Is it really true that we can stop feeling guilty about eating bacon, cheese, juicy steaks, and potato chips? New data on saturated fats.

It  is widely accepted that eating food containing large quantities of saturated fat is an important risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease.  Unfortunately, many of us really like eating those types of foods.  So, I want to call your attention to a new scientific study that raises serious questions about the current dogma.  The study was published the other day in the Annals of Internal Medicine but was summarized nicely in the NYT by Anahoud O’Connor (“Study doubts saturated fat’s link to heart disease.  Debate continues on healthful foods,” NYT Tuesday March 18, 2014, page A3).  The study was conducted by researchers at Cambridge University in England who conducted a giant meta-analysis of published data from nearly 80 studies on the relationship between saturated fat intake and the development of cardiovascular disease.

So, what did they find?

The researchers found that in general, there was no statistically significant relationship between estimated intake of saturated fats and the risk for developing cardiovascular disease; intake of trans fats (those saturated fats present in some processed foods) did increase risk.  So what gives?  I am not certain, but I am not surprised by the data.  We already know that heredity, body weight, blood pressure, exercise, and  blood lipid levels are all known to affect one’s risk for the development of cardiovascular disease.  But, many people do not know that  eating high fat and/or high cholesterol foods do not have much effect on blood lipid levels.  Also, many people do not know that simply losing weight (even on a high-fat diet) can have a dramatic beneficial effects on blood lipid levels (and on blood pressure).

So, how should we eat?

I realize that all of this stuff is rather confusing.  Since this report came out, I have had quite a number of people ask me if it is now ok to eat whatever?  I tell them that I haven’t a clue, except that they should “hedge their bets.”  I recommend that they eat what they like, but aggressively tend to the known modifiable risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease such as tobacco use, blood pressure, body weight, blood lipid levels, cardiovascular fitness, etc.  Anyway, writing all this stuff has made me hungry.  For lunch, I think I will have a blt with mayo and some potato chips on the side.

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