Home ยป Saturated fat…bad? Or better?

Saturated fat…bad? Or better?

Last month, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute negated an association between saturated fat intake and heart disease. Further, the study suggested that the limiting of fat intake is attributing to the rising obesity and diabetes rates in America. This report evaluated dietary data from a total of 347,747 subjects from 8 countries in 21 studies, over 25 years.

As the study points out, when fat is strictly limited in the diet, carbohydrate intake increases which can cause detriment to weight and blood glucose levels. Food is made up of 3 macronutrients – fat, protein, and carbohydrates. While (complex) carbohydrates should comprise the majority of the diet (50-60% of daily caloric intake in an average healthy adult), limiting fat (which is often found in high-protein foods), typically causes an increase in carbohydrate intake. This imbalance in macronutrients can cause an increase in weight and triglycerides, as well as an increased risk for developing diabetes. Additionally, excess carbohydrates are much more readily stored as fat when compared to fat and protein. The notion of “fat equals fat” couldn’t be further from the truth. A higher fat, moderate protein diet can increase satiety and better stabilize blood glucose levels when compared to a typical high-carbohydrate American diet.

For this very reason, I am a huge advocate of carbohydrate counting for weight loss. Not only is carbohydrate counting mathematically simpler than calorie counting, but it forces a balance in the diet. If I put a patient on a 1,600 calorie diet, for instance – they will put more emphasis on the totals rather than the components whereas carbohydrate counting creates flexible opportunity for the patient to balance their meals with protein, carbohydrates, and fat without meticulous calculations. Further, carbohydrate counting emphasizes portion control and regular meal times.

Whether I agree or disagree with this study, I think it surfaces some valid take-home messages regarding the make-up of our diets. Personally, I am a supporter of “diabetic” meal planning for patients looking to lose weight and use this approach on many of my patients.


Today at work was TASTE TEST DAY! The recipe I chose to make this week was turkey goulash. I am a huge fan of this recipe — quick, easy, delicious, and a crowd pleaser. It’s also a traditional dish in Oklahoma.

And everyone loved it! The emails flowed in as the afternoon hours passed on…

Hey Nicole,

THIS WAS AWESOME AS ALWAYS…….THANKS SO MUCH!!!  The things you cook/bake are so good, is hard to believe these are healthy, you do a great job!

Have a good afternoon!


Thank you, Nicole, for such an awesome job you do on the taste test. They are always so good! 🙂


Question: What do you feel the role of saturated fat in the diet should be? Less is more? Some is okay? Doesn’t really matter? Do you know anyone who is “fat phobic” despite the common knowledge of healthy fats (mono and poly’s) in the diet?

Share With Your Friends!


  1. February 25, 2010 / 5:26 am

    I find it interesting that you suggest carb counting. I guess I’ve never approached my diet that way. I was fat phobic in high school, but that was back during the “fat free” era was going on. I’ve since been pro “fat” . =)

  2. February 25, 2010 / 9:28 am

    i dont know so much about saturated fat, and i’ve stopped counting pretty much anything… but i always wonder how bad it is, because it occurs naturally in some foods (like cheese, right?). thanks for this information!

  3. February 25, 2010 / 9:46 am

    I focus on eating healthy fats and don’t really worry too much if I intake sat fats because I know that my overall eats are good plus fats keep me fuller longer! I see more fear of carbs than fat in people around me.

  4. February 25, 2010 / 10:59 am

    Saturated fats get such a bad wrap. Perhaps that’s not entirely unfair if you’re taking them in in excess, but as part of a balanced diets with the other fats I think they’re fine. And they’re DEFINITELY a better option than simple sugars in my mind

  5. February 25, 2010 / 11:07 am

    I know way too many people who are “fat phobic” and don’t realize that there are different types of fat. For example, I know someone who refuses to eat any kind of nut butter, which I think is sad. ๐Ÿ™

  6. February 25, 2010 / 11:19 am

    I think it’s important to consume fat at each meal. It helps with satiety, blood sugar, and portions.

  7. February 25, 2010 / 11:22 am

    I’m more concerned about trans fats than saturated fats. Which is key for me because I could eat crackers every day. I have to watch my intake. If I eat the odd bit of butter,I don’t worry about it. I do eat a bito of sat fat in dairy. I like light sour cream as opposed to ff and I eat some really calorific yogurt sometimes. But mostly I stick to what I consider to be healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed), grapeseed oil sparingly and nuts.

  8. February 25, 2010 / 11:30 am

    Honestly, I’ve never really taken into consideration saturated fat. I tend to go for the healthy fats like nuts, avocado and olive oil. I’m not sure what kind of fats those are in particular?
    I consume a good amount of cheese which I think has saturated fat, right?

  9. February 25, 2010 / 11:45 am

    I’ve started bringing more and more fat into my diet, and have been amazed at the difference in how much longer I stay full now. I’m turning totally pro-fat!

    Of course, at the core of my belief system for healthy eating is “everything (even healthy fats!) in moderation” ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. February 25, 2010 / 11:55 am

    I am really trying to watch my carbs due to trying something new with my ND. Great post Nicole!

  11. February 25, 2010 / 12:12 pm

    What an interesting study. I suppose it makes sense though. If you completely cut fat out of the diet, then you’re going to have to replace it with something else. And more often than not, that something else will be carbs. I like the idea of thinking of meals in terms of food groups rather than just flat out calories. This way you get some balance in every meal!

  12. February 25, 2010 / 12:21 pm

    What is your take on Coconut oil? I have read a lot of blogs with people using them in recipes. I have thought of trying it but I did not know after I looked at the saturated fat.

    • Nicole
      February 25, 2010 / 5:41 pm

      I think coconut oil is fine in moderation. A lot of raw vegans use WAY too much of it, however! I remember seeing a raw vegan blog who consumed over 60 grams of saturated fat in the form of coconut oil — not safe!!

    • Nicole
      February 25, 2010 / 5:44 pm

      Samantha: This totally depends on the person’s weight, exercise regimen, labs (i.e. glucose and triglycerides specifically), etc. But ALL adults REQUIRE a minimum of 130 grams for good health — things like the brain require glucose for fuel! If you would like specific recommendations for you, just send me the above information and I would be happy to help!

      • February 26, 2010 / 7:05 am

        I’m 65.5″ and weigh 150lb. I do about 3 hours or cardiovascular activity a week (usually running with some interval training) and about 4 hours of weight training per week with heavy weights.
        I’ve never had any labs done though so I don’t know my glucose and trygliceride levels.

      • Nicole
        February 26, 2010 / 9:06 am

        Approximately 225-255 grams of carbohydrate a day (50-57% carbohydrate) assuming an 1800 calorie intake.

  13. February 25, 2010 / 12:51 pm

    I think our bodies were made to thrive on a balanced diet and lifestyle, so some saturated fat is okay. I think the study is really eye opening and a good thing for people to consider. Especially, since low fat items are usually higher not just in overall carboyhydrates, but sugar. And all the insulin spikes and drops probably lead people to eating more than they would with some fat in their diet. Great post!

  14. February 25, 2010 / 1:35 pm

    Like Michael Pollan says, America got fat with the craze of the low-fat diet. Not getting enough fat leaves you unsatiated and tired, craving more energy from carbs. Fat is not the devil! It can be good…carries fat soluble vitamins, energy, and certainly contributes to taste and texture!

  15. February 25, 2010 / 2:12 pm

    I definitely promote the idea of not eating fat free! I try to stress to my clients the importance of eating mono and poly unsaturated fats and limiting their saturated fats to be no more than 7-8% of their fat intake be from saturated fats.

  16. February 25, 2010 / 2:16 pm

    I agree with you for the most part, which is why I believe that ketogenic and carb cycling diets work the best overall if you are able to comply to them 100% (which is extremely hard to do lol).

    • Nicole
      February 25, 2010 / 5:45 pm

      I will agree to disagree on the ketogenic diets — I never think they’re a good thing!

  17. February 25, 2010 / 2:25 pm

    interesting stuff! i can definitely understand why you recommend a diabetic diet to your patients who need to lose weight too

  18. February 25, 2010 / 2:37 pm

    I didn’t count calories or carbs while I lost all my weight, but rather kept the fat percentage overall to under 30%, combined with exercise and portion control. That worked for me, but at the same time I was very conscious of where my calories were coming from.

    Thanks for the informative post!

  19. February 25, 2010 / 2:39 pm

    I was obsessed with fat free foods for the longest time. I’m finally over that fear. It tastes better too! Great info as always ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. February 25, 2010 / 3:01 pm

    It really cracks me up to think about how I used to think of fat…I would eat a whole bag of candy because it was “fat-free.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I definitely went through a phase where I was scared of fats, to an extent. I never ate “real” cheese, nuts, or even PB! Now I couldn’t go a single day without nuts and PB. The fat is SO filling to me, so it’s worth it – plus, a little goes a long way!

  21. February 25, 2010 / 3:22 pm

    Ok, so interesting you would bring this up today of all days because I was JUST pondering all of this last night and this morning! I log all of my food into sparkpeople.com and almost always go over my carbs by about 10 g’s. BUT, a lot of the time, I’m still within my alloted cal range. Obviously I still have a little work to do to lower my carbs, but my question is, can I still lose weight if I’m eating the proper calories, but just a few too many carbs? And an even bigger question, would weight gain be possible in that same scenario?? I don’t worry about it too much on days I workout b/c I figure I needed the extra carbs to fuel my workouts/recovery, but days I don’t workout kind of concern me…

    • Nicole
      February 25, 2010 / 5:47 pm

      Hey Em! 10 grams is nothing — promise ๐Ÿ™‚ If it were 100 grams, I’d probably recommend a change, but 10 grams…nah! If you notice your weight loss plateauing, try a week of something more like a 20-30% protein, 30% fat, and 40-50% carbohydrate — higher protein can jump start weight loss a bit! Weight gain over 10 grams? Highly unlikely. Great question!!

  22. February 25, 2010 / 3:48 pm

    Great post lady! As you know–I’m totally pro-monos and polys! They keep the heart healthy and the stomach full … how can I not be lovin’ the healthy fats? Good stuff ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. February 25, 2010 / 4:06 pm

    I am doing pretty good staying around 150 carbs – about 75 grams lower than before.

    Great post as usual Nicole! ๐Ÿ˜€

  24. February 25, 2010 / 5:11 pm

    Hello love!!! So great everyone loved the meal you made, I bet you were on cloud 9 with all those great messages saying how great it was!! Good for you!!! Top Chef!!!

    I like to get healthy fats daily, I dont really focus on how much or how little, I just dont want to drive myself crazy, ya know!!

    love ya!!!!!!! xoxoxo

  25. February 25, 2010 / 5:11 pm

    I can totally see how focusing on reducing fat can lead one to eat more carbs. I guess the bottom line for me is to not “demonize” one food group (like I have in the past), but to make overall good choices and to keep proportions, portion sizes, and (approximate) calories in mind. It truly is about moderation…

    Great post!

  26. February 25, 2010 / 6:30 pm

    I was reading about that study yesterday and found it very interesting! I’m an advocate of unsaturated fats and an overall balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Too much of one thing is usually not a good idea. Great post ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. eaternotarunner
    February 25, 2010 / 6:40 pm

    I think everything in moderation, but I’m not an expert!

  28. February 25, 2010 / 7:34 pm

    That is really interesting that when fat is limited carb intake increases. It completely makes sense though! Meals that I add a little fat to (along with protien and fruit, veggies, and/or whole grains) usually keep me feeling alert, satisfied, and energetic longer. Not to mention the fact that when you tell yourself that you can’t eat fats you’ll want them even more (because of the whole forbidden fruit thing ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

    I wish I worked with you…I want to participate in taste test day! ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. February 25, 2010 / 7:53 pm

    I don’t know how I feel about this. I think it’s important to get enough healthy fats, so I get the point about cutting fats and getting too many carbs. But the study was really just looking at the association between saturated fats and heart disease, right? I don’t think I’ll be adding saturated fat to my diet just because of that. I’m still of the mindset that poly- and monounsaturated are a better source of fats. I didn’t read the study, though.

  30. February 25, 2010 / 9:29 pm

    I read that study and thought it was an interesting point. I think when it comes to eating, you just have to maintain balance. I wouldn’t tell someone to go out and eat tubs of butter, but don’t feel bad indulging once and a while and make sure to include mostly higher fiber carbs. I am curious to see more research come out regarding this.

  31. February 25, 2010 / 10:44 pm

    I didn’t have time to read through all of the info. The only thing I know is TRANS FAT is the number one thing to avoid fat wise. And the rest are very good to not as bad. Hope this helps ๐Ÿ™‚

    Gotta jet been a long day!

  32. February 26, 2010 / 8:07 am

    I haven’t had goulash in FOREVER! My grandpa makes a killer one–I should get the recipe ASAP!

  33. February 26, 2010 / 7:32 pm

    My thought has been to watch saturated fat intake, though it’s natural from animals (dairy, meat). Basically, portion control applies, once again.

  34. February 26, 2010 / 9:13 pm

    Adding more fat to my diet a few years ago rocked my world. I am so much more satisfied and I am much less likely to turn to overeating the wrong foods. I am a big believer in everything in moderation. I love butter, cream cheese, red meat & coconut butter…..but I am mindful of portion sizes.

  35. February 27, 2010 / 12:44 pm

    Great points… it’s not as simple as focusing on one nutrient to understand conditions like obesity and diabetes- but it’s important to look at the other dietary factors, like, in this case, what fat was being replaced with (carbs)…

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