If you have been sucked in by the headlines that butter is back – hold your horses. First off, there is no credible evidence that saturated fats have health benefits, and secondly, there is plenty of data to support that saturated fats indeed come with health risks.
This was echoed in two studies. The first found that palmitic acid, the most predominant saturated fat in the US diet (butter has plenty) triggers excess inflammation in the body, setting the stage for metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes.
For this study researchers placed healthy, lean and overweight adults on two separate three-week diets. Diet One was high in the saturated fat palmitic acid (at levels typically found in the US diet), while Diet Two was very low in palmitic acid and high in the monounsaturated fat oleic acid (at levels typical of the Mediterranean diet).
After each diet, the researchers measured several biomarkers, including those indicating inflammation. Relative to the high oleic acid diet, the diet high in the saturated fat palmitic acid triggered an increase in several pro-inflammatory molecules. What’s more, this same group of fat researchers has published previous clinical trials showing that saturated fats boost metabolic dysfunction, diminish how much we move, and even increase anger. (The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.07.014)
In the second study, published in the world’s most prestigious cardiovascular journal, Harvard researchers warned ‘butter is not back’. After following the diets and heart health status of over 84,000 adult men and women for up to 30 years, the researchers noted three key takeaways:
1. People who replace saturated fats, like those found in butter and red meat with unsaturated fats, like those found in seafood, nuts, and olive oil, do lower their cardiovascular risk.
2. People who replace saturated fats with whole grains also lower their heart risk.
3. People who replace saturated fats with refined carbs like white flour, white potatoes, and sugar do not lower their heart risk. (Meaning both saturated fats and refined, high glycemic carbs appear equally unhealthy.)
(Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2015; 66 (14): 1538 DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.055)