Saturated fat and cardiovascular disease
Most medical, scientific, heart-health, governmental, and professional authorities agree that saturated fat is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including the World Health Organization, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada, the Association of UK Dietitians, the American Heart Association, the British Heart Foundation, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the World Heart Federation, the British National Health Service, the United States Food and Drug Administration, and the European Food Safety Authority.
There is moderate quality evidence that reducing the proportion of saturated fat in the diet, and replacing it with unsaturated fats or carbohydrates over a period of at least two years, leads to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The hypothesis that saturated fat has a detrimental effect on human health gained prominence in the 1950s as a result of the work of Ancel Keys, a US nutritional scientist. At that time in the USA, the incidence of heart disease was rapidly increasing, for reasons that were not clear. Keys postulated a correlation between circulating cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease, and initiated a study of Minnesota businessmen (the first prospective study of CVD).
Keys presented his diet-lipid-heart disease hypothesis at a 1955 expert meeting of the World Health Organization in Geneva. In response to criticism at the conference, he set out to conduct the years-long Seven Countries Study. Ancel Keys joined the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association (AHA) and successfully promulgated his idea such that in 1961, with the result that the AHA became the first group anywhere in the world to advise cutting back on saturated fat (and dietary cholesterol) to prevent heart disease. This historic recommendation was reported on the cover of Time Magazine in that same year.
A meta-analysis in 2014 concluded that "current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats". This meta-analysis was called "seriously misleading" by Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, who explained that the paper contained major errors and omissions, most notably that the foods used to replace saturated fats were other unhealthy foods like refined sugars and starches.
A 2017 review by the American Heart Association recommended that decreasing saturated fat intake and increasing consumption of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats could lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases by about 30%.
A 2020 review found that reducing saturated fat intake for at least two years reduced cardiovascular risk factors, mainly by replacing saturated fat with sources of polyunsaturated fat or carbohydrates.
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- Hooper, Lee; Martin, Nicole; Jimoh, Oluseyi F.; Kirk, Christian; Foster, Eve; Abdelhamid, Asmaa S. (21 August 2020). "Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 8: CD011737. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011737.pub3. ISSN 1469-493X. PMID 32827219.
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- "Dietary fat and heart disease study is seriously misleading".