Do saturated fats really affect cholesterol?

We’ve long been told that in order to reduce the likelihood of heart disease we need to ensure that our diet is low in "unhealthy" foods. That maintaining our HDL and LDL levels can be easily achieved by what we eat.

Foods that are high in saturated fats, such as red meat, butter and eggs for example, are traditionally the first type to be recommended to cut out, especially when your cholesterol levels are high.

However, in recent years this thinking has come under scrutiny with many stating that this is actually not the case.

So is there really a link between saturated fats and high cholesterol?

Let's start with the traditional thinking:

  1. Eating foods high in saturated fats leads to increased levels of bad cholesterol
  2. Raised cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease
  3. If you have high cholesterol you should address your diet and, if recommended by your GP, start taking statins

This thinking has been around since the early 1900s and later developed in the 1950s. The Seven Countries Study was launched and showed that countries that consumed a lot of saturated fats had a higher rate of deaths from heart disease.

Since then there have been numerous studies that either support this claim or recommend further research, with most official dietary guidelines being based on this thinking.


Enter the counter-argument

In recent years the validity of these early studies has been questioned, with it being stated that the trials that resulted in the findings were too short in time and had restricted parameters. And thus the health advice that is based on these findings is in fact incorrect.

Although a reduction in saturated fats effectively lowers cholesterol levels, studies have found that replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils rich in lineloic acid does not actually lower the risk of death from heart disease.

Is it time to change the narrative about saturated fats and cholesterol?

Of course, there are pro and con arguments for both approaches and depending on which camp you are in will determine the advice you follow.

However, it can't be ignored that there are differing opinions and due to the important role that cholesterol plays in the overall functioning of our bodies neither can be ignored.

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