat to stay healthy. If youare a protein type, you need much more than a carb type. We all needsome.

What none of us need are trans fats. It is unfortunate saturated fathas been demonized and taken the rap for trans fat. The food industryhas done a fairly effective job at suppressing the trans fat issue asit is very common in most processed foods and would seriously interferewith their profits if they had to remove it.

Earlier this year, food manufacturers were forced to document how much trans fat was in their food, BUTthey still had a work around. They manipulated the laws so that theycould say it was trans fat-free if had less than 500 mg trans fat perserving. Their loophole: Decrease the serving size and instantly theratio of trans fat disappears in most of their revised products.

So the take home message is to avoid trans fats, and not to worrymuch about saturated fat as long as it is from healthy food sourcesthat are not highly processed or contaminated with trans fats.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 4, October 2006: 894-902