Saturated Fat Is Back!

Americans have long been told to stay away from foods high in saturated fats. But new research suggests they might not be as bad for you as once thought.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

Now to some health news. If you're a fan of bacon, steak, even whipped cream - you've probably heard those foods are high in saturated fat and you should probably limit how much you eat them. That's because a diet high in saturated fat has been thought to put people at higher risk for heart disease. But a new analysis suggests that there's actually no link between saturated fat and heart attacks and other cardiac issues. Those findings were published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine. We wanted to hear more so we've called on Dr. Leslie Walker. She's chief of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital and she counsels her patients on nutrition and weight. Welcome come back, Dr. Walker.

LESLIE WALKER: Hi, thank you for having me.

LUDDEN: So I understand this international research team reviewed 32 studies on saturated fat. Tell us briefly, what did they find?

WALKER: Well, it looks like what they did was they looked at all the studies that have been done thus far, you know, really doing a search of all the different studies, analyzing those studies. And what they did was really, you know, try to look at them together and make some sense out of all that we've see. And what they seem to find was that there was no difference - you know, people didn't have less cardiac risk or more cardiac risk whether they ate saturated fats or unsaturated fats.

LUDDEN: So we can bring on the bacon now? I mean, what do people do with this?

WALKER: I think what it is is, you know, just more information that we have. It's hard to take things in isolation. So I think one of the big messages, again, is, you know, moderation and eating balanced meals. That, you know, saturated fats aren't necessarily automatically an evil thing to eat, but again, still kind of being cognizant of what you're eating, balancing your foods and trying to get as healthy, real food as possible.

LUDDEN: Because some nutritionists point out there are still some bad things with saturated fats, right?

WALKER: Well, yeah. We know that they can increase LDL. And there's some particular - you know, there's all different of kinds of fats, you know, just pages of different kinds of chemicals within that family. And some of them seemed like they were causing more trouble than others. But, you know, more specific research would need to be done to really, again, make sure that that was the case. So yes, you don't want to eat more, you know. Right now, I think the American Heart Association recommends about 5 percent, you know. It's possible that that's going to be revised after this study, but I'm sure it won't say eat everything you want, you know, as much butter as you would like, you know, all the time. There's still going to be some moderation there.

LUDDEN: Well, what - will this research impact what you tell your patients?

WALKER: Well, I've always told my patients really to watch how they're eating. I do think that one thing this study did still show was that trans fats, those partially hydrogenated fats that people manufacture to make it easy with cooking, vegetable oils with hydrogen, those still show that there was some risk. So I do talk to my patients about the kinds of fats, and I think what it will mean is that we'll just have a little bit more discussion about what are saturated fats and what are unsaturated fats.

LUDDEN: And maybe less about specifically looking at one thing to monitor and limit?

WALKER: Absolutely 'cause what we find - and I think people have talked about this as well - is that when somebody cuts something out in the absence of real good information, they may add something that makes it worse. So a lot of times, people will cut saturated fats but they'll add sugars and carbohydrates, which have their own independent risks for cardiovascular disease.

LUDDEN: All right. Dr. Leslie Walker is the chief of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital. She joined us on the line from her home office. Thank you so much.

WALKER: Thank you.

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