Amanda is Healthy Food Guide's nutrition editor with a degree in nutrition and a post-grad diploma in dietetics. She is a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and The Guild of Food...

Is saturated fat really all that bad for us? Amanda Ursell looks at the evidence to find out the truth about saturated fat.

At a recent meeting in Europe, scientists reviewed current evidence and found strong proof that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated (such as sunflower spread instead of butter) reduces the risk of heart disease. However, these changes need to be part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle. Reducing your saturated fat intake alone may not be helpful if you’re consuming a lot of refined carbohydrates.

If you switch from whole to skimmed milk on your cereal but then add sugar, you’re still consuming unnecessary calories. And many foods that contain saturates have other nutritional benefits.  Dairy, for example, is very important and meat has a lot of nutrients.

Less bad doesn’t mean good!

Some fatty acids within saturated fat are also known to have less effect on blood cholesterol levels, and therefore heart health, than others. For example, stearic acid, found in dark chocolate, doesn’t affect cholesterol levels, whereas myristic acid, found in coconut oil and butter fat definitely does. Sadly for chocolate lovers, scientists still suggest we try to limit saturated fat. Most foods, including chocolate, contain a mixture of saturated fatty acids.

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There is a lot of interest in saturates and certain groups of people believe they’re unfairly demonised. Yes, there’s potential that not everyone is affected in the same way by them. We all have different genotypes. But the science is not yet advanced enough to confirm this.

For now, there’s no research to suggest there’s anything about saturates that’s actively good for our health. However, we know they raise blood cholesterol, increasing the risk of blocked arteries and heart attacks. For that reason, the advice from the British Heart Foundation, the British Dietetic Association and the Department of Health is that we should limit intake to safeguard our health.