Saturated fat and heart disease link questioned in new study

A new review of nutritional studies says there's no clear evidence supporting guidelines to cut saturated fat intake to promote heart health

A new study review from Harvard University is challenging decades-old dietary guidelines to cut saturated fat intake to reduce the risk of heart disease.

The review, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at 45 observational studies and 27 randomized trials involving more than 600,000 people in Europe, North America and Asia.

"Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats," the study authors write.

Since the 1970s, the public has been encouraged to avoid saturated fats found in foods like coconut oil, butter, red meat and poultry because it was believed to raise 'bad' cholesterol levels, thereby increasing our risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, we have been told to increase our intake of polyunsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 and omega-6, which are found in olive oil and canola oil, because it was thought to lower bad cholesterol and coronary disease risk.

Also see: Why painting your thumbnail red could save your life

This new review suggests there is not a strong enough connection between saturated fat and heart disease to warrant the current recommended dietary guidelines. Furthermore, the review also challenges the idea that omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats reduce the risk of coronary events.

Study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian says guidelines should avoid vilifying any one particular nutrient and focus on recommendations for specific foods instead.

Also see: Mom acts as 'speed bump' to save twins from rolling car

"Guidelines that focus on the nutrients, single nutrients, as targets for preventing chronic diseases don't make a lot of sense," Mozaffarian tells CBC. "I think we need to move to food-based guidelines, to really talk about food, not nutrients."

What are your thoughts on the findings of this review? Will it change your eating habits? Tell us in the comments below.