Is Saturated Fat Really the Dietary Bogeyman?

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

A classmate of mine recently sent me an interesting article from a presentation given at the IFT conference back in June. The article was asking “Is saturated fat really the dietary bogeyman?

Some high profile cardiovascular health researchers weighed in on the topic, and here is what they had to say:

“Dr Rozenn Lemaitre from the cardiovascular health research unit at the University of Washington, said reducing saturated fat intakes had been the “cornerstone of dietary guidelines” for years.

However, the evidence linking saturated fat and risk of cardiovascular disease was “not conclusive”, she said, and must be evaluated in the context of its replacement by other macronutrients.

The ”real enemy” said Lemaitre, is trans fat.”

“Dr Pramod Khosla, associate professor at the department of nutrition and food science at Wayne State University in Detroit, added: “Saturated fat per se is not really doing anything when it comes to cardiovascular disease risk. What’s more crucial is to look at what people are replacing it with.”

The discussion also turned to the fact that we don’t eat saturated fat, we eat food, and food is highly complex and greater than the sum of its parts. Often times foods high in saturated fat are themselves associated with decreased cardiovascular disease risk!

“Similarly, it was also clear that major food sources of saturated fat such as milk also contained other constituents that could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, they said. As for replacing sat fats with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), there was “insufficient evidence to judge the effect on coronary heart disease risk of replacing saturated fatty acids with MUFAs”.”

The conversation also discussed polyunsaturated fats and the confusion surrounding them. You have some researchers in one corner declaring their greatness, and you have others (as well as people like me) telling you to be wary of too many omega-6 fatty acids. Here is what was discussed.

“It would have been “more helpful” if the guidelines had been specific about which PUFAs to use, given that high intakes of the omega-6 PUFA linoleic acid at the expense of the more beneficial omega-3 PUFAs EPA and DHA could do more harm than good, argued Captain Joseph Hibbeln, acting chief, section on nutritional neurosciences at the National Institutes of Health.

He added: “A clear distinction should be made between omega-6 and omega-3 PUFAs in future advice.”

Frustratingly, claims about the benefits of omega-6 fatty acids made by some scientists were based on clinical studies in which participants had been supplemented with omega-3 and omega-6, which meant their results were unreliable, he added.

“If you pool results of trials just looking at omega-6 PUFAs you see no heart benefit; they actually signal harm.”

I can’t agree with that conclusion any more! I would highly encourage you to read the entire article, though I did quote a large portion of, there were some other great pieces that I didn’t even mention that would be worth reading.

In the end the conclusion seems to be that saturated fat from high quality, minimally processed real food is not a bad thing at all. Many of the foods rich in saturated fats also contain things like CLA, vitamin K2, MCT’s and more that have tremendous health benefits.

In addition, replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils is a mistake, and could do more harm than good. Instead simply ensure that your food sources of saturates are from pasture-raised animals or unrefined oils. It would also be wise to include more fatty fish or fish oil in your diet, to get in the right type of polyunsaturates – omega-3′s.

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Posted on July 22nd, 2011 by Brian St. Pierre


  1. Jeff Says:

    Great Post! The strength and conditioning community needs more info like this. People shouldn’t fear saturated fat if they are consuming good quality nutrient dense plant and animal foods. A common question i get from a lot of clients (athlete or not)is what supplements they should be taking. I’m all for that stuff but only if you understand the importance of consuming more nutrient dense foods and far less refined or processed foods. There needs to be a more clear foundation to good nutrition. I think a lot of people are very confused.

  2. Chris Says:

    Great Post Brian! I was wondering do many of your classmates have the same viewpoint on a higher fat diet? As a current nutritional graduate student, many students follow the low-fat approach.

  3. Jeff Says:


    Here’s an interesting recent article on saturated fat for you and anyone else interested that reinforces the same points you concluded in your post. It’s a bit long but an interesting read.

  4. Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/25/11 | Eric Cressey Says:

    [...] Is Saturated Fat Really the Dietary Boogeyman? – Brian St. Pierre presents a great case for why saturated fat isn’t as evil as it’s always been made out to be. [...]

  5. Brad Cole Says:

    Very true. It seems that the real driver of disease is inflammation and ingestion of foods that have a net inflammatory effect (seed oils being a major player). Your right to fault oversimplification and reductionism as causing confusion in the discussion. As we all know, lipid profiles are a measure of risk, but it’s the oxidation of lipids that sparks the fire.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Stuff You Should Read « Health Heralds Says:

    [...] Is Saturated Fat Really the Dietary Boogeyman? – Brian St. Pierre [...]

  7. Smart Resolutions: Health and Fitness Goals « COACH JEFF RICHTER CSCS, USAW Says:

    [...] the roles of saturated fats, I highly recommend reading these articles and research pieces: boom / goes / the / dynamite. Here are more articles regarding the function and myths regarding cholesterol: [...]

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