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Dietary fats

Find the most important recent research around fats and cardiovascular health

Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition Report on Saturated Fats and Health (2019)

Having examined the evidence, SACN concluded that reducing saturated fats reduces the risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Coronary Heart Disease events, lowers total, LDL and HDL cholesterol and improves indicators of glycaemic control. The evidence also indicates that reducing saturated fats is unlikely to increase health risks for the general UK population. SACN concluded that reducing population average saturated fat intakes from current levels of intake to no more than about 10% of [total] dietary energy would result in health benefits to the population.

Mensink RP (2016) Effects of saturated fatty acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins: a systematic review and regression analysis (WHO)

Results of this systematic review show that replacing saturated fatty acids with other macronutrients, particularly polyunsaturated fatty acids, has a favourable effect on the blood lipid profile, including lowering of LDL cholesterol levels.

Draft WHO Guidelines: Saturated fatty acid and trans-fatty intake for adults and children (2018)

The objective of these guidelines is to provide recommendations on the intake of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids to reduce the risk of CVDs in adults and children. 

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) A Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for fats, including saturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol

Te Morenga L, Montez JM. (2017) Health effects of saturated and trans-fatty acid intake in children and adolescents: Systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2017;12(11):e0186672. 

This systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and prospective cohort studies found that reducing children's saturated fatty acids intake resulted in a significant reduction in total and LDL-cholesterol levels as well as diastolic blood pressure without evidence of adverse effects on growth and development. Dietary guidelines for children and adolescents should continue to recommend diets low in saturated fat.

Culinary oils and their health effects

A briefing paper from the British Nutrition Foundation 

Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association (AHA)

Taking into consideration the totality of the scientific evidence, satisfying rigorous criteria for causality, the AHA conclude strongly that lowering intake of saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, will lower the incidence of CVD.

Dietary fat and cardiometabolic health: evidence, controversies, and consensus for guidance (BMJ)

This article takes a critical look at the evolution of scientific understanding about dietary fats and health, the difficulties of establishing public health dietary guidelines, and what the current advice should be for dietary fat consumption. 

Johnson, Guy H. et al. (2012) Effect of dietary linoleic acid on markers of inflammation in healthy persons: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 112 (7): 1029 - 1041.

Despite concern being expressed that a high intake of dietary n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid contributes to excess chronic inflammation, this systematic review concluded that virtually no evidence is available to show that the addition of linoleic acid to the diet increases the concentration of inflammatory markers in healthy, non-infant human beings.

Marklund M, Wu JHY, et al (2019) Biomarkers of Dietary Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality. Circulation

In this pooled global analyses, higher in vivo circulating and tissue levels of linoleic acid and possibly arachidonic acid were associated with lower risk of major cardiovascular events. These results support a favourable role for LA in CVD prevention.

Interesterified fats: What are they and why are they used? A briefing report from the Roundtable on Interesterified Fats in Foods

Nithya Neelakantan, Jowy Yi Hoong Seah, Rob M. van Dam (2020) The Effect of Coconut Oil Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials Circulation. 141:00–00. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.043052

This systematic review examined the effects of coconut oil consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors using data from clinical trials. Results from the meta-analysis, which included 16 articles, found that consuming coconut oil results in significantly higher LDL-cholesterol than nontropical vegetable oils. Coconut oil did not significantly affect markers of glycaemia, inflammation, and adiposity compared to nontropical vegetable oils.

Li J, Guasch-Ferré M, Li Y, Hu FB. (2020) Dietary intake and biomarkers of linoleic acid and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. Feb 5. pii: nqz349. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz349. [Epub ahead of print]

In prospective cohort studies, higher linoleic acid intake, assessed by dietary surveys or biomarkers, was associated with a modestly lower risk of mortality from all causes, CVD, and cancer. These data support the potential long-term benefits of PUFA intake in lowering the risk of CVD and premature death.

Nithya Neelakantan, Jowy Yi Hoong Seah, Rob M. van Dam. (2020) The Effect of Coconut Oil Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials. Circulation.141:803–814

A systematic review of the effect of coconut oil consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors found coconut oil consumption results in significantly higher LDL-cholesterol than nontropical vegetable oils in clinical trials. There was no evidence of benefits of coconut oil over nontropical vegetable oils for adiposity or glycemic and inflammatory markers. These findings should inform choices about coconut oil and to limit coconut oil consumption because of its high saturated fat content.