Trans Fats, Not Saturated Fats Linked to Disease

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Posted: 12/08/2015 Print

Trans Fats, Not Saturated Fats Linked to Disease

Guest article by Sam Hadadi,

Saturated Fats and Trans Fats

For what seemed like decades, anyone looking to slim down or get in shape was told to eat less fat. Put down the cheese, the butter, the cream and the (coconut) oil – fat was the enemy, the bad guy in the fight against obesity.

Of course, recent years have seen a slow shift start to take place, a 360-degree turnaround of sorts. Far from being demonised and ridiculed, fat has become the…well…the fat-buster, with sugar replacing it as Public Enemy Number One.

But with all this forgiveness and change in perception, does that mean we can eat any fats we like? Are they all equal, or should we still give some the boot?

Saturated Fats vs. Trans Fats

Well, this may help: a recent study, led by researchers at McMaster University, has found that trans fats are linked to a huge risk of death and coronary heart disease. Yet, on the flipside, saturated fats are not associated with an increased risk of death, heart disease, stroke, or Type 2 diabetes.

Lead author Russell de Souza said: "For years everyone has been advised to cut out fats. Trans fats have no health benefits and pose a significant risk for heart disease, but the case for saturated fat is less clear.

"That said, we aren't advocating an increase of the allowance for saturated fats in dietary guidelines, as we don't see evidence that higher limits would be specifically beneficial to health."

What’s the Difference Between the Fats?

Poached egg and asparagus

Simply put, saturated fats mainly come from animal products, such as butter, cows' milk, meat, salmon and egg yolks, as well as some plant-based products including chocolate and our very own Lucy Bee. (If you want to read more on saturated fats, click here).

Trans unsaturated fats (or what are commonly known as trans fats), on the other hand, are mainly produced by food manufacturers from plant oils (a process known as hydrogenation) for use in margarine, snack foods and packaged baked goods. Basically, you’ll find them in your processed foods…

What Did the Study Find?

Recent evidence has found that there’s no elevated cardiovascular risk from eating saturated fat. On the other hand, the same research seems to suggest that industrial trans fats may increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

To find out more, de Souza and his colleagues analysed the results of 50 observational studies, which looked at the link between saturated and/or trans fats and health risks in adults.

While the team found no clear association between higher intake of saturated fats and death (for any reason, whether that be through coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), ischemic stroke or type 2 diabetes), consumption of industrial trans fats were associated with a 34 per cent increase in death for any reason, a 28 per cent increased risk of CHD mortality, and a 21 per cent increase in the risk of CHD.

Scary stuff, right?

However, it has to be pointed out that inconsistencies in the studies they looked at meant that researchers could not confirm an association between trans fats and type 2 diabetes. They also found no clear association between trans fats and ischemic stroke.

Can the results be taken seriously? Well, maybe not…the researchers stress that their results are based on observational studies, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

However, the authors write that their analysis "confirms the findings of five previous systematic reviews of saturated and trans fats and CHD."

As De Souza, a registered dietitian, said - dietary guidelines for saturated and trans fatty acids "must carefully consider the effect of replacement foods.

"If we tell people to eat less saturated or trans fats, we need to offer a better choice. Unfortunately, in our review we were not able to find as much evidence as we would have liked for a best replacement choice, but ours and other studies suggest replacing foods high in these fats, such as high-fat or processed meats and donuts, with vegetable oils, nuts, and whole grains."

Are There Benefits to Saturated Fats?

So, it seems likely that trans fats offer us no health benefits – and only damage the body. But what about saturated fats? Can they offer us nutritional benefits?

Put simply, yes!

Bench press

Eating certain saturated fats has also been linked to help with the following:

1)      Increase HDL (the so-called “good) cholesterol

2)      Lower the risk of stroke

3)      Supply us with naturally nourishing ingredients, since many foods rich in them are good for us

4)      Aid weight loss

5)      Boost bone health by aiding calcium absorption

6)      Protect the liver

7)      Improve brain health and nerve functioning

8)      Help to build a strong immune system 

Top Sources of Saturated Fats:

So, if you trust the evidence, then where can you find these saturated fats? Well, they aren’t all created equally – some are most definitely better than others!

Pancakes with Banana Cinnamon and Flaxseed

Here are our top sources of saturated fats to add to your diet:

  • Lucy Bee Coconut Oil (Since it’s mainly made up of lauric acid, which is the best source of a medium-chain fatty acid.)
  • Dairy products such as Greek yoghurt, milk, butter and cheese
  • Lean proteins
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish 

If you eat these foods often, you can enjoy all of nature’s goodness – and the health benefits of saturated fats – in one go.

So, How Much Fat Should I Eat?

It can be confusing about how much fat you should be eating when advice tends to conflict so often. Yet, current guidelines suggest that saturated fats are limited to less than 10 per cent of our daily energy intake. Meanwhile, trans fats should give us less than one per cent of our energy from food. This helps us to not only stay in shape, but to also reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Of course, it always helps to eat a clean, balanced, healthy diet wherever possible – full of nature’s goodness, and without any of the junk. To truly be healthy (and happy), try adding some of the freshest, most natural products to your basket the next time you go shopping.

In the meantime, enjoy your (saturated) fats!

For further reading see Science Daily1

Sam Hadadi


1. Science Daily

About Lucy Bee Limited  Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health. The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.

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About Sam

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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.

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