Should I avoid saturated fat?
- 17 March 2014
- From the section Health
I had to do a bit of a double-take when I read some research about fat consumption and heart disease.
It said that - contrary to decades of public health advice - switching from saturated fats found in foods like butter, cheese and fatty meats, to polyunsaturated fats such as vegetable oils and fish - did not seem to have any benefit for the heart.
This surprised not only me but the people who co-funded the research, the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Pretty much every respectable health body says that we should cut down on food that is high in saturated fat because it can cause cholesterol levels in the blood to build up.
Raised cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. Some unsaturated fats can lower blood cholesterol so the assumption has been that this will cut your heart disease risk.
But the analysis of dozens of international studies did not yield clear evidence that switching to mono and polyunsaturated fats reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.
It should be pointed out that the authors freely admit their research is inconclusive - the BHF wants to see more studies before anyone considers changing dietary advice.
The findings are certainly not an invitation to gorge on a diet of cream cakes and fatty meat pies. Not only do most of us eat too many calories but we eat too much fat overall.
But simply demonising saturated fat or any other single food source is not helpful either. We have to get our calories from somewhere.
The newspapers are full of the latest dietary battle - is fat or sugar to blame for heart disease?
The problem is that sensible food advice, rather than faddy trends, tend to be a bit boring.
The key to a healthy heart remains a balanced and varied diet - with a strong emphasis on vegetables and fruit. Add to that exercise and not smoking.
Do all of those and not only will you cut your risk of heart disease, but cancer, diabetes and dementia.