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Scientific research has shown that the risks associated with fat are misunderstood and misleading. Here's what new studies are showing about fat intake.
Recent nutritional research is finding that saturated fat intake has no effect on heart disease. Yes, that was not a typo: no effect. How is that even possible? Let's let science explain:
The authors of a meta-analysis released earlier this year made the aforementioned, startling conclusion. In their own words:
"Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.
One of the main reasons dietary recommendations call for lowering saturated fat intake is because it raises low-density lipoproteins (LDL), often called bad cholesterol. But the relationship between saturated fat and LDL is more complex than traditional cholesterol tests show. This has raised questions on using the single measurement as a benchmark for heart health.
LDL's Role in Our Bodies
LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body, but when our bodies have too many particles, they can stick to the walls of arteries and harden. This is how plaque forms, which can contribute to heart attack or stroke. Although saturated fat raises LDL, it also raises high-density lipoproteins (HDL), known as "good cholesterol." Most patients are told that having a high HDL and low LDL is best for heart health, but the real story is found more in the cholesterol particles. Within LDL, there are two types of particles: pattern A, which are light fluffy particles generally considered benign, and pattern B, lower-density particles that are more likely to clog arteries.
Cholesterol as a Predictor of Risk
The first author of the meta-analysis, Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, pointed outthat saturated fat raises LDL pattern A particles, while sugary foods and carbohydrates raise the more dangerous pattern B particles. Pattern A particles are larger and weigh more than pattern B particles, which greatly effects cholesterol tests that measure the total weight of cholesterol particles in the blood. A higher LDL may not immediately imply an increased risk for heart disease from a diet with moderate or even high saturated fat intake. Consistent with Chowdhury's findings, a 2010 study also found no association between heart disease and saturated fat intake, concluding that total cholesterol was a poor predictor of risk. Further research has also concluded that diets with varied fatty acid compositions can influence particle distribution, which is not measured by current tests. Yet, the cholesterol guidelines keep lowering the recommended LDL level, and guidelines continue to advocate low saturated fat intake. One of the primary drawbacks to focusing on reducing fat intake is that people often replace fatty foods, including meat, cheese, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds, with carbohydrates, which have been shown in many studies to increase the risk of obesity and heart disease. The complex relationship between fats and cholesterol is further reason to advocate a balanced diet based on whole foods, rather than a diet focused on macronutrients.
Saturated fat is not your worst enemy. Sure, it's advisable to get more of your saturated fat intake from "good" fats, like those found in nuts, olive oil, avocados and fish, but you won't be betraying your body or you role models with animal fats — especially if you're cutting down on sugars and carbohydrates.