Everyone Was Wrong: Saturated Fat Can Be Good for You

Poor old saturated fat. For now, it’s been spoken of only in hushed tones, dissed as nothing but artery clogging, obesity-causing poison. This “common sense fact” has become so widely accepted that a lot of people who want to improve their diet start by purchasing , ditching their egg yolks, and beginning a life free of , pork, and butter.

It’s time to bring bacon back to breakfast. After all, saturated fat is good for you.

We’ve Made a Huge Mistake

But we all make . This one started in 1970, with the first publication of “ .” The research looked at the incidences of saturated fat intake and heart disease among from (you guessed it) seven different countries, and showed a correlation between the two.

Unfortunately, : It important factors like smoking rates, sugar consumption, and exercise levels, and it from other countries that contradicted the conclusions. The study’s authors actually had access to twenty-two countries’ data, and any of the populations that followed diets with plenty of saturated fat and barely experienced any heart disease. Such communities include the Kenyan , the in Polynesia, and the Arctic .

Governments followed by making the supposed saturated fat-heart disease connection , an ideology which probably culminated with of the 1990s — which recommended of per day, and about as little fat as possible.

The result? In the past 30 years in the United States, the amount of calories from consumed fat has fallen , while obesity has doubled and heart disease has remained the country’s .

But the spread of obesity has no single cause; there are that have led to America’s health crisis. To figure out whether saturated fat should be added back into our diets, let’s take a closer look at its effect on the body.

Why Saturated Fat Doesn't Cause Heart Disease

In a 2010 evaluation of 21 studies and 350,000 subjects, saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease — and numerous other studies have reached similar conclusions . Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010 Mar; 91(3):535-46. . Hoenselaar, R. Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, High School of Arnhem and Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Nutrition. 2012 Feb;28(2):118-23. . Ravnskov U. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 1998 Jun;51(6):443-60. . Felton CV, Crook D, et al. The Lancet, 1994 Oct 29;344(8931):1195-6. . Knopp RH, Retzlaff BM. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004 Nov;80(5):1102-3. . Lawrence GD. Advances in Nutrition, 2013 May 1;4(3):294-302.  Rehman MS, Student RI. Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, 2012 Apr;62(4):411. . Kuipers RS, de Graaf DJ, et al. The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, 2011 Sep;69(9):372-8.. Of course, these studies aren’t without controversy. For instance, Glamourgirlz expert and physician Dr. James Hardeman believes those 21 studies aren’t comprehensive enough; on average, their subjects were studied for around 14 years, which may not be long enough to see the effects of a diet high in saturated fat. However, they raise important questions about saturated fat’s effects on the arteries of the heart and brain.

Everyone Was Wrong: Saturated Fat Can Be Good for You

But what about cholesterol? We actually have in our blood: the HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”). Total cholesterol levels are less important than , but a simpler (if kind of flawed) approach is that we should try to increase HDL and decrease LDL. Saturated fat is generally believed to increase the bad cholesterol.

But that’s only part of the story, because there are also of LDL cholesterol: big, floaty particles (type A) and small, dense ones (type B). When someone reduces their consumption of saturated fat and their LDL cholesterol “drops,” they’re only lowering their type A particles. But that are more closely linked in heart disease, and they’re generally controlled by carbohydrate consumption . Musunuru K. Lipids. 2010 Oct;45(10):907-14.. So the best way to cut out harmful types of cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease could be to follow a diet that’s , rather than fat . Aude YW, Agatston AS, et al. Journal of the American Medical Association - Internal Medicine, 2004 Oct 25;164(19):2141-6. . Ebbeling CB, Swain JF, et al. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2012 Jun 27;307(24):2627-34. . Sondike SB, Copperman N, et al. Journal of Pediatrics, 2003 Mar;142(3):253-8. . Brehm BJ, Seeley RJ, et al. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2003 Apr;88(4):1617-23. . Yancy WS Jr, Olsen MK, et al. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2004 May 18;140(10):769-77. . Volek JS, Phinney SD, et al. Lipids. 2009 Apr;44(4):297-309. . Lim SS, Noakes M, et al. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 2010 Oct;20(8):599-607. . Hernandez TL, Sutherland JP, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010 Mar;91(3):578-85..

Why Saturated Fat Can Be Good For You

Saturated fat has been shown to have on the body, including:

  • Liver Health: Saturated fat encourages the liver cells to dump their fat cells, which helps the liver to function more effectively . Nanji AA, Sadrzadeh SM, et al. Gastroenterology. 1995 Aug;109(2):547-54. . Cha YS, Sachan DS. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1994 Aug;13(4):338-43..
  • Immunity: Saturated fatty acids, especially the kinds found in and , help white blood cells to recognize and and bacteria. Go get ‘em, boys!
  • Hormones: Eating saturated fat tends to , which helps to repair tissue, preserve muscle, and improve sexual function . Dorgan JF, Judd JT, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1996 Dec;64(6):850-5. . Volek JS, Kraemer WJ, et al. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1997 Jan;82(1):49-54..

Now, fat is high in calories, so it can promote weight gain in that respect. Per gram, it has more than of protein or carbohydrates. But provided an eye is kept on , saturated fat in and of itself doesn’t have any negative impact on the body. In fact, increasing fat intake might help with weight loss: found that when three groups of obese people were fed diets of 90 percent fat, 90 percent protein, and 90 percent carbohydrates, respectively, the high-fat group lost the most weight . Kekwick, A, Pawan, GL. The Lancet, 1956 Jul 28;271(6935):155-61.. Plus, it tastes freaking delicious.


This doesn’t mean every source of saturated fat is healthy. Case in point: A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that after analyzing the diets of 1.2 million people, there was no association between eating red meat and heart disease — but there was for those who ate a lot of processed meat . Micha R, Wallace SK, et al. Circulation. 2010 Jun 1;121(21):2271-83. . That is to say, if we’re going to get sick from eating meat or saturated fat, it’ll be by getting it from a crappy source.

Basically, we should on food. The body loves saturated fat, but from sources like and , whole eggs, and coconut fat — not hot dogs and pepperoni pizza (sorry). By a mile, the biggest enemy in our food is likely . Internal Medicine Journal, 2012 Oct;42 Suppl 5:46-58.. Even the American Heart Association, which is still anti-saturated fat, that sugar is a far bigger contributor to heart disease.

But the tide is very slowly starting to turn. and are beginning to speak out on saturated fat’s benefits, and, after government scientists reviewed 16,000 studies on diet and obesity, Sweden recently became the first Western country to to its citizens.

That’s because heart disease and obesity are caused by , trans fats, , and overeating, to name a few — but not saturated fat. Toss the margarine and tuck into some buttered vegetables or a seared steak. We think you deserve it.

A special thanks to Dr. Eugene Babenko and Dr. James Hardeman for their help and input with this article.

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