Saturated Fat: Part of a Healthy Diet

Curr Nutr Rep. 2018 Sep;7(3):85-96. doi: 10.1007/s13668-018-0238-x.


Purpose of review: Despite the American public following recommendations to decrease absolute dietary fat intake and specifically decrease saturated fat intake, we have seen a dramatic rise over the past 40 years in the rates of non-communicable diseases associated with obesity and overweight, namely cardiovascular disease. The development of the diet-heart hypothesis in the mid twentieth century led to faulty but long-held beliefs that dietary intake of saturated fat led to heart disease. Saturated fat can lead to increased LDL cholesterol levels, and elevated plasma cholesterol levels have been shown to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease; however, the correlative nature of their association does not assign causation.

Recent findings: Advances in understanding the role of various lipoprotein particles and their atherogenic risk have been helpful for understanding how different dietary components may impact CVD risk. Numerous meta-analyses and systematic reviews of both the historical and current literature reveals that the diet-heart hypothesis was not, and still is not, supported by the evidence. There appears to be no consistent benefit to all-cause or CVD mortality from the reduction of dietary saturated fat. Further, saturated fat has been shown in some cases to have an inverse relationship with obesity-related type 2 diabetes. Rather than focus on a single nutrient, the overall diet quality and elimination of processed foods, including simple carbohydrates, would likely do more to improve CVD and overall health. It is in the best interest of the American public to clarify dietary guidelines to recognize that dietary saturated fat is not the villain we once thought it was.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; CVD; Cardiovascular disease; Diet; Diet-heart hypothesis; Dietary fat; Dietary guidelines; Fatty acids; LDL cholesterol; PUFA; SFA; Saturated fat; Triglycerides.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Triglycerides / blood


  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Dietary Fats
  • Triglycerides