Saturated fat does not increase cardiovascular disease risk, say researchers

While consuming saturated fats increases blood cholesterol, meta-analyses suggest this does not translate into increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), say researchers.

Dietary guidelines around the globe largely suggest reducing, or eliminating, saturated fatty acids from consumer diets.

Not all working in nutrition are convinced. During a recent webinar hosted by think tank Competere, researchers agreed there is a link between saturated fatty acid consumption and increased blood cholesterol but stressed there is ‘no evidence’ that eating food containing saturated fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or cancer.

Saturated fats, which are found in butter, meat, and coconut oil, are usually hard at room temperature. This is because the fatty acid chains all have single bonds.

Unsaturated fats, whether they be poly- or mono-unsaturated, have at least one double bond between carbon molecules, and are usually liquid at room temperature. Examples of unsaturated fats include oils from vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Half-way through the last century, consumption of saturated fatty acids was associated with an increase in cholesterol, and therefore an increased risk of coronary heart disease. But over the last 20 years, science has revisited old data and mined new data to bring emerging evidence to light.

In a systematic analysis investigating health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries between 1990 and 2017, published in The Lancet ​in 2019, for example, the highest dietary risk factor for cardiovascular diseases was found to be a diet high in sodium, explained Francesco Visioli, professor of human nutrition at Italy’s University of Padova. Further down the list was a diet high in trans fats, and even further down, a diet high in red meat.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of butter consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and total mortality, published in Plos One ​in 2016, found that butter consumption neither promoted nor prevented these health issues.

Another meta-analysis, investigating links between saturated fats and cardiovascular disease (Clinical Nutrition, 2010​) again found saturated fats to be neutral in its promotion and prevention of CVD.

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