Saturated Fat Controversy: Importance of Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Sep 9;56(12):1947-51. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2015.1018037.


In adults, worldwide, the number one cause of death is coronary heart disease. Current guidelines generally recommend reduced consumption of saturated fat to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, some evidence suggests that consumption of saturated fat does not increase that risk. Recently, to address the saturated fat controversy, i.e., whether or not saturated fat intake is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses were performed. This paper aims to provide tools for understanding both. It starts with an overview of the basic principles of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Then, it provides examples of current evidence from systematic reviews on the relationship between saturated fat intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Finally, based on an example from one recent systematic review, it explains how to read a meta-analysis. Continuous updating of existing reviews, as well as the development of new systematic reviews, is needed in areas in which the role of saturated fat remains unclear.

Keywords: cholesterol; evidence-based medicine; forest plot; polyunsaturated fatty acids; trans-fats.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Dietary Fats*
  • Fatty Acids* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic*
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Review Literature as Topic*
  • Risk Factors


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids