Clearing Controversy on Saturated Fat, Cholesterol & Heart Health

Fat Truth

In Part 1: The Skinny on Fats, we discussed the different roles, types and benefits of fat. In this post, we dig into the differing research on controversial saturated fat and its relation (or not) to cholesterol and heart health. 


Much of the controversy over fat is due to two major hypotheses.

The Lipid Hypothesis states that elevated serum cholesterol causes heart disease, and the Diet-Heart Hypothesisborn in the 1950’s by an influential man named Ansel Keys, states that consumption of animal saturated fat elevates serum cholesterol, which causes heart disease.

Hired by the Minnesota Public Health Department post-war to research the increasing rates of heart disease, he manipulated data in his famous “Seven Countries Study, which showed a correlation between saturated fat intake, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

However, the data actually included twenty-two countries, of which there was no true positive correlation, and four of Key’s handpicked seven countries actually had the highest levels of margarine consumption (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2009).


Justifying Keys’ research was the famous Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and involved 6,000 people (Dawber, Gilcin, Meadors & Moore, 1950).

The study showed that half the people with heart disease had low cholesterol, and half the people without heart disease had high cholesterol.

It did show that those who weighed more with abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were at a greater risk for heart disease, but there was a positive relationship between falling cholesterol levels and mortality (Anderson, Casteli & Levi, 1987). The director of the study even admitted:

“In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol” (Fallon & Enig, 2000, p. 5).

Another cited proof is The Pritikin Program, which includes less than 10% fat intake and minimal animal protein.

Based on one-hundred scientific studies published in leading medical journals over thirty years, it also advises a large amount of vegetables, exercise, and mind-body health; all components that have been linked to lower heart disease.

There have been complaints with the program, however, including low energy, difficulty concentrating, depression, weight gain and mineral deficiencies (Gittleman, 1980).

In fact, the flaws in Pritikin’s plan may have been confirmed when he committed suicide after his diagnosis of leukemia (Fallon, 2001).

Contrary to these examples, numerous real world cases and studies disprove the link between saturated fat intake, cholesterol, and heart disease.

The Other Side to Fat’s Story 

Assuming Ancel Keys’ research and the government food recommendations are right, a decrease in butter consumption would equate to a decrease in heart disease, right?

Similarly, an increase in government recommended vegetable oil consumption would equate to a decrease in heart disease.

Let’s see how the facts pan out.

1900: Heart disease rare
Butter Consumption: 18 lbs./person/yr
Vegetable Oil Consumption: 11 lbs./person/yr

2012: Heart disease leading cause of death
Butter Consumption: 4 lbs./person/yr
Vegetable Oil Consumption: 59 lbs./person/yr

And heart disease?


Though death resulting from a heart attack has decreased, thanks to medical advancements, it appears that decreasing butter consumption and increasing vegetable oil consumption has resulted in a resounding FAIL for heart disease prevention.

This makes sense, since we learned of the importance of a low Omega-6: Omega-3 fatty acid ratio in Part 1, and how vegetable oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids can contribute to systemic inflammation.

Taking a look at ancestral cultures, the Masai of Africa consume very little carbohydrates and mostly milk, blood, and beef, all very high in saturated fat (Mann, Shaffer, Anderson, & Sandstead, 1964).


The healthy, robust Masai (look at their perfect teeth)!

Averaging 300 grams of animal fat per day, they are slim, fit, and virtually free of heart disease. Their average blood cholesterol levels at 170mg/dl are well below the government’s desirable range of less than 200 mg/dl.

Other cultures, such as the Tokelau and Pukapuka of the Pacific Islands, consume high amounts of saturated fat with coconut making up 63% and 34% of their diets, respectively. The Tokelauans do have serum cholesterol levels 35 – 40 mg higher than the Pukapukans, yet:

Vascular disease is uncommon in both populations and there is no evidence of the high saturated fat intake having a harmful effect in these populations (Prior, Davidson, Salmond & Czochanska, 1981).”

More recently, a 2010 meta-analysis including 5 – 23 years of follow-up of 347,000 people showed that saturated fat intake was NOT associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (Siri-Tarino, Sun, Hu & Krauss, 2009).

Therefore, the Diet-Heart Hypothesis does not appear to have scientific justification that saturated fat, high cholesterol, and heart disease are connected.

Rather, as Dr. Cate Shanahan proves in Deep Nutritionhydrogenated vegetable oils,excessive Omega-6 fatty acids, and sugar consumption are the real culprits (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2009).

After all, if the body can survive forty days without food because of its ability to utilize fat, why would something so vital to life be denounced?



If this is new information for you, I’d love to hear your reaction and comments! For those that have already come to this conclusion, I’d love for you to share ways that you changed from “fat phobic” to “fat lover!” 


This post was shared on Fat Tuesday, Black Friday, Party Wave Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Sunday School Blog Carnival.


Anderson, K. M., Castelli, W. P., & Levy, D. “Cholesterol and mortality. 30 years of follow-up from the Framingham study.” Journal of American Nutrition Association. 1987 Apr 24;257(16):2176-80.

Dawber, Thomas R., Gilcin, M.D., Meadors, M.D., and Felix E. Moore, Jr. National Heart Institute, National Institutes of Health, Public Health Service, Federal Security Agency, Washington, D. C., Epidemiological Approaches to Heart Disease: The Framingham Study. Presented at a Joint Session of the Epidemiology, Health Officers, Medical Care, and Statistics Sections of the American Public Health Association, at the Seventy-eighth Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Mo., November 3, 1950.

Enig, Mary G. “Fat and Cholesterol in Human Milk.” The Weston A. Price Foundation. 31 December 2001,

Fallon, Sally and Mary G. Enig. Nourishing Traditions. New Trends Publishing, Inc., Washington, D.C.: 2001.

Gittleman, Ann Louise, MS, Beyond Pritikin, 1980, Bantam Books: New York, N.Y.

Mann, G.V., Shaffer, R.D., Anderson, R.S., and Sandstead, H.H. “Cardiovascular Disease in the Masai.” Journal of Atherosclerosis Research. 1964 Jul-Aug:4:289-312.

Prior, I.A., Davidson, F., Salmond, C.E. and Czochanska, Z. “Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau island studies.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1981, August; 34(8): 1552-61.

Shanahan, Catherine and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition. Bantom Books, Hawaii, 2009.

Siri-Tarino, Patty W., Sun, Qi, Hu, Frank B., Krauss, Ronald M. “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 25 Nov. 2009.





Note: Jules’ Fuel uses affiliate links in some blog posts. If you make a purchase using one of these links, which costs the same either way, it’s a very, very small way to help me cover the cost of running this website. So, thanks!

20 responses on “Clearing Controversy on Saturated Fat, Cholesterol & Heart Health

  1. Pingback: Fats: Quantity, Quality, & Ways to Eat More! | Jules' Fuel·

  2. I first came across the shocking news that saturated fat isn’t bad a couple of years ago while reading a pregnancy/fertility book that encouraged women trying to conceive to switch to whole milk. That flew in the face of everything I had ever learned about healthy eating, so I started researching it more. I now embrace whole milk, real butter, full-fat yogurt, and no longer trim the fat off steak. I try to avoid anything that claims to be low fat or fat free, and cringe when so-called “health experts” spew the low-fat mantra! I’m slowly starting to see a backlash against everything low-fat creeping into more mainstream sources, but there’s a long way to go.

    • Hi Betsy! Interesting that you had a change of heart due to a fertility book – that is so telling!! Good for you – sounds like we’re on the same boat. :)

  3. Pingback: A Few of My Favorite Things: April 2013 » Healy Real Food Vegetarian·

  4. Pingback: GMN's April Link Love 2013 | Girl Meets NourishmentGirl Meets Nourishment·

  5. Pingback: 5 Cooking Oils You Think Are Healthy…But Aren't » Healy Real Food Vegetarian·

  6. Pingback: 7 Ways You Might Be Inadvertently Sabotaging Your Weight Loss | Jules' Fuel·

  7. I agree with you that animal fat is much healthier than processed GMO fats, but I am wondering if exercise and lifestyles have been factored in at all.

    • Hi there! My article was focused on fat and cholesterol, but of course, exercise and lifestyle both play a major part as well! Chronic stress, for example, can undue any positive diet changes made. They are all an important part of the picture!

  8. I stopped using chemical butter like spreads and switched to organic butter, is 100% olive oil considered to be a good source of fat?

    • Absolutely! The best quality to choose is extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed/expeller pressed) and organic for the most nutrients. Also, be sure not to cook with it on too high of heat (low to medium) to prevent oxidation.

  9. I’ve read your book. Similar theories have been published. I started using coconut oil over a year ago. I have always taken fish oil. Since your book I have not shirked from butter and animal fat. A while ago my serum cholesterol was 225 with HDL being 62. Previously my HDL had been in the 40s. My doc thinks 225 total is too high. I think 62 HDL is a better marker. It’s 27.6% – which is greater than the 25% recommended I read about.

    • Hi there! I’ve yet to write a book, but it sounds like you’re back on track to health! I agree on RATIO of LDL & HDL is more important. I know that Dr. Cate says that ideally, LDL should be lower than 3 times your HDL, if that helps? :)

  10. I also add that Sugar is the BAD! If you read all the labels you will always find Sugar inside every product…Lots of people who has high bad cholesterol and heart disease either have insulin resistant or diabetes…SUGAR s being proved day after day by scientist being the cause for dementia, metabolism problems, hypothyroid, obesity. The white sugar, the white flour and wheat and the gluten. .the good sugars you can obtain in certain fruits such as apple, avocado. Sugar is an addiction that Humanity has to avoid!

    • Great point, Maria! Sugar and vegetable oils are most definitely the culprits for diabesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. It is disturbing how much the average American consumes each year – compared to back in 1900… the rise in consumption appears to parallel the rise in heart disease, in fact!

  11. Pingback: How to Best Select, Prepare, Store, & Eat Your Greens for Maximum Nutrients | Jules' Fuel·

  12. Having read this I thought it was really informative. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this information together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and commenting.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *