How Bad is Animal Fat?

After learning that animal fat improved my sleep, I happily ate much more of it. I wasn’t worried that it made something else worse (e.g., heart disease). I believe that all parts of our bodies have been shaped by evolution to work well on the same diet, just as all electric appliances are designed to work well on the same house current.

A to-be-published meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition supports my view that animal fat is nowhere as bad as we’ve been told a thousand times. It says:

During 5–23 y of follow-up of 347,747 subjects, . . . intake of [more] saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease], stroke, or CVD [cardiovascular disease]. The pooled relative risk estimates that compared extreme quantiles of saturated fat intake were 1.07 (95% CI: 0.96, 1.19; P = 0.22) for CHD, 0.81 (95% CI: 0.62, 1.05; P = 0.11) for stroke, and 1.00 (95% CI: 0.89, 1.11; P = 0.95) for CVD.

Emphasis added. One aspect of the results suggested that studies that found an positive association (more fat, more disease) were more likely to be published than those that didn’t find an association or found a negative association. Which means these numbers may underestimate the good effects.

Thanks to Steve Hansen and Michael Pope.

17 Replies to “How Bad is Animal Fat?”

  1. I love my saturated fats, especially eggs fried in real butter.

    Which made me very unhappy with fake-food giant Unilever and their new global campaign to “Ban butter to save thousands of lives.”

    Of course, a ban on butter would give a big boost to Unilever’s chemical fake butters like Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

    Ban Butter? Ban Fake Foods instead!

  2. I think you underestimate the number of times we’ve been told it was bad. It’s been way more than a thousand times.

    It’s too bad that real lard is almost impossible to get unless you render it yourself from natural pork (not the “always tender” salt & phosphate treated stuff – it ends up tasting salty) , or buy it direct from a farmer or ‘gourmet’ butcher. That lard that is in the stores has been hydrogenated and treated to be ‘shelf stable’ with the usual fat preservatives.

  3. Gary Taubes is useful here; the summaries he gives of the Women’s Health Initiative studies support the idea that animal fat is not so bad. The attempts at controlled long term studies where one group is coached to eat the “right” foods and the other is not finds that eating the “right” foods (assuming we can trust the data) had no better health outcomes over a 9 year period than eating supposedly less nutritious food. People who were coached were encouraged not to eat a lot of animal fat…

    When nutritionists attempt to actually demonstrate their knowledge claims about the best overall diet, they tend to fall flat on their faces… So far at least…

    Ban butter to save our hearts, says doctor
    Butter should be banned in a bid to save thousands from heart disease, a leading heart surgeon claims.
    Dr Shyam Kolvekar said that he is “increasingly concerned” about the nation’s eating habits as he is seeing patients as young as 30 in need of heart bypass surgery due to a diet “overloaded” with saturated fat.

    According to a national diet survey, nine out of 10 of children, 88 per cent of men and 83 per cent of women in Britain eat too much saturated fat, consuming a fifth too much each day.

  5. Love this post, but is there a typo? p equals .22 for CHD, .11 for stroke, but a whopping .95 (not .095?) for CVD. At least CHD and stroke are highly reassuring.

  6. John, .95 is not a typo. Notice how well-centered on 1 the confidence interval is.

    Peter, someone should ask Dr. Kolvekar why the French, who eat so much animal fat, have such low rates of heart disease.

  7. I would just like to point out to Jim (the first commenter) that Qi Sun, a co-first author of the study, is supported by a fellowship from Unilever Corporate Research. I thought that was interesting in the context of your comment.

    I would also like to point out that the study makes no claims regarding fat origin, simply saturation. The study applies to coconut or palm oil as much or more than, say, lard.

  8. You all know Julia Child don’t you? She lived to 92, loved butter and animal fats. We humans evolved eating “food.” Don’t confuse chemicals for food.

  9. Simple, good fat; raised with proper husbandry, provides ample amounts of co-Q 10. The only substance known to reduce arterial oxidadative stress and it’s free; not like a pharma created monster that can’t be put down because of fear.

    So – EAT YOUR GOOD FAT in moderation.



  10. When will someone ackwnoledge that heart disease is primarily due to genetic factors ? This does not mean that the “risk factors” are not important. They are but their relevance ( eventual heart attack) differs.
    Julia Child would have lived to 92 regardless of her diet.

  11. I’ve always loved bacon. Over the past couple of months, this blog has been my excuse to eat fatty bacon – with fried eggs, as an addition to miso soup, and elsewhere – and to cook with bacon drippings.

    Unfortunately, my personal correlation between eating bacon fat and getting heartburn is turning out to be close to 1. (I very rarely otherwise get heartburn.) So I have to discontinue my animal fat experiment.

  12. Somewhere in the Bible it is mentioned that among good things is “oil to make one’s face to shine” and I don’t think it means to slather your face with the stuff.

    Butter is a gift of treasure from the goddess to the kitchen. Like all animal fats, it should be revered and honored and given thanks for. The kitchen is the true temple of humanity. You don’t overeat in that place–that would be sacrilege–but you do give thanks for being a part of the Earth’s natural cycle. All real food is holy.

    “Ban Fake Foods” is a great, simple slogan and the key to our survival–thank you!

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