Saturated fats. The good, the bad or the ugly?

What the experts say.

By Jay Jackson

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When it comes to the do’s and don’ts of a healthy diet, ‘fat’ and more specifically ‘saturated fat’ is a word that comes up time again and again. Predominantly as a big fat don’t. But is it as bad as we’ve been led to believe? We decided to do some digging to see what the current medical word on the street is about sat fats.

Earlier this year there was a bit of a media frenzy when an editorial was published in the British Medical Journal by respected cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra claiming that sat fats aren’t the baddies they’ve been perceived to be and in fact could play no real part in heart disease at all. This was big news, both in the medical world and for those of us who just want to eat more cheese. So what was this article all about?

Saturated fats were demonised back in the 1970’s after a study that showed a correlation between people having coronary heart disease and their intake of saturated fat. In his article, Dr Malhotra is quick to point out that "correlation is not causation". This study based it’s findings on the ‘lipid hypothesis’ which essentially proposes that saturated fats are responsible for raising cholesterol. However Dr Malhotra points out that “Despite the common belief that high cholesterol is a significant risk factor for coronary artery disease, several independent population studies in healthy adults have shown that low total cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular and non-cardiac mortality, indicating that high total cholesterol is not a risk factor in a healthy population”.

Other scientists and medics jumped in with the same view. Practitioner Liaison Yvonne England believes there is now a “weight of evidence (to) suggest that the cardiovascular system needs protection from oxidative damage… saturated fats and antioxidants, as well as glutathione-boosting strategies and other key nutrients are likely to be our best for protection." So could sat fats perhaps not only not be the demon we’ve been led to believe they are, but also have a beneficial role in our diet?

"...saturated fats and antioxidants, as well as glutathione-boosting strategies and other key nutrients are likely to be our best for protection."

Well perhaps not. Many medics have disagreed with Dr Malhotra’s article. Sarah Bolsely, Health Editor of The Guardian wrote an entire piece about the ‘rise of cholesterol deniers’. She spoke to a number of respected members of the medical community including the Head of Nutrition at Public Health England who said “There is good evidence that a high intake of saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease. We need to think about where the sources of saturated fat are and how we can reduce them.” She also sites The British Heart Foundation and Heart UK who are still consistent in advice that “butter and cheese may be fine in modest amounts in a balanced diet, but the saturated fat that they contain is potentially risky.”

On top of this, earlier this year 170 academics even clubbed together and signed a letter accusing the British Journal of Sports Medicine of bias when they said in an article that "saturated fat does not clog the arteries" and called for "changes to public messaging on sat fats and heart disease.” One medic described the article as “misleading and wrong.”

“butter and cheese may be fine in modest amounts in a balanced diet, but the saturated fat that they contain is potentially risky.”

This is just a snapshot of the story so do have a dig around yourselves, but what you’ll find is that the debate about sat fats is very much one that is continuing.

So where does this leave us, aside from just a bit confused? Well here at Mother we’ll continue to shout our mantra - moderation, moderation, moderation. Enjoy that slab of brie this Christmas and maybe an extra mince pice or two but remember that most of your fat intake should come from unsaturated fats which luckily for us are found in all sorts of delicious foods such as avocado, fatty fish and of course nuts. Remember people, stay balanced to stay healthy.

Merry Christmas everyone!