Good Fat, Bad Fat?

Does saturated fat really increase heart disease risk?  Recent research using population-based studies challenged the long-taught recommendation to limit saturated fat consumption, suggesting that a conventional low-fat diet that replaces saturated fat with carbohydrate does not protect against heart disease (1,2).  A closer look at the data reveals several important points.  First, some of this research is based on epidemiologic data – large-scale, observational studies rather than the gold-standard, clinical trial- and as such, can’t show causality but highlights possible relationships that deserve further scrutiny.  Second, the reports suggest that the type of nutrients substituted for saturated fat may make an important difference:  replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats and whole grains  rather than all-to-common refined carbohydrates did seem to protect against heart disease (1,2,3 ).

What does this mean for the busy cook trying to follow a healthy diet?  Here are some suggestions (4).  When possible, use liquid vegetable oils, like olive or canola oil, which are rich sources of unsaturated fats, and choose solid fats that are trans-fat free.  Select whole grains, fruits and vegetables instead of refined, sugary carbohydrates.   And, don’t forget about the other food groups.  Rather than single out a particular nutrient, focus on a healthful eating pattern that also includes lean protein and low-fat calcium-rich foods and balances calories with daily physical activity.  In a healthy diet, all foods can have a place in moderation.


(1) Siri-Tarino, PW, et al. 2009. Am J Clin Nutr, 535-546.

(2) Jakobsen, MU, et al. 2009. Am J Clin Nutr, 1425-1432.

(3) Mozaffarian, D, et al. 2010. PLoS Med, e1000252.

(4) Zelman, K. 2011.  J Am Diet Assoc, 655-659.

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