A fat diet, rich in saturated fatty acids (SFA) and low in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), is said to be an important cause of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases (CVD). The evidence for this hypothesis was sought by reviewing studies of the direct link between dietary fats and atherosclerotic vascular disease in human beings. The review included ecological, dynamic population, cross-sectional, cohort, and case-control studies, as well as controlled, randomized trials of the effect of fat reduction alone. The positive ecological correlations between national intakes of total fat (TF) and SFA and cardiovascular mortality found in earlier studies were absent or negative in the larger, more recent studies. Secular trends of national fat consumption and mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) in 18-35 countries (four studies) during different time periods diverged from each other as often as they coincided. In cross-sectional studies of CHD and atherosclerosis, one group of studies (Bantu people vs. Caucasians) were supportive; six groups of studies (West Indians vs. Americans, Japanese, and Japanese migrants vs. Americans, Yemenite Jews vs. Yemenite migrants; Seminole and Pima Indians vs. Americans, Seven Countries) gave partly supportive, partly contradictive results; in seven groups of studies (Navajo Indians vs. Americans; pure vegetarians vs. lacto-ovo-vegetarians and non-vegetarians, Masai people vs. Americans, Asiatic Indians vs. non-Indians, north vs. south Indians, Indian migrants vs. British residents, Geographic Study of Atherosclerosis) the findings were contradictory. Among 21 cohort studies of CHD including 28 cohorts, CHD patients had eaten significantly more SFA in three cohorts and significantly less in one cohort than had CHD-free individuals; in 22 cohorts no significant difference was noted. In three cohorts, CHD patients had eaten significantly more PUFA, in 24 cohorts no significant difference was noted. In three of four cohort studies of atherosclerosis, the vascular changes were unassociated with SFA or PUFA; in one study they were inversely related to TF. No significant differences in fat intake were noted in six case-control studies of CVD patients and CVD-free controls; and neither total or CHD mortality were lowered in a meta-analysis of nine controlled, randomized dietary trials with substantial reductions of dietary fats, in six trials combined with addition of PUFA. The harmful effect of dietary SFA and the protective effect of dietary PUFA on atherosclerosis and CVD are questioned.