Eat Healthy – Enjoy Saturated Fat

By / Food / December 3rd, 2010 / 1

Have you heard the news? It turns out that saturated fat isn’t so unhealthy after all.

Dr. Arne Astrup, Head of the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, is urging Canadian Dietitians to reexamine their views on saturated fat in our diet. He suggests that rather than being the cause of so many health problems, like heart disease, it actually has more of a neutral effect on the risk of cardiovascular disease. To those who follow alternative medicine, the idea that the food matrix in which saturated fat exists is potentially more important than the amount of saturated fat in a food isn’t new. Different types of foods and nutrients need each other in order to benefit us. The best example is that our bodies need sufficient levels of vitamin D to help us absorb calcium efficiently.

Cheese lovers rejoice. Although cheese may contain saturated fat, other components within it, such as protein and calcium may produce an overall beneficial effect for cardiovascular health.

Dr. Astrup also points out that while some benefits can be achieved by replacing some saturated fat with the polyunsaturated kind, it really depends on the fat sources. According to Dr. Astrup, there is not enough evidence to substantiate that replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) or carbohydrates actually reduces cardiovascular disease. The evidence he presents suggests that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates may actually increase cardiovascular risk, unless the carbs are from whole grain/fibre-rich sources. Dr. Astrup’s observation supports the concept that it is the entire food matrix which must be studied to determine any relationship with cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Astrup’s conclusions are part of his “State of knowledge in 2010 of Saturated fat and CVD,” which he presented at the Symposium on Nutrition and Health organized by Registered Dietitians with Dairy Farmers of Canada. Dr. Astrup’s presentation includes evidence from 20 recently published scientific papers.

“For the past three decades, saturated fat has been regarded as a major culprit with respect to cardiovascular disease. However, new evidence, from better designed studies, suggests that this may not be the case,” said Dr. Astrup. “The evidence also suggests the food in which saturated fat exists may be more important than just looking at the amount of saturated fat in isolation.” Dr. Astrup recommends that future studies should assess whole foods (the food matrix) rather than single nutrients when studying their effect on CVD risk.

As interesting as these preliminary conclusions are, it’s important to remember that the theory deserves more testing. Personally speaking, I can completely see Dr. Astrup’s argument; I think it makes a lot of sense. But, as those working in the field of alternative medicine will tell you: everyone needs to be assessed as an individual. What makes sense for one may not be very helpful at all to another. I’ll keep following this story, and let you know what other conclusions come out of it.


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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