If only relatively recently trans fats were discovered to be much worse for you then saturated fats, does that have implications on past research on saturated fats? Is that research now outdated? Can research that didn't control for trans fats still be said to be valid? I'm imagining in my mind these studies from way back when that compared two diets, diet A rich in saturated fats, and diet B lacking saturated fats. Because trans fats weren't controlled in the study, diet A would have varying levels of trans fats. The study concludes that diet B is healthier. But maybe its only healthier because of the trans fats in diet A?

Has more up to date research been done to determine whether diets rich in saturated fats but without trans fats are still to be avoided?

  • 2
    I almost feel like this belongs on Skeptics.SE
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


Trans fat only occurs naturally in a few food sources, and at very low levels (Health Canada). If a food is high in trans fat, the trans fat there on purpose (e.g. processed foods use trans fats to improve texture, increase shelf life, etc.).

If a scientist's focus is saturated and unsaturated fat, and if food intake could be carefully controlled (such as in animal studies), they probably wouldn't include foods high in trans fat at all. For example, this study from 1990 compares soybean oil-based and lard-based rat food, neither of which contain trans fat. Even before we knew the health effects of trans fat, including it in one group but not another would be an obvious confounding factor. I would say any older animal or in vitro studies haven't lost any validity.

Studies on humans have to be epidemiological for ethical reasons, so it's harder to control for trans fat (and a whole lot of other things), especially since many processed foods are high in both saturated and trans fat. Evidence from epidemiological studies is usually combined with animal and in vitro to support for conclusions about causation, so these findings are a little sketchy to start out with. This study re-evaluated a bunch of older epidemiological studies to better control for various confounding factors. It found no link between reducing saturated fat intake and reduced risk for heart disease and stroke in humans. So maybe saturated fats aren't damaging our bodies as actively as we once thought.

From a practical standpoint though, even though saturated fats may not hurt your health, they are not thought to actively help it, whereas polyunsaturated fats are thought to decrease risk of heart disease and stroke (based on in vitro, animal, and epidemiological studies). If you increase your intake of polyunsaturated fats without decreasing your intake of saturated fats, you'll increase your total caloric intake, which would increase your risk of obesity and other associated health risks. So, even if saturated fat is benign, I would still argue that it makes sense to cut back on it to make more room in your diet for polyunsaturates.

  • The last paragraph needs some evidence. "Don't do you any favors" is pretty vague. I'd have to disagree especially that PUFAs have been shown to decrease risk of heart disease and stroke, because there are no controlled trials. More accurate to say that was a commonly accepted interpretation of observational studies.
    – J. Win.
    Commented Apr 2, 2011 at 1:28
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    You're right, my last paragraph was a little vague. I've edited it to better reflect the nature of the findings.
    – Barbie
    Commented Apr 2, 2011 at 5:09

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