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New research is helping to change perception of saturated fat

Emerging research in the study of saturated fat finds that the source matters. Milk fat from dairy has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease


Rosemont, Ill. – Saturated fat may not be the major issue it used to be, say recent scientific studies.

And that’s good news for the dairy industry, writes Greg Miller in his blog on DairyMinded. Miller is executive vice-president of the U.S.-based National Dairy Council and Dairy Research Institute.

The emerging research he says shows that the source of saturated fat matters. Some studies have shown that milk fat (which contains saturated fat) from dairy foods is associated with reduced risk of heart disease.

Miller says that while the news is exciting, it’s important not to overstate results from the current body of science.

There have been some advances in the field that have led to the changing perceptions of saturated fat, including milk fat.

Those advances, says Miller, were presented by Dr. Ronald Krauss, senior scientist and director of Atherosclerosis Research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

The advances include:

  • Dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol, reiterating what most already know:  eggs can be a nutritious part of a healthy diet.
  • Not all saturated fatty acids are created equal—so food source matters.  Saturated fat from meat was associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease, while dairy saturated fat intake was associated with lower risk, according to a multi-ethnic prospective study published in 2012.  A randomized trial found that cheese (13 per cent of calories) lowers LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol when compared with butter intake of equal fat content and did not increase LDL cholesterol compared with a habitual diet.
  • The effect of reducing saturated fat in the diet depends on what replaces it.  Substituting dietary polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat has been shown to lower cardiovascular disease risk, but replacing saturated fat with carbohydrate has not. Dr.Krauss said there is not enough evidence yet for replacement with monounsaturated fat. (Siri-Tarino, 2010).
  • “Saturated fats are not directly artery clogging,” said Krauss, “but small LDL particles are.” He presented results of his research, published in 2006, showing that a lower carbohydrate diet (26 per cent of calories) resulted in a better, less atherogenic, LDL profile (large LDL particles) – regardless of whether saturated fat intake was higher (15 per cent of calories) or lower (7-9 per cent of calories).  The higher saturated fat intake tended to increase the mass of LDL, but with larger, less atherogenic, particles.  However, Krauss indicated that carbohydrates, particularly sugars, increase smaller, more atherogenic, LDL particles.

Miller adds that Krauss encourages consumers to have a healthy food focus instead of just focusing on grams of saturated fat in the diet, which is a welcome message to those who may be tired of hearing what they shouldn’t eat.

 


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