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What’s Wrong with Saturated Fat?

by  David Mendosa
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Update, 9-19-11: As I learn more about diabetes and about nutrition my views evolve. Back in early 2007 I wrote this article saying that saturated fat is bad for us. That was then and is still the accepted view of the American medical establishment. But I don't buy that view any more. My article at 

Broken Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Health reflects my current thinking.


Who doesn’t like a juicy hamburger, a tender steak or yummy beef ribs? What about cheese and cream? Unless you are a vegetarian, the chances are that these are some of your life’s joys.

But these foods are high in saturated fat, which is the worst culprit in raising total and LDL cholesterol levels. It’s saturated fat, not cholesterol in our diet, that is the problem with high cholesterol levels. “Dietary cholesterol has relatively little effect on blood cholesterol,” according to a review article  in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging.

“There appears to be a consistent positive association of cholesterol, saturated fat, and possibly trans-fatty acid intake and atherosclerotic disease,” according to a review article  in Cardiology Clinics journal. “Saturated fat reduction is a primary goal for decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” according to a recent review  in Nutrition Reviews. “Epidemiological studies have confirmed a strong association between fat intake, especially saturated and trans fatty acids, plasma cholesterol levels and rate of coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality,” a review of “Dietary fatty acids and coronary heart disease”  concluded.

Saturated fat gives rise to cholesterol. That means the more saturated fat we eat the higher our serum cholesterol levels, especially our low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level. The higher our cholesterol levels the more likely we will have a heart attack or stroke. People with diabetes already have one of the risk factors for heart disease, and we don’t need to collect any more of them.

Fat occurs naturally in most of the foods we eat. This fat varies in its proportion of saturated and unsaturated fat. Foods that contain a high proportion of saturated fat  include meat, butter and other dairy products, especially cream, ice cream, and cheese, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, and palm kernel oil, meat, and many prepared foods.

Dr. Atkins  would rather have you drink cream than milk, because cream has almost no carbohydrates. But cream has more saturated fat  than anything else. Only some cheeses come close.

Ever hear about “pork, the other white meat”? That’s what pork producers call it. It might be lean by some standards, but pork – especially bacon and pork ribs – after cream and cheese are some of the foods highest in saturated fat. Even beef ribs don’t have as much saturated fat as bacon and pork spareribs.

If we all became vegetarians we wouldn’t have any problem with saturated fat that we eat. I’m not yet advocating that we go that far.

But I have eliminated beef, pork, butter, cheese, milk, and cream from my diet. I continue to enjoy yogurt, but only when I can get it plain and non-fat.

Bison, sometimes known as buffalo, is much lower in saturated fat than beef and just as tasty, if you don’t cook it too long. Chicken and fish also provide lots of protein and little saturated fat.

I now completely avoid  both butter and margarine. Instead I use Spectrum Spread, which has no trans fat and only one-half gram of saturated fat per tablespoon.

The hardest thing for me to find was anything that can substitute for cheese. Nutritional yeast, however, reminds me of it.

These dietary changes have brought all my cholesterol levels within the normal range for the first time in my life. It was worth it for me, and feels more like a triumph than a sacrifice. It’s been years since I had a Big Mac attack.