Saturated fat’s unquestionable truths

(Versión en español: pinchar aquí)

«Saturated fats unquestionably increase cholesterol, increase insulin resistance and these are undoubtedly important risk factors for heart disease and other diseases» (Jim Mann, Human Nutrition, University of Otago)

No doubts. Unquestionable. That was said in a documentary on the Community Channel (UK TV). It was called «What’s Really In Our Food? Ice-cream«. People from UK can watch the documentary here.

«There is one thing I would never concede, and that is that it’s okay to have as much saturated fat as you’d like». Jim Mann

He will never concede that. He knows «The Truth» and he will never change his mind. Was he that sure about sugar not causing obesity?

Many people believe that sugar and other carbohydrates contribute to overeating and obesity. Despite this popular belief, there is little direct evidence that obese individuals eat excessive quantities of sweet foods.» Sugar and our diet (2004), report reviewed by Jim Mann et al., advisors to the Sugar Research Advisory Service

Seven years later…

“There’s enough evidence to suggest recommending a reduction in sugar intake, which is what is going up and is probably a key individual driver of obesity,” . Jim Mann (2011)

When Aseem Malhotra questioned the role of saturated fats on cardiovascular disease (see or see), Jim Mann said he «could undermine the public confidence in leading a healthy lifestyle» and that those concerns are «largely based on his failing to understand the existing literature» (see). Points of view different than Jim Mann’s are dangerous because they undermine the confidence in The Unquestionable Truth about what a healthy lifestyle is. People that question his beliefs do so just because they don’t understand the scientific literature.

But the link of saturated fat to cardiovascular disease is far from an unquestionable truth, according to the analysis of 72 studies that looked at that hypothetical link (see or see). Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Medical Research Council, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, Erasmus University Medical Centre and Harvard School of Public Health must be failing to understand the existing literature.

If you have a look at the plot of coronary heart disease (CHD) deaths in men versus saturated fat intake in the european countries, what do you see?


We have been given the wrong advice for decades.

Further reading:

  1. Yvonne

    it has been proved that a high carb diet is unhealthy. If we decrease carbs, the missing carbs are replaced by saturated or unsaturated fat, but in any case decreasing carbs is healthy, even therapeutic.
    The graph shows that if saturated fat intake is increased, mortality goes down. May this be due to the first factor (decreasing carbs)? If fat intake is increased, carbs intake is lowered. What do you think?

    • novuelvoaengordar

      Hi Yvonne,
      may be a high-carb diet without grains/wheat nor processed foods can be healthy (unless you already have metabolic syndrome?). I have my doubts about that.
      I wouldn’t try to draw too much conclusions from the graph. If saturated fats were as bad as some people say the graph should be quite different. Not showing a positive correlation creates serious doubts about the role of saturated fat in CHD deaths. But the negative correlation is just maths: may be increasing the saturated fat intake decreases CHD deaths, or may be not. As you point out the reason could be a confounding factor, like a logical decrease in the intake of carbs from processed foods. I believe the graph does say saturated fat is probably not the demon they claim it to be, but I wouldn’t deduce it is a saint.
      My take on it: «don’t be afraid of saturated fat, but don’t think either that you should base your diet on it»

  2. George Henderson

    Jim is a smart guy, but at the moment he’s reduced to a gnostic position on SFA. Meaning, he claims to know something that the evidence itself doesn’t show. The evidence that LDL changes in response to fats are meaningful contributors to cardiovascular risk is what’s lacking. Also, many on LCHF diets see drops in elevated LDL regardless of the SFA in the diet. As Bill Stehbens pointed out long ago the pathology of CHD does not support the idea that dietary fats are strong causal factors.
    Jim Mann did a study in the UK that was published in 1997 comparing self-selected vegetarians with their less health conscious friends and family. The vegetarians ate less SFA, animal fat and cholesterol and had significantly lower rates of CHD mortality. But they didn’t live longer than their unhealthy peers – they had higher rates of non-CHD mortality despite being more health-conscious.
    This is what Jim Mann probably bases his anti-SFA stance on. However, at best avoiding SFA switched one cause of death for others – and it is easy to think of differences between vegetarian volunteers and their peers not covered by the study. Smaller families, less industrial jobs, organic food, fewer drugs, different emotional habits and religious practices, better education, and so on.
    I have never understood why this study is always included in meta-analysis given its volunteer basis.

    • novuelvoaengordar

      No, he is not smart. Not at all:
      1) His advice is making people obese and ill. That’s not smart.
      2) He is arrogant. You can read his answer to Malhotra or calling Schofield’s arguments «garbage» here. Smart people don’t need to be arrogant. I can’t consider smart an arrogant person.
      3) He claims there is no scientific evidence supporting low-carb diets. Can he read english? (see)
      4) He claims there is no long-term evidence about low-carb diets, but, where is the long-term evidence that says low-fat diets are safe? How can’t he see that, if he is that smart? He has been promoting a diet with no evidence about long-term safety, and the results are epidemics of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. That is not smart.

      I feel no sympathy at all for this kind of «experts» because they cause real harm to real people. The problem is not just that they are wrong: they have damaged our health. And they still are.

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