Observations From the Heart

Saturated fat is not the major issue

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6340 (Published 22 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6340

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Aseem Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist registrar, Croydon University Hospital, London
  1. aseem_malhotra{at}hotmail.com

Let’s bust the myth of its role in heart disease

Scientists universally accept that trans fats—found in many fast foods, bakery products, and margarines—increase the risk of cardiovascular disease through inflammatory processes.1 But “saturated fat” is another story. The mantra that saturated fat must be removed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has dominated dietary advice and guidelines for almost four decades.

Yet scientific evidence shows that this advice has, paradoxically, increased our cardiovascular risks. Furthermore, the government’s obsession with levels of total cholesterol, which has led to the overmedication of millions of people with statins, has diverted our attention from the more egregious risk factor of atherogenic dyslipidaemia.

Saturated fat has been demonised ever since Ancel Keys’s landmark “seven countries” study in 1970.2 This concluded that a correlation existed between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol concentrations, which then correlated with the proportion of energy provided by saturated fat. But correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, we were advised to cut fat intake to 30% of total energy and saturated fat to 10%.”3 The aspect of dietary saturated fat that is believed to have the greatest influence on cardiovascular risk is elevated concentrations of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Yet the reduction in LDL cholesterol from reducing saturated fat intake seems to be specific to large, buoyant (type A) LDL particles, when in fact it is the small, dense (type B) particles (responsive …

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