Low saturated fat diets don't curb heart disease risk or help you live longer

March 5, 2014, British Medical Journal

Diets low in saturated fat don't curb heart disease risk or help you live longer, says a leading US cardiovascular research scientist and doctor of pharmacy in an editorial in the open access journal Open Heart.

And current dietary advice to replace saturated fats with carbohydrates or omega 6-rich polyunsaturated fats is based on flawed and incomplete data from the 1950s, argues Dr James DiNicolantonio.

Dietary guidelines should be urgently reviewed and the vilification of saturated fats stopped to save lives, he insists.

DiNicolantonio points out that the demonisation of saturated fats dates back to 1952, when research suggested a link between high dietary saturated fat intake and deaths from heart disease.

But the study author drew his conclusions on data from six countries, choosing to ignore the data from a further 16, which didn't fit with his hypothesis, and which subsequent analysis of all 22 countries' data, disproved, says DiNicolantonio.

Nevertheless, the bad boy image stuck, particularly after US President Eisenhower had a heart attack in his 50s, points out DiNicolantonio in an accompanying podcast.

And it prompted the belief that since these fats increase total cholesterol—a flawed theory in itself, says DiNicolantonio— they must also increase . And as foodstuffs with the highest calorie density, the thinking was that reduced intake would naturally curb obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

But the evidence, which continues to mount, suggests otherwise, he says.

There is now a strong argument in favour of the consumption of refined carbohydrates as the causative dietary factor behind the surge in obesity and diabetes in the US, he says.

And while a low fat diet may lower 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol, there are two types of LDL cholesterol. And switching to carbs may increase pattern B (small dense) LDL, which is more harmful to heart health than pattern A (large buoyant) LDL, as well as creating a more unfavourable overall lipid profile, he says.

Furthermore, several other studies indicate that a low carb diet is better for weight loss and lipid profile than a low fat diet, while large observational studies have not found any conclusive proof that a cuts risk, he says.

But in the race to cut intake, several recommend upping polyunsaturated .

However, a recent analysis of published trial data shows that replacing saturated fats and trans with omega 6 fatty acids, without a corresponding rise in omega 3 fatty acids, seems to increase the risk of death from coronary heart and cardiovascular diseases.

"We need a public health campaign as strong as the one we had in the 70s and 80s demonising saturated fats, to say that we got it wrong," urges DiNicolantonio in the podcast.

The best diet to boost and maintain heart health is one low in refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods, he recommends.

And anyone who has had a attack should not be thinking of replacing saturated fats with refined carbs or omega 6 fatty acids—particularly those found in processed vegetable oils containing large amounts of corn or safflower oil, he says.

Explore further: Amount and types of fat we eat affect health and risk of disease

More information: The cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or omega 6 polyunsaturated fats: Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong? Open Heart, DOI: 10.1136/openhrt-2013-000032

Related Stories

Amount and types of fat we eat affect health and risk of disease

January 10, 2014
Healthy adults should consume between 20 percent and 35 percent of their calories from dietary fat, increase their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, and limit their intake of saturated and trans fats, according to an updated ...

New analysis suggests whole diet approach to lower cardiovascular risk has more evidence than low-fat diets

February 6, 2014
A study published in The American Journal of Medicine reveals that a whole diet approach, which focuses on increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, has more evidence for reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies ...

Revisiting the association between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease

July 3, 2012
In this week's PLoS Medicine, Kay-Tee Khaw of the University of Cambridge, UK and colleagues analyze data from a prospective cohort study and show associations between plasma concentrations of saturated phospholipid fatty ...

Are saturated fats good or bad?

January 28, 2014
Dietary guidelines cite the fact that saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol, which is also known as bad cholesterol because it's a major risk factor for heart disease. Others claim saturated fats are not a problem.

Abdominal fat accumulation prevented by unsaturated fat

February 24, 2014
New research from Uppsala University shows that saturated fat builds more fat and less muscle than polyunsaturated fat. This is the first study on humans to show that the fat composition of food not only influences cholesterol ...

Study raises questions about dietary fats and heart disease guidance

February 5, 2013
Dietary advice about fats and the risk of heart disease is called into question in BMJ today as a clinical trial shows that replacing saturated animal fats with omega-6 polyunsaturated vegetable fats is linked to an increased ...

Recommended for you

Starting periods before age of 12 linked to heightened risk of heart disease and stroke

January 15, 2018
Starting periods early—before the age of 12—is linked to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke in later life, suggests an analysis of data from the UK Biobank study, published online in the journal Heart.

'Decorated' stem cells could offer targeted heart repair

January 10, 2018
Although cardiac stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for heart attack patients, directing the cells to the site of an injury - and getting them to stay there - remains challenging. In a new pilot study using an animal ...

Two simple tests could help to pinpoint cause of stroke

January 10, 2018
Detecting the cause of the deadliest form of stroke could be improved by a simple blood test added alongside a routine brain scan, research suggests.

Exercise is good for the heart, high blood pressure is bad—researchers find out why

January 10, 2018
When the heart is put under stress during exercise, it is considered healthy. Yet stress due to high blood pressure is bad for the heart. Why? And is this always the case? Researchers of the German Centre for Cardiovascular ...

Heart-muscle patches made with human cells improve heart attack recovery

January 10, 2018
Large, human cardiac-muscle patches created in the lab have been tested, for the first time, on large animals in a heart attack model. This clinically relevant approach showed that the patches significantly improved recovery ...

Place of residence linked to heart failure risk

January 9, 2018
Location. Location. Location.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.8 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2014
"We need a public health campaign as strong as the one we had in the 70s and 80s demonising saturated fats, to say that we got it wrong," urges DiNicolantonio in the podcast.
I think we need to take a deep breath, and plan a proper, orchestrated effort to research this out, once and for all.

There's no point in having the public turn their diet upside down every six months as "new and amazing" studies pop up, opposing the previous ones.

No wonder people are increasingly giving up, and just eating whatever from the elbow level shelf.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2014
Well it should be obvious that a low fat diet does not equate to low fat people. All one needs to do is just look around you in the US.

Just as this article states it is processed carbohydrates and especially sugars that make one an extra large size.
not rated yet Mar 09, 2014
There is now a strong argument in favour of the consumption of refined carbohydrates as the causative dietary factor behind the surge in obesity and diabetes in the US, he says.

This does not surprise me, as it would not be the first time processed carbohydrates have been the cause of disease in the U.S.


I actually heard about Pellagra on "Dark Matters" television show.

Anyway, what do we do now, for the past couple decades, with food that has genetic engineering for pesticides in it, which we are eating?

The absence of a single micro-nutrient caused Pellagra, surely the introduction of a single biotic toxin is doing similar damage, albeit un-seen?

I have neuropathy with an as-yet undetermined cause (though currently leaning to Vitamind D3 deficiency and calcium excess). yet am I to believe that these neurotoxins produced by the very engineered food we eat are not contributing to the problem?!

GM Corn is in everything we eat.
4 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2014
I am not opposed to gene splicing between related strains and species, or within the same species. I am opposed to gene splicing between unrelated species and unrelated genus, which is currently being done for the past two decades in the GM food industry.

You would not eat the Clostridium Botulinum organism, yet you eat it's DNA and trace amounts of the toxin every day (probably), if you eat anything which contains GM corn.

What's worse, the pollen from these strains are now in the environment permanently, and have probably permanently corrupted the agricultural ecosystem, as there is no way to know whether seeds you have are the infected strain unless they are labelled. It's not like average farmers can do a DNA test on their crop to ensure they haven't been infected by the modified strain...
not rated yet Mar 14, 2014
They forget that it is essential to exercice in proportion to the carbohydrates that you eat, because too much of energy inside any carbohydrates or any fat finish in bad fat and obesity.
Cycling strongly in big mountains need a lot of carbohydrates !!
Even retired like me, you must, each day at least, run or cycle fast a slope with a difference in height of 200m in less than 15 minutes. This exercice burns less than 100g of carbohydrates !!
Thus to burn a lot of carbohydrates or fat, each day, you must run or cycle to the top of mountains at 4000m !!!
not rated yet Apr 27, 2014
Moreover, it is already well known, since more than 20 years, studied and explained by T Colin Campbell at Cornell, in his book The China Study, ben Bella Books Dallas, http://en.wikiped...Campbell and to reduce your risk of heart disease by a factor of 5 to 10, you must reduce the amount of animal proteins, meat, milk, cheese, you eat to that of our poors ancestors or old Chineses working hard for very rare meat and many vegetables.
Like Bill Clinton, you will loose weight and have a better heart !!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.