Bad reputation saturated fats undeserved

21 October 2010

In recent decennia, saturated fats have been regularly condemned where the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases were concerned. From new research, however, this appears to be undeserved, as has now been demonstrated by a group of reputable scientists specialised in research into fats. Their analysis of the scientific evidence linking fats and cardiovascular diseases shows that some saturated fats are even necessary for good health.

‘Eating patterns that include an exceptionally high portion of fat and saturated fat are generally associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases among certain individuals, on the assumption that saturated fat is bad, irrespective of the amount. This is a simplistic representation of the truth and cannot be passed off as scientific evidence,’ says J. Bruce German of the University of California. ‘The link between the consumption of fat and human health is complicated and factors such as genetic predisposition, phase of life and lifestyle can lead to different reactions to the consumption of saturated fat.’

Research carried out by Professor Philippe Legrand of Agrocampus-INRA in France shows that we cannot lump different types of saturated fats together. Saturated fats are not a single group, but differ in structure, metabolism and function at cellular level. That’s why Legrand feels that nutritional recommendations that make no distinction between saturated fats should be amended.

Full fat dairy: wrongly accused
As long as saturated fats remain the butt of criticism in nutritional advice, food that is rich in nutrients, such as full fat dairy products, will continue to be discredited. Despite their positive effects on health, as stated by the Global Dairy Platform.

Recent research (meta-analysis) by Professor Elwood of the School of Medicine in Cardiff indicates that milk and dairy consumption can even be linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.

‘We still know very little about the biological effects of saturated fatty acids,’ says Cindy Schweitzer, Technical Director of the Global Dairy Platform. ‘Scientific seminars at which researchers from various disciplines within food science share knowledge are very important. They allow us to fill in the gaps of our knowledge and we can pinpoint which research is necessary to find answers to important questions about eating patterns and health.’

Different research into saturated fats
A series of research articles in the October issue of LIPIDS sketches a picture of the recent developments made in research into saturated fats and health. The articles show that the current negative image of saturated fats has no basis.

Take, for instance, the research carried out by Darius Mozaffarian of the Harvard University School of Public Health which demonstrates that the influence of saturated fats on the risk of cardiovascular diseases depends on the simultaneous intake of other foods. His research shows that replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or unsaturated fats makes no difference and is in fact even more dangerous. Only polyunsaturated fats reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, but even in the most optimal composition, the advantages are few. According to Mozaffarian, it is therefore far better to depart from factors that have an even greater impact on cardiovascular diseases when giving nutritional recommendations. Such as eating fish/omega-3 fatty acids, whole grain products, vegetables and fruit. Consuming less salt and trans fat also has an important effect.

The recent research results contribute to a revision of the role which saturated fats play in our eating patterns, says the Global Dairy Platform. Whether we replace nutrients or obtain a greater understanding of the role different foods play in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, saturated fat is certainly undeserving of the bad reputation attributed to it up to now.

Read the complete article in LIPIDS.