Saturated Fats: The Villain We’ve Been Promised?

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Saturated fats are one of the most vilified dietary compounds in America.  Almost every single organization recommends that you should reduce your saturated fat consumption.  This belief originated in the famous Seven Countries Study by Dr, Keys, where by looking at the diets of seven countries and there fat content, and plotting against mortality he found an association between fat and mortality (Keys, Menotti and Karvoven).  His data suggested that increased consumption of saturated fats was strongly and significantly associated with  death.  However there have been criticisms from many scientists who have found flaws in his methodology and data analysis.  They found that either sugar consumption or exercise were a much  better predictor for mortality.

Moreover, Dr. Mani a nutrition researcher, in his analysis focusing on the diet of Indians concludes that income is a much better predictor of cardiovascular disease mortality than saturated fat consumption and ignoring extreme values there is no correlation between saturated fat consumption and mortality (Mani and Kurpad 31).  This suggests that saturated fats are not one of the primary drivers behind cardiovascular disease and that much of the hand wringing over American consumption of these is just that.  This suggests to me that worrying about saturated fat consumption is not productive to improving health.

Dr. Willett of Harvard however does not agree.  He instead concludes that the reason cardiovascular disease has stayed roughly constant while fat consumption has decreased, is because there has not been a corresponding decrease in saturated fat consumption (Willett and Skerrett).  Willett seems to believe that the primary driver behind America’s heart attack problem is our consumption of saturated fats; he seems to believe that these fats need to be replaced with polyunsaturated fats in order to ensure the health of the populace.

However, there is even more evidence to suggest that the link may be even more tenuous than first assumed.  Mozzafarrian concludes in his initial meta-analysis that the link between saturated fat and heart disease is poorly established and then goes on further to conclude that current dietary recommendations, leaving no recommendation for replacement, could lead to people compounds with a greater deleterious effect on health (Mozaffarian, Micha and Wallace 2).  If saturated fats are replaced with carbohydrates, especially foods high in sugar then it can contribute to a higher rate of mortality.  A significant amount of the new research is starting to question the decades old assumption that saturated fat is a major killer.  Judging by this research it appears that people may have given up steak and eggs for no good reason.  Saturated fat does not seem to be the killer it is normally portrayed as, and is instead a reasonable and perhaps necessary part of a diet.

References

American Dietetic Association. “Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Fatty Acids.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 107.12 (2007): 1599-1611. Web.

Keys, A, et al. “The Diet and 15-Year Death Rate in the Seven Countries Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology 124.6 (1986): 903-915. Web. 19 May 2015.

Mani, Indu and Anura Kurpad. “De-Mystifying Saturated Fats – A Perspective.” Indian Journal of Community Health (2014): 31-36. Web. 9 4 2015.

Mozaffarian, Dariush, Renata Micha and Sarah Wallace. “Effects on Coronary Heart Disease of Increasing Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” PLoS Medicine 7.3 (2010): 1-10. Web. 9 4 2015.

Willett, Walter and Patrick Skerrett. Suprising News About Fat. New York: Free Press-Simon Schuster, 2001. Print.

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