HEALTH: Is Consuming Fat Bad for You?

Matthew Yan, PhD Medical Biophysics
Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death globally. It is estimated to account for 17.3 million deaths per year.
A generally accepted notion is that to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease you should consume less food that is rich in saturated fatty acids, such as dairy products, red meat, and grain-based desserts.
Experts from various organizations, including the American Heart Association, European Food Safety Authority, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization, have recommended that you lower your daily intake of saturated fatty acids to10% or less.
Most of us accept this recommendation from the experts without question, but is there in fact evidence to support this recommendation?
The truth may shock you
Currently there is no clear evidence from human population-based studies that reducing your consumption of fatty acid will lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease.  
In fact, that there never has been!  
Even in the 1970s and 80s when the dietary guidelines on reducing total fat and saturated fatty acid intake were first issued in the USA and UK, data from population-based studies did not support this recommendation.
What should you eat?
The current thought on reducing cardiovascular disease risk is that you should:

  • Reduce intake of saturated fatty acid-rich food
  • Favour food rich in unsaturated fatty acids, especially the ω-3 PUFA eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA

EPA and DHA are shown to be beneficial to cardiovascular health. They are enriched in seafood, such as fatty fish.
EPA and DHA are shown to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Prevent abnormal heartbeat and blood clot formation
  • Discourage atherosclerotic plaque formation
  • Combat inflammation

The secret recipe
Unfortunately, we still do not know what is the healthiest overall mixture of different classes of dietary fatty acids. For instance, dairy products, which are rich in saturated fatty acids, are found to have neutral or positive effects on human cardiovascular health according to population-based studies, however, we still do not understand the mechanism behind the effect.
Future research will answer these questions and inform us of how we can better maintain our cardiovascular health through our diet.

About the Author
Matthew Yan, PhD
Matthew Yan, PhD Medical Biophysics
I am an aspiring medical writer, who recently received his PhD from the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto. While my research expertise was in vascular and molecular biology, I have an interest in all facets of research relating to human health and disease. In my spare time, I enjoy going on jogs, practicing martial arts, and singing karaoke! 
If you have a medical question you would like me to explore in a future article please email


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