Dietary saturated fat and heart disease: a narrative review

Nutr Rev. 2020 Jun 1;78(6):474-485. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz091.


The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published a meta-analysis that confirmed their 60-year-old recommendation to limit saturated fat (SFA, saturated fatty acid) and replace it with polyunsaturated fat to reduce the risk of heart disease based on the strength of 4 Core Trials. To assess the evidence for this recommendation, meta-analyses on the effect of SFA consumption on heart disease outcomes were reviewed. Nineteen meta-analyses addressing this topic were identified: 9 observational studies and 10 randomized controlled trials. Meta-analyses of observational studies found no association between SFA intake and heart disease, while meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials were inconsistent but tended to show a lack of an association. The inconsistency seems to have been mediated by the differing clinical trials included. For example, the AHA meta-analysis only included 4 trials (the Core Trials), and those trials contained design and methodological flaws and did not meet all the predefined inclusion criteria. The AHA stance regarding the strength of the evidence for the recommendation to limit SFAs for heart disease prevention may be overstated and in need of reevaluation.

Keywords: heart disease; low-density lipoprotein cholesterol; meta-analysis; polyunsaturated fat; saturated fat; trans fat.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Fats*
  • Fatty Acids*
  • Heart Diseases / epidemiology*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Nutrition Policy / history
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids