Will the fat that causes heart disease please stand up, Deakin University health researchers ask

20 April 2010

For the past 30 years the message has been – saturated fat raises cholesterol and causes heart disease. However, the latest science analysing the diet and heart attack rates in almost half a million people suggests otherwise.

“Saturated fat is not the artery clogging killer we think it is, according to a recent study by Harvard University in the US. However, it is not yet completely off the hook,” said Deakin nutrition expert Dr David Cameron-Smith.

“Saturated fat is not just one fat, we know that different types of saturated fat vary from the harmless to those that are most definitely dangerous to heart health.  The real question is identifying what saturated fats are dangerous by following different types of fat from food into our blood and then into the fat storage deposits of our body.”

For the past two years, Deakin researchers have been on a mission to find out what happens to fat once eaten.

“We have chosen dairy foods, including full cream milk and cheese, containing both potentially good and bad saturated fats. The effect of full fat dairy foods on health is as much of a mystery today as it was several decades ago. Our study for the first time tracks the fats once eaten through the blood and into fat cells,” Dr Cameron-Smith said.

“For this study we are targeting men, as it is men who sadly succumb to heart disease, still the number one cause of death. Yet despite this disease remaining the number one killer, the link between diet and heart attacks remains a mystery.”

A surprisingly refreshing insight from the study to date is that dairy fats are not easily digested and the impact on blood fats is far less than might be expected, Dr Cameron-Smith said.

“Less fat, particularly the shorter saturated fats, arriving in the blood is great news for both heart disease and weight gain. We think that this reduces the storage of these dangerous types of fats and is beneficial for many aspects of health including heart disease.”

The Deakin study is aimed at men aged 40 to 60 years and is focusing on those with high cholesterol or who weigh more than 90kg. Anyone interested in being part of the study can contact Dr Maxine Bonham on 03 9251 7256.

News facts
  • Researchers on mission to find out what happens to fat once eaten
  • Results to date suggest fats in dairy foods are not easily digested and are less likely to be stored by the body
  • This has implications for the impact of fats on development of heart disease

Media contact

Dr David Cameron-Smith
School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
03 9244 6502; 0421 042 467

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20th April 2010