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What you didn't expect to hear about saturated fats

Laura Bogart's work has appeared in Salon, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Tin House, SPIN, Indiewire, GOOD, and Refinery 29 (among other publications). She has also worked in health care communications.

This just in: Saturated fats might not be public health enemy No. 1

Whether you’re trying to valiantly fight temptation or deciding to give into the culinary delights of the holiday season, a new study out of Norway has some good news for you.

Findings published by the KG Jebsen Center for Diabetes Research at the University of Bergen challenge old notions that dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, is public health enemy No. 1. The common story — as proclaimed by many a headline on the nightly news — is that saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease by elevating your LDL cholesterol.

More: The skinny on saturated fats

Health experts view LDL cholesterol as the devil on the shoulders of your heart health because it can thicken your blood vessels and cause the blockages that could potentially lead to a heart attack. The Jebsen study followed 38 men who carried some extra weight in their bellies: One group ate a diet full of high carbohydrates and one group chowed down on a high-fat meal plan.

Researchers tracked these men’s fat masses, as well as their liver and heart functions (with a specific focus on risk factors for cardiovascular disease) and found, as professor and cardiologist Ottar Nygård put it, “the very high intake of total and saturated fat did not increase the calculated risk of cardiovascular diseases.”

More: Don't go fat free! Best sources of good fats

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the double-decker burger with extra cheesy fries is as good for us as it is delicious. While the study did cast doubt on the belief that saturated fat equals absolute evil, researchers are quick to stipulate that participants ate mostly high-quality foods with minimal added sugars.

Johnny Laupsa-Borge, a Ph.D. student who worked on the study, said, “Our findings indicate that the overriding principle of a healthy diet is not the quantity of fat or carbohydrates, but the quality of the foods we eat.” 

More: 5 best sources of healthy fats

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