Contributed by: Dr. Peter Pressman

Most people don’t make a habit of reading scientific review papers. So, you probably missed seeing this article, published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology (JACC). But the significance of what it says about saturated fats and heart health is huge! So, I jotted down three of the most important take-aways. 

First, let me set the scene 

Twelve highly qualified research scientists and consultants from around the world, and with diverse backgrounds, collaborated on this article,“Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-based Recommendations: JACC State-of -the-Art Review.” 

As noted in the abstract, the evidence discussed in this manuscript has been presented by the authors during the Expert Workshop “Saturated Fat and Health: A Nutrient or Food Approach?” held in February 2020 in Washington, DC. 

Three take-aways you need to know 

Here are the points, based on this article, I believe American adults need to know about saturated fats and LDL (bad) cholesterol: 

  1. It’s about the food you eat, not single nutrients. There are no significant correlations between saturated fat consumption and the fatty acids found accumulating in the body’s fat cells. The only exception is two fatty acids from dairy sources that may actually benefit heart health. The primary reason that saturated fatty acids accumulate inside the body is a process stimulated by consuming a diet with an excessively large proportion of carbohydrates.
  2. All saturated fats are not created equal. Recommendations to limit saturated fat intake do not take into account the biological differences among saturated fats. Some have different effects on cholesterol, including LDL (bad) cholesterol, than others. Lumping all saturated fats together, particularly when the motivation is to lower LDL for the sake of cardiovascular disease prevention, may not achieve the desired heart health results. 
  3. LDL particle size matters. While some experts will argue that all LDL particles are equally bad for heart health, that is not supported by available evidence. In fact, there is increasingly good evidence that lowering intake of saturated fats primarily lowers your concentration of large LDL particles, which are less strongly associated with heart disease than small LDL particles. It appears that the smaller LDL particles stay in the bloodstream longer and are more likely to cause inflammation.      
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This review and its conclusions are absolutely consistent with the findings and messages of the recently published Malaysian study both in terms of the importance of dietary patterns rather than single classes of important nutrients, and of course in terms of the traditional and unfounded recommendations that demonize saturated fats and important foods such as palm oil that are rich in these nutrients.

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