But where does saturated fat fall on the risk list?
You’ve heard repeatedly that saturated fats are a huge no-no when it comes to your diets. In fact, they’ve been found linked to numerous health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cognitive decline.
But how much saturated fat is too much? Here’s a surprise: According to a new study from The Ohio State University, doubling or tripling your intake of saturated fat does not drive up the saturated fat levels in the blood. The study’s findings also revealed another surprise: High levels of carbohydrates in the diet promote a steady increase in the blood of a fatty acid linked to an elevated risk for diabetes and heart disease.
The finding “challenges the conventional wisdom that has demonized saturated fat and extends our knowledge of why dietary saturated fat doesn’t correlate with disease,” Jeff Volek, a professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, said in a statement.
In the small controlled study, 16 adults with metabolic syndrome were brought to a baseline through a reduced-carb diet for three weeks. Then participants were fed the same diets—2,500 calories with about 130 grams of protein—for 18 weeks. The diets changed every three weeks, starting with 47 grams of carbs and 84 grams of saturated fats each day, and ending with 346 grams of carbs and 32 grams of saturated fat per day.
Levels of total saturated fat in the blood did not increase over the 18-week period. In fact, it went down in most people, despite the fact that the carbs in the diet were increased as the total fat and saturated fat were decreased.
“It’s unusual for a marker to track so closely with carbohydrate intake, making this a unique and clinically significant finding,” Volek said. “As you increase carbs, this marker predictably goes up.”
According to Volek and his team, we misunderstand saturated fat. “In population studies, there’s clearly no association of dietary saturated fat and heart disease, yet dietary guidelines continue to advocate restriction of saturated fat. That’s not scientific and not smart,” he said. “But studies measuring saturated fat in the blood and risk for heart disease show there is an association. Having a lot of saturated fat in your body is not a good thing. The question is, what causes people to store more saturated fat in their blood, membranes or tissues?
“People believe ‘you are what you eat,’ but in reality, you are what you save from what you eat. The primary regulator of what you save in terms of fat is the carbohydrate in your diet. Since more than half of Americans show some signs of carb intolerance, it makes more sense to focus on carb restriction than fat restriction.”