Eating Saturated Fat Contributes To Heart Disease: No Evidence?

SaturatedFatsADAMI think there is a lot of evidence implicating saturated fat in disease. However, there’s a new study which is raising doubt as to the effect of saturated fat on heart disease:

Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, Annals of Internal Medicine, 18 March 2014

The New York Times reported on it yesterday:
Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link

Someone had anonymously linked the New York Times article on my blog. They made no comment.

It’s a meta-analysis with, the authors admit, “potential biases from preferential publication and selective reporting.” Here’s some data:

In observational studies, when the top and bottom thirds of baseline dietary fatty acid intake were compared, relative risks (RRs) for coronary disease were:

1.02 (95% CI, 0.97 to 1.07) for saturated
0.99 (CI, 0.89 to 1.09) for monounsaturated
0.93 (CI, 0.84 to 1.02) for long-chain ω-3 polyunsaturated
1.01 (CI, 0.96 to 1.07) for ω-6 polyunsaturated
1.16 (CI, 1.06 to 1.27) for trans fatty acids

For circulating fatty acids, RRs were:

1.06 (CI, 0.86 to 1.30)
1.06 (CI, 0.97 to 1.17)
0.84 (CI, 0.63 to 1.11)
0.94 (CI, 0.84 to 1.06)
1.05 (CI, 0.76 to 1.44)

In randomized, controlled trials (RCTs), RRs were:

0.97 (CI, 0.69 to 1.36) for α-linolenic
0.94 (CI, 0.86 to 1.03) for long-chain ω-3 polyunsaturated
0.89 (CI, 0.71 to 1.12) for ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementations

Note that circulating trans fatty acids had almost the same RR as saturated fat, in fact, trans fats trended more protective? Note also that in RCTs, omega-6 was more protective than omega-3. There is a lot of inconclusiveness here.

These are effects relative to cardiovascular disease (CVD). They did not look at diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or other inflammatory-based diseases. Even if it is true that saturated fat has no impact on CVD, it has been shown to increase the risk for other chronic diseases.

It’s conclusion:

“Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”

“Not clearly.” Does that remind you of anything? Why did this study get published at all? Recall this study:

Long Term Toxicity Of A Roundup Herbicide And A Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Maize, Food and Chemical Toxicology (FTC), 19 September 2012.

It found more breast cancer, liver and kidney damage in rats fed GMOs.

The publisher was hounded by industry groups like Monsanto to retract it. He resisted for a year, defending it!, then gave in saying:

“Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. … Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive.”

It was retracted, not because it was incorrect, but because it was “inconclusive.” This present study is also inconclusive. The authors admit as much. Shall we expect it to be retracted? Can you think of any industry that would benefit by keeping this study circulating? Industry doesn’t have to combat science, all they have to do is plant seeds of doubt, and they’ve won.

________Here’s yet another reason why I believe saturated fat contributes to the development of chronic diseases. It was buried in the comments on the New York Times article:

“The results of reducing animal fat consumption in Finland led to greatly reduced cardiovascular disease rates.” -wbgrant

Fat and Heart Disease: Yes We Can Make a Change – The Case of North Karelia (Finland), Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, July 2009

“The combined efforts of all stakeholders have greatly helped people to reduce the intake of saturated fat and to replace this with unsaturated fat. This has been associated with an improved quality of the dietary fat (e.g. in 1972, over 90% of the population used butter on their bread compared to <5% at present) and a remarkable reduction in blood cholesterol levels. It has led to a 80% reduction in annual CVD mortality rates among the working aged population, to a major increase in life expectancy and to major improvements in functional capacity and health.

There is strong medical evidence that CVD (like many other chronic diseases) is preventable or could be delayed to a more advanced age. A population-based prevention programme is the most cost-effective way and in many cases the only affordable option for major public health improvements. To prevent CVD and to promote heart health, dietary changes are crucial, especially the change in the quality of fat. These changes can have a major impact in relatively short time and can lead to dramatic improvements in public health in the long run.”

13 thoughts on “Eating Saturated Fat Contributes To Heart Disease: No Evidence?

  1. shaun

    I preface this with saying I’ve not done due diligence to read through the studies in your recent posts. I’m hoping you’re able to answer this off the top of your head.

    Question: Certain non-animal based foods, like seeds and nuts, are fairly high in saturated fats. Are they, allegedly, equally culpable in causing these diseases/inflammation, or do they not share the same correlations?



    1. Bix Post author

      I don’t know for certain.

      There’s a conundrum is these studies … saturated fat usually comes packaged in animal food … which is devoid of fiber, low in carbohydrate (sans dairy), low in some beneficial nutrients (e.g. vitamin C), low in many beneficial photochemicals, some act as antioxidants. Animal food is also high on the food chain and contains the highest levels of environmental pollutants. On the other hand, unsaturated fats usually come packaged in plant foods, which, if you’re eating the whole food, provide all those things I just mentioned. So … is it the fat? Or is it the thing it comes packaged in? That’s the conundrum, especially when the study is feeding food instead of pure, isolated fat.

      Anyway … I do know that docs who back a whole food, plant-based diet (McDougall, Esselstyn, Campbell) say that a lot of nuts and seeds aren’t advisable. Dr. Greger, however, defends them, including peanut butter:

      From everything I’ve read over the years, I lean toward thinking nuts and seeds are good. A diet that includes them is better than a diet that excludes them.


  2. Melinda

    I really did have to wonder who funded this study…. My only curiosity re nuts is that once I read (have no memory of where) that cashews are one of the few plant foods that contain relatively high levels of cholesterol. Have no idea if that’s true or not.


  3. Melinda

    Do you by any chance have a link to the full article? When I pull up your link, it’s just the abstract. I’m interested to see if it lists the study’s sponsors.


    1. Bix Post author

      Under the author list is a link called “Article and Author Information.” It gives any conflicts of interest. You should be able to see that without logging in.


    2. Bix Post author

      Even though a study looks legit, it may not be. The American Heart Association, The American Cancer Society, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association, ADA) all take corporate funding. Coca-Cola and Taco Bell have huge kiosks at ADA conferences. They offer workshops there for RDs. Imagine?

      Corporations have thoroughly, and clandestinely, infiltrated research in this country. It is where the money is. It is how research gets done.

      Maybe the layperson can become their own little expert on a topic and share that info freely. (But even the layperson is slanted.) Kind of a grassroots campaign to sort out the truth. What do they call that … crowdsourcing?


  4. Melinda

    Thanks for the info Bix–yes, I thought it sounded weird that cashews would have cholesterol!! And yes, you’re so right about corporate control, not just of research, but of politics–it’s truly scandalous.


  5. Melinda

    Btw, I clicked as you directed and was surprised to find a list of potential conflicts of interest. Is that something new in scientific publishing?


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