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by Amanda Smith, Associate Editor

It has long been dogma that people should restrict their saturated fat intake in order to reduce their heart disease risk. Dietary sources of saturated fat commonly include red meat and high-fat dairy products. A review of published evidence released last Monday challenges these guidelines.

The analysis, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine and led by a team at the University of Cambridge, included 72 separate studies on heart risk and intake of fatty acids. Data from these studies included over 600,000 participants from 18 countries.

Whether measured in the bloodstream or as a dietary component, researchers found no evidence to support guidelines saying people should restrict saturated fat consumption to lower their risk of developing heart disease. They also found insufficient evidence to support guidelines that advise eating more foods containing polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) to reduce heart risk.

When looking at bloodstream levels of individual subtypes of polyunsaturated fatty acids, researchers found they linked to heart risk differently. Additionally, blood levels of the dairy fat margaric acid appeared to significantly reduce heart disease risk.

Within the medical community, the findings have been met with significant backlash, as others caution this should not be taken as a green light to consume saturated fats in abundance. The study authors themselves concede that large-scale clinical studies are needed before making a conclusive judgment.

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