Should I avoid saturated fat?

Sausages Sausages, pies and other processed meats are often high in saturated fats

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I had to do a bit of a double-take when I read some research about fat consumption and heart disease.

It said that - contrary to decades of public health advice - switching from saturated fats found in foods like butter, cheese and fatty meats, to polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oils and fish - did not seem to have any benefit for the heart.

This surprised not only me but the people who co-funded the research, the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Pretty much every respectable health body says that we should cut down on food that is high in saturated fat because it can cause cholesterol levels in the blood to build up.

Raised cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. Some unsaturated fats can lower blood cholesterol so the assumption has been that this will cut your heart disease risk.

Saturated fat

  • Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter and lard, pies, cakes and biscuits, fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon, and cheese and cream
  • Eating a diet that is high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the risk of heart disease, according to NHS Choices.
  • Most of us eat too much saturated fat - about 20% more than the recommended maximum amount.
  • The average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day.
  • The average woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.

But the analysis of dozens of international studies did not yield clear evidence that switching to mono and polyunsaturated fats reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It should be pointed out that the authors freely admit their research is inconclusive - the BHF wants to see more studies before anyone considers changing dietary advice.

The findings are certainly not an invitation to gorge on a diet of cream cakes and fatty meat pies. Not only do most of us eat too many calories but we eat too much fat overall.

But simply demonising saturated fat or any other single food source is not helpful either. We have to get our calories from somewhere.

The newspapers are full of the latest dietary battle - is fat or sugar to blame for heart disease?

The problem is that sensible food advice, rather than faddy trends, tend to be a bit boring.

The key to a healthy heart remains a balanced and varied diet - with a strong emphasis on vegetables and fruit. Add to that exercise and not smoking.

Do all of those and not only will you cut your risk of heart disease, but cancer, diabetes and dementia.

Fergus Walsh, Medical correspondent Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    This is getting a bit like the old Woody Allen film Sleeper, where he wakes from a 200 year coma to find that scientists have just found that the healthiest food possible is chocolate cream eclairs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.


    You forgot...

    Be born to parents who died as centenarians after a short illness (free from cancer.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I can only state the obvious; that to maintain a healthy weight, strict discipline is needed to control what one eats. That extends to eating a variety of foods. In Japan, the aim is to eat 30 different foods a day and in a week, 100 different foods. Not a bad idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    this will only confuse people, it has me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Moderation in all things. Do we all interpret moderation differently I wonder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    It aint rocket science.

    Eat to live not live to eat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This is a bit early for the silly season! We all know that pies put the great in GB; an army munches on its bacon butties and a sausage a day helps you stop tooth decay.

    You don't have to believe me - ask Pies Pickles or the druggie lardy lady.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It just baffles me why we have these debates about diet.

    If you want to lead a healthy life then:
    - Don't drink.
    - Don't smoke.
    - Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
    - Exercise.

    That is all you have to do. Simples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The actual conclusion reached was "Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats." From the Annals of Internal Medicine

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.


    One doctor says eat butter. Another to eat margarine.

    Who can you believe ?

    Some say eat 3 times a day. Some 6 times. Some 2 times.

    Some say eat more protein, some say eat less.

    ETC ...

    SCIENCE has been totally corrupted by the Public Relations industry, and by corporate power.

    Advice > A farmer comes to know that the old ways are best

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Simple but effective advice follows:-

    1) Lose weight
    2) Check your blood pressure (especially over 40, certainly over 50)
    3) Get your lipids (cholesterol) checked
    4) Check your blood glucose level

    If any of the above are out of kilter, visit your GP for a follow up - no excuses. He/she will be happy to help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Yet another study contradicting other studies before it about what we can and can't eat and what will cause us to die of what illness.

    Eat a balanced diet, don't over indulge in alcohol and regularly exercise and you give you self a chance to be as health as you can be.

    Some people drink, smoke and eat junk yet live until they are 90. Other are as fit as a fiddle and die young. That is life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    From the British Heart Foundation Website:

    "So to help keep your heart healthy:

    Replace saturated fats with small amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats

    Cut down on foods containing trans fats."


    Another day, and yet another piece of contradictory health advice.


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