We’ve been told for years that consuming greasy foods will lead us to an early grave. The explanation that saturated fats cause premature death by clogging our arteries and destroying our hearts is a popular story. In this vein of thinking, many physicians continue to advocate for the “heart-healthy” low saturated fat diet. However, times are changing, and the body of evidence no longer supports this hypothesis.
A landmark study, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reviewed the body of evidence substantiating these fat-phobic claims, looking at more than 500,000 people and their risk of heart disease from fat intake. The results are extraordinary.
Researchers from Cambridge developed this study to summarize evidence regarding the relationship between fat and coronary disease. Understanding that heart disease is a top killer, both abroad and in the United States, this information could not be more relevant to our health. The data classified the risk of heart problems, like heart attack and clogged coronary arteries, by the type of fat consumed.
Of the 530,525 people included in this part of the study, over half were analyzed by saturated fat intake. The data showed no difference in the relative risk of heart problems between those with the highest saturated fat consumption compared to those with the lowest. From this information, those extra scrambled eggs seem not to be as evil as we’ve been led to believe.
The study also examined the risks associated with other fat categories. Not unexpectedly, it found that trans-fats may increase the risk of heart problems. Perhaps somewhat more surprising, the data did not reveal a heart benefit to eating monounsaturated fats or omega-3 fats.
What this data means is, of course, open for interpretation. At the very least, this information is another reason to reconsider the logic behind the low-fat, “heart-healthy” diet. Perhaps the real question here is: If fat isn’t the reason for our heart disease epidemic, what is? For now, when people tell you to avoid saturated fat to protect your heart, you may be better served by giving them a copy of this study than following their advice.
So now what? Though saturated fat may be healthier than was once thought, many foods high in saturated fat are also high in unhealthy additives like trans-fats and sugars. Real foods are better than their processed alternatives, so if you do choose high-fat foods, try to minimize the number of added ingredients. Finally, balance is important. Some saturated fat may be fine, but don’t skimp on the proven health benefits of foods like fresh vegetables in the process.