Noir Headlines

Fake News Headlines About Saturated Fat

Please, someone hit the pause button on all the fake news headlines about saturated fat. They’ve been burying us all year long, with no sign of a respite. Presently, you can find a fresh batch of such headlines telling you:

Saturated Fat Could Be Good for You

Saturated Fat Is Actually Good for You

Fat is GOOD for You!

That first headline comes straight from the University of Bergen, promoting a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. But it’s a classic case of a disconnect between a study and academic public relations spin. In fact, the conclusions from the study itself say nothing about the health effects of saturated fats:

Consuming energy primarily as carbohydrate or fat for three months did not differentially influence visceral fat and metabolic syndrome in a low-processed, lower-glycemic dietary context. Our data do not support the idea that dietary fat per se promotes ectopic adiposity and cardiometabolic syndrome in humans.

The researchers behind this study correctly kept claims about saturated fats out of their paper. The study was not designed to test such claims. Rather, they were testing  the effects of swapping calories between fats and carbs. But those limitations had no effect on the University’s PR department. And then, sloppy health journalists twisted the story even further.

The facts are pretty clear. Old dietary guidance from the 1980s to cut consumption of all dietary fat was wrong. It led people to eat more sugar and refined carbs, and that was not a healthy trade-off. But that doesn’t mean saturated fats are “good for you.” In fact, controlled studies of replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats show a net benefit in reduced heart disease.

Writing in the Washington Post, dietitian Carrie Dennett offers good advice to “get over our fear of dietary fat.” She says we should “focus on eating foods rich in healthful unsaturated fats while limiting foods high in saturated fat and avoiding trans fats altogether.”

In fact, the smartest strategy might be to bypass all the obsession with individual nutrients and focus on the big picture. A healthy diet patterned after the Mediterranean diet has a good track record in clinical studies. It’s a good place to start.

Click here for more from the Washington Post and here for additional perspective healthy, whole dietary patterns.

Noir Headlines, photograph © Angus McDiarmid / flickr

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December 13, 2016