For decades we have been told to reduce our overall fat consumption. In particular, saturated fat consumption has been considered a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so we’ve all been warned not to eat saturated fat.
What Happens If You Eat Saturated Fat?
A new study from Norway suggests that fat in general and saturated fat specifically may not be such a dietary disaster after all. In this carefully controlled study, overweight middle-aged men were randomly assigned to follow either a very high-fat low-carb diet or a high-carb low-fat diet for three months.
The investigators were aiming for those on the very high-fat diet to get 73 percent of their energy from fat. The high-carb diet supplied 53 percent of its energy from carbohydrate and 30 percent from fat.
Both diets had the same amount of calories (just under 2,100 per day) and protein (17 percent of energy consumed). They included many of the same minimally-processed foods. The difference between them was in the relative quantities of the foods.
What Did the Study Show?
The men were able to stick fairly closely to the diets. Those encouraged to eat saturated fat got 71 percent of their energy from fat and 11 percent from carbohydrates. The others, following a low-fat diet, got 29 percent of their energy from fat and 53 percent from carbs.
At the end of trial both groups had lost weight and had reduced waist circumference. Imaging demonstrated that they had reduced their burden of visceral fat. The response to the two diets with regard to belly fat and insulin resistance was also similar. So were risk factors such as triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
How Risky Is It to Eat Saturated Fat?
In light of these findings, one of the investigators, cardiologist Ottar Nygård, commented, “The very high intake of total and saturated fat did not increase the calculated risk of cardiovascular diseases.” Levels of bad LDL cholesterol did not rise significantly on the high-fat diet. Total and LDL cholesterol did drop on the low-fat high-carb diet. On the other hand, beneficial HDL cholesterol went up only among the men on the high-fat low-carb regimen.
Another of the scientists, Simon Dankel, noted, “the alleged health risks of eating good-quality fats have been greatly exaggerated. It may be more important for public health to encourage reductions in processed flour-based products, highly processed fats and foods with added sugar.” Perhaps that is what we should learn from this study: Eat real food.
This is not the first time that we have written about research that casts doubt on the sat-fat dogma. You can read our earlier posts here and here. You may also want to listen to our interview with Dr. Mark Hyman on how to eat fat and get thin.