Research has shown that saturated fat can raise blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and elevated LDL is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Because of this, experts generally advise people to limit their intake of fatty meat, butter and full-fat dairy.
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that adults get no more than 7 percent of their daily calories from the fat; for someone who eats 2,000 calories a day, that translates into fewer than 16 grams of saturated fat per day.
But in the new analysis, which combined the results of 21 previous studies, researchers found no clear evidence that higher saturated fat intakes led to higher risks of heart disease or stroke.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, may sound like good news for steak lovers, but a past AHA president cautioned against “over interpreting” the results.
They note that no one is saying that some saturated fat is going to harm you…people should enjoy their food. They point out, many studies have shown that dietary saturated fat can raise people’s cholesterol, and the new analysis is not going to change recommendations to keep saturated fat intake in check.
According to the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance, the non-profit educational organization that tracks data related to heart disease and cancers, a number of studies have linked the so-called Western diet to greater heart disease risks; that diet pattern is defined as one high in red and processed meats and saturated fats — but also high in sweets and other refined carbohydrates like white bread.
On the other hand, diets described as Mediterranean or “prudent” — generally high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, unsaturated fats from vegetable oil — may help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s that type of eating pattern that people should strive for.
For the current study, researchers at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Center in California, pooled data from 21 studies that included a total of nearly 348,000 adults.
Participants, who were generally healthy to start, were surveyed about their diet habits and then followed for anywhere from five to 23 years. Over that time, 11,000 developed heart disease or suffered a stroke.