But is it? There have been a minority of voices consistently pointing out that the evidence for the dangers of saturated fat was weak at best. Gary Taubes, in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories carefully constructs how we came to believe that fat, and especially saturated fat, is to be avoided, basically because some people at a key moment in the evolution of nutritional policy "thought so". Since then, researchers have done study after study to try to prove it, and largely came up empty. For more information about this, see "What if bad fat isn't so bad" by Nine Teicholz of Men's Health on the msnbc site.
It doesn't even make sense, when you think about it. For example, we know without a doubt that people who have high triglycerides (fat in the blood), can get a rapid reduction with a low-carb diet. This is because the body takes the excess carbs (only a portion of which can be stored) and turns it into fat, much of it saturated. Why would our bodies make saturated fat if it was so awful?
Now, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (published online ahead of being in the journal itself) sheds light on the subject. The researchers went through all the studies looking at the relationship between dietary saturated fat and heart disease and stroke. They narrowed it down to the best quality studies which were all prospective and looked not at risk markers, but actually disease. The 21 studies looked at a total of 347,747 healthy participants, 11,006 of which developed cardiovascular disease or stroke during the course of the study.
The result? "...there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD." Also, "More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat" in the studies which reduced saturated fat. They point to some evidence that replacing with carbohydrates is deleterious, while replacing with polyunsaturated fats had a positive effect.
To me, this is a solid nail in the coffin of the "saturated fat is bad" maxim. I will be interested in whether this study is picked up in the mainstream press at all.
By the way, if you aren't convinced and you want to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your body, the thing to do is to reduce carbohydrates in your diet. Although research seldom tracks saturated fat in the blood, one study did, comparing a low-carb to a low-fat/high-carb diet. The low-carb group ate three times the amount of saturated fat as the low-fat group, but ended up with half the saturated fat in their blood as the low-fat dieters. As the lead researcher, Jeff Volek says, "It's not 'you are what you eat' - it's 'you are what your body does with what you eat'.
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