Asparagus with Burrata and Bacon

Do All Saturated Fats Have the Same Risks?

More and more, dietary health guidance points us to consider whole foods and how they fit into the overall pattern of our eating. Advice that divides individual foods or nutrients between good and bad labels is not so helpful because context matters. And yet, advice to avoid saturated fat remains ubiquitous. Perhaps such a broad brush approach to the types of fat in our diet could wind up leading us astray because all saturated fats may not carry the same health risks.

In fact, a new systematic review suggests that cardiovascular risk from saturated fat may come from longer chain saturated fatty acids (SFAs). Authors Monica Perna and Susan Hewlings concluded from their review:

“When examining the impact of diet on CVD risk, it is critical to consider the macronutrient replacing saturated fat as well as the saturated fat chain length, whole foods, and diet patterns on CVD risk. The studies included in this review suggest that LCSFA (C12–18) may increase the risk for CVD development, while SCFA and MCFA (C4–-C10) may be more beneficial or neutral.”

In a narrative review from 2021, Aline Maria Nunes de Lira Gomes Bloise and colleagues offered similar conclusions.

Differences Between Sources of SFAs

It is also clear that different sources of saturated fatty acids present different risk profiles. The most notable example is the difference in risks for SFAs from red meat or dairy. Some studies have suggested that the saturated fat in dairy foods might even lower a person’s cardiovascular disease risk. For example, in 2021, Kathy Trieu and colleagues published a cohort study, systematic review, and meta-analysis, concluding:

“The findings from our study using fatty acid biomarkers suggest that higher intakes of dairy fat were associated with lower CVD risk in diverse populations including Sweden (a country with high dairy intake), though more trials are needed to understand if and how dairy foods protect cardiovascular health.”

Whole Foods, Whole Diets

Without a doubt, some dietary patterns are more healthful than others. An excess of saturated fats in our diets can present risks – but the key word there is excess. Fussing over moderate amounts of something like dairy fat simply makes no sense.

In seeking a healthy pattern for eating, you would do well to look beyond some of the good food/bad food lists that generate so many clicks. Thoughtful advice from a registered dietitian can take you much further toward better dietary health.

Click here for the paper from Perna and Hewlings, here for Bloise et al, and here for Treu et al.

Asparagus with Burrata and Bacon, photograph by Sarah Stierch, licensed under CC BY 4.0

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March 9, 2023

2 Responses to “Do All Saturated Fats Have the Same Risks?”

  1. March 09, 2023 at 9:36 am, David Brown said:

    This comment from the Treu et al paper says it all. “Our findings support the need for clinical and experimental studies to elucidate the causality of these relationships and relevant biological mechanisms.”

  2. March 09, 2023 at 12:37 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Or as my father-in-law said at 100 yrs old; “All things in moderation”