Saturated Fat: Not So Evil After All

It’s time to move past our fear of fat.  Sure, the number of health-conscious individuals acknowledging the need for fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados continues to grow.  But I want to go a step further and embrace saturated fat.

Despite what you might have heard, studies indicate that saturated fat is not the cause of heart disease.  I believe that it could actually improve health and q­­­uality of life.

Indulging in things like butter and steak without guilt is one of the joys in my life.  I want you to experience this same joy, which is why I’m trying to spread the word that saturated fat is not bad!!!

If it really is good for us, how did it get such a bad name? I won’t give a full history lesson, but I do want to take a look at how Ancel Keys and Nathan Pritikin both impacted our society’s current view on fat.  I know they aren’t the only two who led us here, but the roles they played were too important to overlook.

Ancel Keys

Ancel Keys often gets blamed for giving fat a bad reputation. The story goes that Keys included twenty-two countries in his study on the effects of fat on heart health, but only presented the results of seven countries.  Excluding the majority of the data supported his theory that fat causes heart disease.  Supposedly, if Keys had shown the results of all twenty-two countries, his study would have brought a different conclusion.

In my research on Keys, I have realized that the biggest flaw in his study isn’t his selective data.  There are at least three other issues that need to be considered.

  • The countries with fewer deaths caused by heart disease were probably not as skilled in accurate classification, meaning there were more of these types of deaths than reported.
  • Fat consumption is an indication of a country’s prosperity. The more advanced countries with higher levels of fat intake were also more skilled in correctly determining the causes of deaths within the nation.  That could be why these countries appeared to have more heart disease than other countries.
  • The numbers in the study do not tell us how much fat was actually eaten in each country. Rather, those numbers reveal the amount of fat that was available to that country.  In a prosperous nation, such as the United States, we can assume that a certain amount of food never gets eaten.
So in reality, Keys’ study doesn’t promote or demonize fat.  It tells us nothing about the cause of heart disease.  His study doesn’t provide answers.

For those with patience and a hunger to learn more, take a look at Denise Minger’s blog post about Keys.  She goes into a lot more detail than I do and it is a fascinating read.

Nathan Pritikin

Nathan Pritikin supposedly cured his heart disease by cutting fat from his diet; yet he ultimately succumbed to Leukemia and committed suicide.

Not everything Pritikin taught was wrong.   It was great that he led others to swap out sugar, white flour and processed foods for lots of veggies, fruits, and whole grains.  Naturally the switch to real food would have favorable results, but it doesn’t prove that eating fat is bad for heart health. There are too many other aspects of Pitkin’s regime to confidently draw that conclusion.

Recent Studies on Saturated Fat

Here is one study indicating that there is no link between eating fat and developing heart disease:


Dr John Briffa is one of the few who supports saturated fat.  He explains why it might not lose its bad name very soon, though the reason people will continue to avoid it is based on false information (Hint: it has to do with cholesterol):

The Other Side

And just to be fair, I’ll throw in an article that argues against saturated fat.

The above article claims that saturated fat raises cholesterol and should therefore be avoided.  Whether that is or isn’t the case doesn’t matter, because cholesterol does not cause heart disease!!

The article also points out that saturated fat is often found in processed foods.  Okay, true.  But that doesn’t mean the saturated fat from butter, dairy and meat is dangerous.  Processed food was never meant to enter our bodies, so of course it could cause problems.  So if we look at people consuming saturated fat from processed foods, we are not really seeing how eating animals and butter affect our health.

I do agree with this thought from the article:

“Just focusing on one nutrient at a time is America’s way of oversimplifying and trying to game the system… Nutrients allow the packaged processed food folks to say, ‘Ah! Let’s take our chip, let’s take our cookie, let’s take our breakfast cereal and remove that one nutrient that folks are interested in. Now we have a health food!” 


Instead of getting by on packaged processed food, we need to eat whole real food with all its nutrients, including saturated fat.  Need further convincing?  Read my next post about the benefits of fat.

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