It has been known since the 1960’s that saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. But LDL is just one indicator for risk. Also known is that high levels of triglycerides in the blood raise heart disease risk. Saturated fat does raise LDL cholesterol. But compared to carbohydrates, it also raises HDL cholesterol – the “good” cholesterol – and lowers triglycerides. Research found that saturated fat is relatively neutral for heart disease risk compared to refined carbohydrates.
Research also found:
- People who consumed the highest levels of saturated fat had about the same rates of heart disease as people who consumed the least.
- While saturated fats are more harmful compared to polyunsaturated fat from vegetable oil, it is healthier than trans fat. Compated to refined carbohydrates – the kind found in white breads, snack foods, and sweets – many foods with saturated fat appear to be a healthier choice. In the context of the average American diet, which is mostly poor-quality carbohydrates such as starches and sugars, the amount of saturated fat eaten does not significanty increase or decrease health risk.
- In the last few decades, total fat and saturated fat consumption has gone down, but the consumption of refined carbohydrates has soared. When people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates, they are unlikely to improve their health and may worsen it. That is because these kinds of carbohydrates are more likely than saturated fat to raise the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The desire to reduce saturated fat sometimes steers people away from foods that contain some saturated fat but are actually healthy, such as avocados.