Monday, September 28, 2015

“What are saturated fats? Butter is high in saturated fat and I heard I should be eating more of it. Is that true?”

            It has long been debated whether or not diets high in saturated fat are correlated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease.  A large study conducted by Hooper, et. al. concluded that a diet lower in saturated fats decreased risk for cardiovascular disease by as much as 14%2. The real problem with this study seems to be that individuals who consume diets high in saturated fats, also consume diets high in simple carbohydrates and other food items that generally bad for your health.  Eating diets lower in saturated fats will generally also indirectly lead you to choose food items that are healthier.  Furthermore, several recent studies have concluded that there was no positive association between increased cardiovascular disease risk and saturated fat consumption, and that further research is required to assess the association1, 4, 5. Many of these researchers conducted large extensive studies to investigate the current belief that saturated fat consumption contributes to heart disease.   Although the findings in the studies did not generally support this idea, the authors of each of these studies do admit that further evidence is needed to support their findings, and that there are many different factors that must be considered when concluding what effects saturated fats may have on both healthy and unhealthy individuals. 

            So, are saturated fats good or bad? Although the effects of saturated fats on cardiovascular health are not entirely conclusive, another study demonstrated that substitution of monounsaturated fat for saturated fat in the diet resulted in increased resting energy expenditure (more calories burned at rest), as well as mood elevation3. In this study, one test group received a diet high in saturated fat, while the other group received a diet low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat.  Each group received the same foods with only the ratio of saturated fat to monounsaturated fat differing3.  These diets were implemented for a course of three consecutive weeks3.  Researchers found that resting energy expenditure (energy burned by the body in a 24hr period) had increased significantly in the group receiving monounsaturated fat and was significantly lower in the group receiving saturated fat3.  They also found that individuals consuming saturated fat were angrier than those in the monounsaturated fat group3. 

            Although there is some conflicting research on the benefits of decreasing saturated fat intake and cardiovascular health, there is a lot of research supporting the limiting of saturated fats in the diet.  The bottom line is that the typical western diet that most Americans consume is high in a number of macro and micronutrients that negatively affect health when consumed in excess.  Moderation is key! Time magazine recently posted an article telling people to "eat butter".  Although we've learned that butter is probably not as terrible as we've previously thought, most of us already eat much more butter and other sources of saturated fat than we should be eating on a daily basis.  Research suggests that limiting your intake of many of these foods will have significant health benefits. 


1. Chowdhury, R., Warnakula, S., Kunutsor, S., Crowe, F., Ward, H., Johnson, L., Franco, O., Butterworth, A., Forohul, N., Thompson, S., Kahw, K., Mozaffarian, D., Danesh, J., Angelantonio, E. Association of Dietary, Circulating and Supplement Fatty Acids with Coronary Risk.  American College of Physicians, 2014; (160) 6: 398-406. 

2. Hooper, L., Summerbell, C., Thompson, R., Sills, D., Roberts, F., Moore, H., Smith, G. Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease.  The Cochrane Collaboration. 2011; 7: 1-214. 

3.  Kien, C L., Bunn, J., Tompkins, C., Dumas, J., Crain, K., Ebstein, D., Koves, T., Muoio, D. Substituting dietary monounsaturated fat for saturated fat is associated with increased daily physical activity and resting energy expenditure and with changes in mood.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013; 97: 689-97.

4.  Siri-Tarino, P., Sun, Q., Hu, F., Krauss, R.  Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010; 91: 535-546. 

5.  O’Sullivan, T., Hafekost, K., Mitrou, F., Lawrence, D. Food Sources of Saturated Fat and the Association With Mortality: A Meta-Analysis.  American Journal of Public Health. 2013; 103: 31-42. 

6.  Fleming, Alesha.  Natural Health and Wellness Chiropractic., Daytona Beach, FL, 2015.

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