This post was originally published on January 30, 2018 and updated on December 13, 2021.

What you believe about saturated fats and heart disease may be based on outdated research.

Back in the 1960s, a researcher named Ancel Keys was heralded for establishing an epidemiological connection between dietary fats, serum cholesterol, and atherosclerotic and vascular disease. “Do all saturates belong in the same bucket? It may have seemed reasonable way back in 1968, but it still hasn’t been proven more than 40 years later. That suggests that Keys’ hypothesis might have some problems,” points out USC School of Pharmacy Research Professor Roger Clemens, DrPH, CFS, CNS, FIFT, FACN, FIAFST. “To the contrary, studies involving 347,747 subjects over spans as long as 23 years found that saturated fat intake was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease.”

He adds that, “The assumption that saturated fat at any level of intake is deleterious is not supported by scientific evidence.”

In their recent groundbreaking meta-analysis, Cardiovascular Epidemiologist Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury from the University of Cambridge, indicated that we should not be worried about the amount of saturated fat in our diets. However, Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard University recently stated that, “The findings should not be taken as a green light to eat more steak, butter and other foods rich in saturated fat.” He said that looking at individual fats and other nutrient groups in isolation could be misleading because when people cut down on fats they tend to eat more bread, cold cereal and other refined carbohydrates that can also be bad for cardiovascular health.

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Are we going in circles?

So thanks to Ancel Keys, animal fats with their cholesterol were initially replaced with tropical oils. “Then tropical oils were replaced with hydrogenated fats. Now to decrease trans fatty acids, should we reconsider the use of tropical oils,” questions Clemens.

“This isn’t alarming. As recently as 2010, it has been acknowledged that the stearic acid found in palm fruit oil is not known to raise LDL cholesterol. In fact, evidence suggests stearic acid should not even be categorized with known “cholesterol-raising” fats.”

Very recent epidemiologic and intervention studies suggest Malaysian palm oil and its constituents may confer health benefits, including a reduction in the development of white matter lesions in the brain, neutral effects on serum cholesterol, a reduction in cellular aging, as well as support for kidney and liver health.

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