Is saturated fat no longer bad for your heart?

By: Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.  |  Monday, February 8, 2010

Over the years we’ve all heard some nutrition information and advice that seemed so black-and-white it was hard to imagine it would ever change. I think one of those bits of information is cutting back on saturated fat to improve your heart’s health. For years research has suggested that keeping a cap on saturated fats helps reduce risk of heart disease primarily by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can lead to plaque buildup in arteries.
But I just read a new study that challenges our accepted thinking. The study, to be published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, pooled and analyzed the results of 21 previous studies and found no clear evidence that consuming more saturated fat led to a higher risk of heart disease or stroke.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting intake of saturated fats (in butter, full-fat dairy products and fatty meats) to less than 7 percent of daily calories. (That’s 16 grams, if you’re consuming 2,000 calories.) Find 9 more steps to heart health here.
Those recommendations likely won’t change despite this new study, according to Dr. Robert H. Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and past AHA president.
Instead, Eckel thinks this analysis may help to push the focus off single nutrients and instead more toward dietary patterns. One of those dietary patterns is the Mediterranean diet—rich in fruits, vegetables and olive oil, sparing with meat and anointed daily with red wine—which has been shown to help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. (Click here for some delicious Mediterranean recipes to try.)
Despite the new research, I’m not going to forget altogether what I’ve learned about saturated fat and heart health, but I will follow Eckel’s recommendations to eat a little bit more like a Mediterranean at home. And I advise you to do the same. (Get recipes that make it easy for you to eat well for your heart here.)