Saturated fat -a never ending story?

Food Nutr Res. 2017 Sep 19;61(1):1377572. doi: 10.1080/16546628.2017.1377572. eCollection 2017.


Science has no clear message regarding health effects of saturated fats, it seems. Different RCTs, prospective cohort studies and meta-analysis have led to contrasting conclusions. The aim of the present commentary is to discuss some possible reasons for an apparently never-ending fat controversy. They are of a purely scientific nature, which is important to recognize, but unfortunately hard to overcome. First is the placebo problem. In pharmaceutical science, evidence-based medicine is often synonymous with data on verified medical events from long-lasting double-blind randomized placebo controlled trials. In nutritional science the lack of double-blind design and lack of placebo food generate less conclusive data than those achieved in pharmaceutical science. Some scientists may apply the same type of scientific criteria used to evaluate the effects of drugs for foods. This leaves an impression of insufficient data since in this respect the fundamental criteria for evidence based medicine are not present. The next scientific problem is the energy balance equation. In contrast to pharmaceuticals, nutrients contain energy. An increased intake of one nutrient will lead to a decreased intake of another. The effect of change in only one nutrient is then difficult to isolate. Lastly, in nutritional science, generalizability is difficult compared to pharmaceutical science. Food culture interferes with lifestyle and food habits change over time. In conclusion, all available knowledge, from molecular experiments to population studies, must be taken in to account, to convert scientific data into dietary recommendations.

Keywords: Saturated fat; cholesterol; coronary heart disease; coronary vascular disease; fatty acids; low density lipoprotein; nutritonal sciences; placebo.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Throne Holst Foundation; Universitetet i Oslo. Kjetil Retterstøl report Research grants from Oslo Economics and Sanofi and lecture honoraria from MSD (Norway), Amgen, Sanofi, Norwegian Medical Association and Mills DA. Karianne Svendsen report Research grant from California Walnut Commission.