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Ancel Keys and Saturated Fat: Research Revisiting The Role of Lipids In A Modern Healthy Diet

Ancel Keys and Saturated Fat: Research Revisiting The Role of Lipids In A Modern Healthy Diet

Is saturated fat bad after all? Today we look at a recent study addressing the role of saturated fatty acids in human health introduces a fresh perspective on the topic.
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In June 2020, a study out of the University of San Francisco titled 'Saturated Fats and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations' addressed many of the claims surrounding saturated fatty acids and their role in human health.

Prominent voices in the medical community, like Jeff Volek and others, contributed to the PubMed article. 

The findings introduce a fresh perspective on a topic that carries much confusion: the role of saturated fats in the diet. 

Here's a summary of the study's findings:

  1. The study conducted a systematic review of observational studies and randomized controlled trials on saturated fat intake and health outcomes and found no significant association between saturated fat intake and heart disease.
  2. The study found that the current dietary guidelines and recommendations to limit saturated fat intake may have a weak scientific basis and that instead of focusing on macronutrients, the emphasis should be on food-based recommendations and overall healthy dietary patterns.
  3. The study suggested that the current focus on reducing saturated fat intake to prevent heart disease may have led to the replacement of saturated fats with unhealthy processed foods and that instead, the emphasis should be on consuming nutrient-dense, whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts, which have been consistently associated with improved health outcomes.

"Observational studies found no beneficial effects of reducing SFA [saturated fatty acids] on cardiovascular disease (CVD), and total mortality, and instead found protective effects against stroke."

Wow! That is quite a deviation from the medical community's established beliefs. So, what gives?

Most of the tightly held, conventional beliefs around saturated fats harming us stem from Ancel Keys's work in 1958. Keys published his Seven Countries Study in the 50s after then-President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack from what then seemed linked to his dietary choices. Keys' study found a connection between saturated fats and coronary heart disease. 

However, many medical community members have recently questioned the study's findings since it appears many of the countries chosen were cherry-picked to fit the intended narrative.

The cascading effects of the acceptance of the study ultimately led to the development of the first-ever dietary guidelines created by the United States. As many people know, these guidelines recommended a bold shift away from animal foods and a significant increase in the role of grains in pasta.

It is time to rethink the past 50 years of nutrition dogma?

More and more research has come out in recent years that challenge Key's "fat is bad" lipid hypothesis. Not to mention the countless individuals getting great results with meat-only and animal-based eating plans, including consuming plenty of saturated fat.

To learn more about this topic, consider checking out Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Nina Teicholz's The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.

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