A study of 72 different dietary studies finds no evidence to suggest that saturated fat is any worse for us than unsaturated fat.
The research was carried out by the University of Cambridge and included funding from the British Heart Foundation. Researchers analysed the studies and compared the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease) for the different types of fat.
Whilst no significant difference between the risks of heart disease was found between saturated fat and unsaturated fat intake, a significantly increased risk was found to be associated with consumption of trans fats.
Within current UK health guidance, saturated fat is presented as a key danger to heart health and we are encouraged to reduce the amount of saturated fat in our diet. People with diabetes have a statistically higher chance of developing heart disease and, as a result, people with diabetes are usually advised to lower their fat intake, particularly of saturated fat.
Saturated fats are available from a variety of sources including certain vegetables, such as avocados, and from meat and dairy. Many bakery products and pies are also high in saturated fat because they tend to contain butter, cream or milk. Unsaturated fats are found abundantly in sources such as nuts, oily fish and vegetable oils.
Trans fats are usually artificially hydrogenated and tend to be used as emulsifiers in certain processed foods including some biscuits and cakes. There is no legal requirement in the UK to list trans fats and so, as consumers, we can’t tell for certain which products include higher levels of trans fats.
The news that saturated fat is no worse than unsaturated fat poses questions about whether the UK’s Department of Health is correct to focus on swapping saturated fat for unsaturated fat. The recent Change 4 Life advertising campaign advised people to swap butter for margarine as part of its healthy swaps message.
The Associate Medical Director of The British Heart Foundatio, Professor Jeremy Pearson states that more evidence is needed before a conclusive judgement can be made on whether unsaturated fats do reduce heart disease risk.
Prof Pearson added the cautionary note that the research should not be misinterpreted as saying you can eat as much fat as you like. It is important we do not take in too many calories, particularly as fat, as a nutrient, is richer in calories than carbohydrate and protein.
In the United States, nutritional guidelines are changing from focusing on whether fat is saturated or unsaturated and instead focusing on the amount of added sugar in foods as well as making total calorie counts clearer.

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