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Dietary Fats Q&A

Saturated Fats Not So Bad? Not So Fast, Critics of New Analysis Say

What do the researchers say about the findings?

Nutritional guidelines on fats and heart health by such organizations as the American Heart Association may deserve another look, the study authors say.

The focus should move beyond just the fat content of food, Mozaffarian says. "We can't judge the healthfulness of a food [only] by how many grams of saturated fat it has. We really should be moving toward a food-based analysis.

"It's not just the fat grams, and the type of food, but the way the food is processed," he says. For instance, the analysis found that a type of saturated fat linked with milk and dairy products reduced heart disease risk.

Based on the analysis, Mozaffarian and his colleagues say, the current heart health guidelines that promote eating more foods with omega-3s and omega-6s and less of those with saturated fats are not needed.

What do others say?

Other experts find fault with the study and its conclusions.

"Mainly I think the findings should be disregarded," says Walter Willett, MD, chair of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study. While the analysis suggests that ''saturated fat is not quite as bad as its reputation, it depends on what you compare it to," he says.

"If you replace saturated fat with carbohydrates or refined starch or sugar, you are not changing your heart disease risk," he says. ''If you replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat, you do get a reduction in heart disease risk."

One analysis is not enough to change dietary advice, says James Blankenship, MD, director of cardiology at Geisinger Medical Center.

In the analysis, the researchers themselves cite a number of caveats and limitations, such as study participants self-reporting their fat intake.

In response to the study, the American Heart Association says its guidelines remain the same. For heart health, it recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and unsaturated fats.

Less than 6% of the diet should include saturated and trans fats, the association says.

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