Saturated Fat and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review of Current Evidence


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the leading causes of death throughout the world. Saturated fatty acids (SFA) have long been implicated in the development of CVD. The evidence to support this hypothesis came from studies which examined the effects of SFA intake on total cholesterol (TC). However, relying on TC as the sole primary outcome may not be sufficient and understanding the effect of SFA on the concentrations of other lipid fractions is necessary. SFA are known to increase low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and consequently dietary guidelines recommend reducing SFA intakes in order to decrease LDL-C and CVD risk. However, recent evidence suggests that not all SFAs possess the same atherogenic properties but this development has not yet been reflected in dietary recommendations. This review summarizes recent evidence on the relationship between SFA intake and CVD risk. It also explores current dietary guidelines specific to SFA intake and outlines why future guidelines may need to be food- rather than nutrient-specific. Overall, the evidence presented in this review suggests that not all SFA are created equal and the food sources of SFA, as well as individual characteristics of the SFA, such as chain length, should be considered in dietary recommendations.

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Fig. 1



American Heart Association


Beef Optimal in Lean Diet


Coronary heart disease


C-reactive protein


Cardiovascular disease


Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension


European Food Safety Authority


Food frequency questionnaire


Healthy American Diet


High-density lipoprotein cholesterol








Interferon gamma


Institute of Medicine


Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol


Mono-unsaturated fatty acid


Saturated fatty acids


Total cholesterol




Tumor necrosis factor-alpha


United States Department of Agriculture


United States Department of Health and Human Services


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O’Keeffe, M., St-Onge, MP. Saturated Fat and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review of Current Evidence. Curr Cardiovasc Risk Rep 7, 154–162 (2013).

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  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Saturated fat
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Dietary guidelines