The USDA recommends avoiding saturated fats because they say there is evidence that eating less saturated fats “is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease,” especially higher blood cholesterol levels. The truth about saturated fat consumption is that it’s never been shown to cause cardiovascular disease (CVD). What we have seen is that there seems to be a correlation between a diet higher in saturated fat and incidence of CVD. But this correlation appears in observational studies, not randomized, controlled trials, which are truly the only way to determine cause and effect. Recall that correlation does not equal causation (see page 29 in Practical Paleo). This is so critical to understand when talking about broad-sweeping claims regarding nutrition and health and the bold, often fear-based headlines we see in the media.

While it’s true that naturally occurring saturated fat—from sources like egg yolks and coconut oil—can raise “good” (HDL) cholesterol, this is not cause for alarm. These fats may actually help prevent coronary artery disease, according to a 2004 study. Furthermore, increasing HDL is generally understood as a good thing, since higher HDL may mean a lower risk of CVD. And eating foods that support cholesterol production actually helps your body, which needs the fuel to manufacture cholesterol.

Furthermore, high blood cholesterol levels have not been proven to cause heart disease. In fact, many who experience CVD have low cholesterol! Dr. William Castelli, a former director of one of the longest-running dietary studies in existence, the Framingham Heart Study, reported that “people with low cholesterol (lower than 200) suffer nearly 40 percent of all heart attacks.” According to Dr. Castelli, “In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol. . . . We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”

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