Ask the experts: Saturated fat and heart disease

Q: "I've heard people say there's no evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. Is this true?"

A: No. The fact is there is a lot of convincing evidence to say that higher levels of saturated fat are associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease. Professor Rod Jackson, head of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at the University of Auckland, has studied cardiovascular disease in populations over the last 25 years. He tells us the evidence is clear: high blood cholesterol from saturated fat in the diet is the key factor explaining most coronary heart disease and strokes. And while smoking and high blood pressure increase the risk in populations with poor cholesterol levels, they don't appear to be important causes in populations with optimum cholesterol levels, like Japan.

Professor Murray Skeaff, head of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago, says evidence from more than 50 years of scientific research convincingly shows that saturated fat increases total and (the bad) LDL cholesterol while polyunsaturated fats decrease total and LDL cholesterol. He also points out the research shows total fat intake has very little effect on blood cholesterol; it is the type of fat, rather than the amount of fat, that is important for heart health.

First published: Nov 2009

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