By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., "Ask Our Nutritionist,"May/June 2010
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 seems to challenge this accepted thinking. The study, published in the March 2010 American 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 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.) “A single study won’t relax dietary guidelines,” says Philip Ades, M.D., a specialist in preventive cardiology and author of EatingWell for a Healthy Heart Cookbook. “And although this is a well-done study by an expert group of researchers, it alone will not have me ignore a mountain of data showing a significant association between intake of saturated fat and development of heart disease.”
That said, Ades doesn’t recommend focusing only on saturated fat to reduce risk of heart disease. Instead, he generally suggests following an overall eating pattern that has been shown to help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke: the Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and sparing with meat.