I’ve long recommended limiting your saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of your total daily calories. Some people disagree with this, though. In fact, a popular position these days is that saturated fat is a “superfood” and you can eat as much as you want if it’s from certain unprocessed foods. Is that true? What does science say? Does saturated fat cause cardiovascular disease? Is saturated fat from unprocessed food like meat and dairy “good” or “bad”? Find out in this podcast.
I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based content over the years on just about everything you can imagine related to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy.
I’ve also worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their lives.
That doesn’t mean you should blindly swallow everything I say, though, because let’s face it—nobody is always right about everything. And especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are constantly evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders.
This is why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.
Sometimes I can’t get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate the discussion.
That gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes: publicly addressing things people disagree with me on and sharing my perspective.
Think of it like a spicier version of a Q&A.
So, here’s what I’m doing:
Every couple of weeks, I’m asking my Instagram followers what they disagree with me on, and then picking the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.
And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .
- Saturated fat in unprocessed foods like beef and dairy is healthy.
0:00 – Find the Perfect Strength Training Program for You: www.muscleforlife.show/trainingquiz
4:31 – What are saturated fats?
5:42 – Are saturated fats a cause of cardiovascular disease?
21:14 – Is it dangerous to consume saturated fats?
22:24 – What are your thoughts on LDLC and cardiovascular disease?
Mentioned on the Show:
Find the Perfect Strength Training Program for You in Just 60 Seconds: http://www.muscleforlife.show/trainingquiz
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello. Hello there. This is Muscle for Life. I am Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another installment of my Saysyou series of episodes where I address things that people disagree with me on. So what I do is every couple of months I post on my Instagram asking for people to tell me about things they disagree with me on.
It could be something related to diet, exercise, supplementation, general health, lifestyle, whatever. And I collect up everything that is interesting to me or that I haven’t already addressed in depth, at least not recently. And then bring them over here to the podcast and turn them into, Episodes. And so if you want to toss a suggestion into the hat, you can follow me over on Instagram at Muscle Life Fitness and look for that post.
It’s once every couple of months cuz usually I get a fair amount of material, although the last one didn’t get nearly as many comments as. The one previously prior to that. But usually I get enough material in one post for a couple of months. Cause I only do these, I think I do one every month right now.
Maybe one every couple of weeks. I don’t remember the exact schedule. But anyway, you can follow me on Instagram and look for that post. Or you can just email me if you wanna reach out to me directly, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com. And you might have to wait. Two weeks or so to hear back from me because I get a lot of email, but you will hear back from me and if whatever you disagree with me on is something I think that is worth addressing here on the podcast, then I will do it.
Alright, so in today’s episode, I’m going to be talking about saturated fat and the claim here that Peak Performance PT Nutrition made, that’s his or her. Instagram handle. What they said is that saturated fat in unprocessed foods like beef and dairy is healthy. And the reason that they said that is I have been saying for a long time now, I’ve maintained the position that saturated fat is not unhealthy, but too much saturated fat is unhealthy.
And my recommendation for many years now in. Current recommendation is to limit saturated fat to no more than 10% of daily calories and peak performance. PT nutrition disagrees with me on that point. The implication here is that so long as the saturated fat is in unprocessed foods, you can eat. At least more than 10% of your total daily calories.
I’m not sure that they would say, you can eat as much as you want. Although many people are saying that these days, that is a popular position right now is saturated fat is a super food and you can eat as much. As you want of it, if you also follow other certain dietary constraints. So this is obviously big in the carnivore crowd and I don’t recommend the carnivore diet.
If you wanna learn what I have to say about the carnivore diet, head over legion athletics.com, search for carnivore, and you will find an article on the topic that I published. Ooh, it’s been over a year ago, but I did go through it recently and I still stand by everything in that article. So that’s my current position on the Carnivore diet.
I believe you can also find a podcast that I recorded based on that article if you’d rather listen to me talk about it. So that’s what today’s episode is going to be about saturated fat. Before we get into it, have you ever wondered what strength training split you should? What rep ranges you should work in, how many sets you should do per workout or per week.
Well, I created a free 62nd training quiz that will answer those questions for you and others, including how frequently you should train each major muscle group, which exercises you should do, what supplements you should consider, uh, which ones are at least worth taking. And more to take this quiz and to get your free personalized training plan, go to Muscle For life.show Muscle O r Life show slash training quiz, answer the questions, and learn exactly what to do in the gym to gain more muscle and strength.
Okay, so let’s start this discussion with a, a quick description of what saturated fat is, just so we have a, a mutual understanding of terms here. So there are three primary types of dietary fat. You have saturated fat, you have unsaturated fat, and you have. Trans fat and each of those forms are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
And in the case of saturated fat, it’s called saturated fat because it is saturated by hydrogen, meaning it contains as much hydrogen as it can while still. Preserving its molecular state. It has reached its maximum capacity for hydrogen, I guess you could say, and it does not contain any double bonds between carbon molecules.
And a double bond is where two atoms share two pairs of electrons. So just some technical terms, but that is technically why saturated. Is called saturated fat and what qualifies it as saturated fat, unsaturated fats, for example, they have at least one double bond between carbon molecules. So there are just some technical differences between these different types of fats, even though they do all contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
Now each of these types of fats are also found in many different types of foods, but are particularly concentrated in dairy, red meat, and tropical oils like coconut oil or palm oil. And for decades now, the US dietary guidelines for Americans have recommended limiting saturated fats to 10% of Davy calories.
And that is, That is currently exceeded by more than 70% of Americans, and the purpose of that limit was to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and that is the number one killer in the world and something that we want. To take all reasonable measures to avoid. Now, many people disagree with that recommendation and they say that saturated fat has been wrongly vilified.
Many people, as I mentioned just a few minutes ago, they even say that it’s a super food and you should be eating a lot of it, or even as much as you can, so long as it comes from certain sources and you are not eating these other foods and so on and so forth. And to better understand the controversy.
Let’s go back to the 1950s. That’s when the hypothesis that saturated fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease first emerged, and scientists at that time, they observed that saturated fats tended to raise blood cholesterol levels, and they believed that that increased the risk of dying from heart disease.
And that gave rise to the diet heart hypothesis. And that is the concept that diet cholesterol and cardiovascular. Zs are causally related. It’s not just a correlation. It’s not that people who tend to eat larger amounts of saturated fat also tend to do other things maybe that are bad for their heart and that the relationship observed was not because of the saturated fat, but it was because of these other things.
So the hypothesis. Causal. If you eat too much saturated fat, your risk of heart disease goes up. And eventually leading groups like the American Heart Association adopted that hypothesis as the best explanation that they had for the evidence and for the observations and for. Data. And at the time, the evidence supporting that idea came primarily from one observational studies.
This is how it started, and it was called the Seven Countries Study. And that compared the level of saturated fat intake with heart disease risk in seven different countries. And despite the fact that the Seven Countries’ study was an observational study, which cannot be used to establish. Causation only correlation.
This study was enormously influential in the field of nutrition and its influence persisted for a long time, for decades, even after scientists identified its numerous methodological shortcomings, including the non-random selection of countries for the study, the inclusion of only men, the collection of dietary data from less than 5% of all of the participants involved.
500 individuals or fewer than 100 participants per country, the use of non-standardized and non-validated methods for collecting dietary data. The fact that researchers did not use contemporary statistical methods to minimize errors, and it involved inconsistent follow up. Methods. So a lot of flaws with that study, it should not have gone as far as it did.
And when you look at studies that have been conducted on the matter, after it was published, many of them have failed to confirm its conclusions. For example, in 2021, scientists at the University of Freiberg analyzed 59 systematic reviews of RCTs and cohort studies investigating the effects of dietary fat intake on health, and they found that a higher saturated.
Was not associated with an increased risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, or several cancers. Now, if I were to stop here, it may sound like I am agreeing with the carnivore crowd and at least suggesting, implying that you. Shouldn’t worry about your saturated fat intake.
Eat as much as you want. There really shouldn’t be a limit to it. Maybe not eat as much as you possibly can because then your diet gets wacky, but that is not my position. As I mentioned earlier, I still do think that it is a good rule of thumb to limit saturated. Intake to no more than 10% of daily calories on average.
Of course, sometimes you might have quite a bit more if you are at a barbecue, for example, and you know, some days you might have quite a bit less because you are not eating any butter or red meat on those days, and so why? Well, let’s continue and find out why I still maintain that position. So in a 2021 study conducted by scientists at the University of Oxford, researchers analyze data on 114,285 UK Biobank participants.
And this is a, a large scale biomedical database of British. People and the scientists were looking at this data to try to help puzzle out the associations between saturated fat from different dietary sources and the risks of total cardiovascular disease, ischemic heart disease, which means not enough blood and thus oxygen to the heart and stroke.
And what the researchers found is that there was no association. Total saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease. However, saturated fat from meat in particular was positively associated with cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease risk. I’m just gonna use the acronyms C B D and i h D going forward just to.
Keep it simple. So what the researchers found is that for every 5% increase in energy intake from meat c b D risk increased by 19%. And I h D risk increased by 21%. And those are relative increases, not absolute. And when the researchers adjusted for B, these associations were weaker because heavier. Is unhealthier after a certain point, and BMI is a good population level metric to understand how lean or fat people are.
And so what happened when the researchers adjusted for BMI is the associations became weaker. So 11% and 12% respectively, C, B, D, and I H D, and were not statistically significant, so we’re not clear signals like they were when the BMI. Factor was included. Now interestingly, the saturated fat from dairy appeared to decrease I H D risk by 11%, and then when that was adjusted for B M I, that dropped to 9% and became statistically insignificant as well.
And the results of this study also showed that replacing 5% of calories from saturated fat in meat with whole grains or fruit and vegetables was associated with a 14% reduction in stroke risk. And so to summarize what that study is suggesting, it is suggesting that the saturated fat in meat in particular, appears to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and particularly in people who are overweight.
And so people who are overweight would be well-advised to lose the weight. That’d be the the best advice, but in the meantime, to eat less rather than more saturated fat. Meat, and so if somebody is, let’s say they’re currently getting 20, 25% of their daily calories on average from saturated fat because they eat a lot of red meat and they eat a lot of butter, that’s where a lot of it comes from with many people who don’t eat great diets.
Then if they were to replace, let’s say, half of those calories, so instead of 20, 25%, if they were to bring that down to, let’s say 10 or 15% per day on average, With those other calories that they’ve now reduced, give them over to whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Their risk of cardiovascular disease would go down significantly.
Now, in people who are not overweight, again, less clear. There’s the possibility. There does appear to be some signal there, but there’s also more noise. Again, the signal was stronger with people who are overweight. Now, that is not the only study that has shown these relationships. Another 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, investigated the link between different types of fat from various sources and the risk of developing heart disease.
And this also was an observational study and it. To 16,073 people from nine different European countries. And what the results showed is that saturated fat intake was not associated with a higher risk of heart disease, but various foods containing saturated fat did appear to have different. Effects on heart disease risk.
So for example, each 1% increase in total daily energy intakes. So total daily calories, each 1% increase from yogurt, cheese, and fish was associated with a lower risk of heart disease. So 7%, 2%, and 13% respectively. So out of those three foods, yogurt and fish appeared to. Reduce the risk of heart disease.
In contrast, however, each 1% increase in daily calories from red meat and butter appeared to increase the risk of heart disease by 7% and 2% respectively. And so what these studies are suggesting is that it is not necessarily saturated fat that is the issue, but it is the overall composition of the food that you’re eating.
So where is that saturated fat coming from? And that I think, According to my current understanding of the literature is the most important point. Many people want to reduce this argument too. Saturated fat is good, or saturated fat is bad, or even saturated fat from meat and dairy, it’s all good or it’s all bad.
I think that is oversimplifying the matter though. It’s more complex than that, and if you look into the research, you will see. You can see studies going back and forth. The evidence is inconsistent. One study saturated fat from meat is good. Another saturated fat from meat is bad. Some studies saturated fat from dairy is great for you.
Other studies, it’s terrible for you. And that’s because the results depend on how the people in the studies are eating as a whole. As a whole matters. Just because one study finds that saturated fat from meat and dairy is beneficial, does not mean that eating a lot of it is always beneficial is the best option.
For example, if you took someone with a standard Western diet and you replaced all the saturated fat laden stuff they eat, it’s gonna be a lot of highly processed stuff. Unprocessed meat and dairy. Yeah, you would probably find that their health would improve. However, if you were then to replace all of the saturated fat from the meat and dairy with monounsaturated fat and PDI unsaturated fat from, let’s say fish and nuts and avocado, like they now have to eat a Mediterranean style diet, what you would see is their health would improve even.
So in other words, if someone’s diet sucks, then sure substituting unhealthy sources of saturated fat for healthier sources is a good idea. But if your diet doesn’t suck, and if you are a regular in these parts, your diet probably does not suck. You probably eat quite well. You eat a healthy diet by anybody’s standards, if that’s you, then adding more saturated fat from meat and dairy is not necessarily better.
Now, a good example of this is a meta-analysis that was conducted by scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and in this study, the researchers, the effect of replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat. My favorite source of that is olive oil, and I like nuts too, but many people get a lot of their poly.
Saturated fat from olive oil. Good source of that, right? So the researchers, what they were looking at is placing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat in diets with high total fat. So 30 to 45% of daily calories from fat, as well as high saturated fat, about 20% of daily calories from saturated fat. And what the researchers found is that people’s cardiovascular disease risk fell by about 10% every time they replaced 5% of their calories or switched from saturated.
Two polyunsaturated fat. So in other words, what the researchers found is if somebody were eating, let’s say 2000 calories per day and they were getting 400 of those calories per day from saturated fat, if they reduced those 400 calories by just 5%, 20 calories, that would reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by.
Percent. Now that’s a, a relative reduction, not absolute reduction, of course, and that that would continue with subsequent reductions to a point. Of course, you do need to eat some saturated fat every day. Your body does need saturated fat. To thrive. So you wouldn’t want to reduce your saturated fat intake or try to even reduce it down to, let’s say, zero to 1% of daily calories, thinking that that’s going to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by some huge number by this 10% jump every 5%.
But this effect is clearly seen when people go from. A high level of saturated fat intake to a lower, more reasonable level of saturated fat intake. Now, there is another factor that complicates the matter, and that is genetics, because research shows that our genes influence how susceptible we are to cardiovascular disease, and what it looks like is some people can eat a lot of saturated fat.
It doesn’t really matter where it comes from and not. Any meaningful increase in their risk of cardiovascular disease and other people can see a huge increase in the risk of their cardiovascular disease. And the same thing goes for the relationship between saturated fat and L D L C levels. In some people, a Dietrich and saturated fat can result in very high levels of L D L C and in other people it can result in much.
Levels. For example, in one study, researchers found that people who had a particular variant of the A P O A five gene had higher LDL C levels after consuming a diet high and saturated fat compared to people with a different variant of the gene. And so anyway, all of this is why I currently believe that eating saturated fat is probably not as dangerous as some people would have.
You believe. It is not something to be concerned about or to avoid at all costs, but I would recommend getting most of your saturated fat from minimally processed sources. Red meat is fine, but I would also. Recommend that you include some dairy in your diet and some fish and some nuts and avocado and so forth to not get all of your saturated fat from just meat and butter, for example.
And if you want to eat a high fat diet, I would recommend, again, limiting your saturated fat intake to, let’s say something around 10% of daily calories, and focusing in particular on monounsaturated. Eating a lot of that because research shows that that is a healthier form of fat, so to speak, that there are going to be more health benefits, well established health benefits to eating a lot of monounsaturated fat.
Than eating a lot of saturated fat, even if most of it does not come from red meat or butter. Now, if you are wondering about my take on L D L C in cardiovascular disease in particular, because that is always a part of this saturated fat and cardiovascular disease discussion, and I mentioned L D L C just a few minutes ago, I’ll do an episode.
That needs its own episode. But in short, yes, I do believe that the evidence clearly supports the relationship between L D L C levels and cardiovascular disease. And I do recommend following your doctor’s advice on maintaining healthy what are just considered, you know, traditionally healthy levels of L D L C.
And I will explain in detail why, and I’ll go into what I think is some very. Strong convincing evidence in that. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.