How bad is animal fat?

From Seth Roberts blog:
A to-be-published meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition supports my view that animal fat is nowhere as bad as we’ve been told a thousand times. It says:

During 5–23 y of follow-up of 347,747 subjects, . . . intake of [more] saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease], stroke, or CVD [cardiovascular disease]. The pooled relative risk estimates that compared extreme quantiles of saturated fat intake were 1.07 (95% CI: 0.96, 1.19; P = 0.22) for CHD, 0.81 (95% CI: 0.62, 1.05; P = 0.11) for stroke, and 1.00 (95% CI: 0.89, 1.11; P = 0.95) for CVD.

Emphasis added. One aspect of the results suggested that studies that found an positive association (more fat, more disease) were more likely to be published than those that didn’t find an association or found a negative association. Which means these numbers may underestimate the good effects.

I guess I'll keep frying my eggs in bacon grease!

How bad is animal fat?


  1. Of course animal fat is not detrimental to humans; it has been part of the human diet for millions of years.

  2. My question would be when were the studies done, as over the last couple decades, a remarkable amount of animal fats were replaced by partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), which are also associated with vascular disease. Deleterious effects are seen with relatively small concentrations. If so, the particpants may have been jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Or at least a different frying pan with a less tasty but similarly unhealthy grease.

    1. quoted from the paper “More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat”.

  3. Bit Misleading.

    Study shows that when directed to lower Saturated Fat, people were as likely to increase their risk as decrease it.

    It makes sense when you consider that when people eliminate fat they probably replace it with a lot of simple sugars.

    So go Saturated Fat over empty carbs, but unsaturated fat still beats saturated.

  4. I’m with you, Seth. I’m not a doctor or scientist but I haven’t believed the malarkey about animal fat for years. It’s getting rather tiresome that every year we’re told to eat the latest miracle food and to avoid some other evil thing. By now we humans should be more advanced than this. Sigh….

  5. Eggs in bacon grease is the absolute best way to eat eggs. A friend at work had never done that before. He gave it a try on my advice and was blown away.

    //Fat is good for you.
    //Too much fat is bad for you.

  6. I spent a few years working at health food stores, watching miracle supplements show up every month or 2, guaranteed to cure what ails you. A chiropractor I was going to a few years after that ran a weight loss program & was always finding the LATEST & BEST WAY TO EAT HEALTHY!!!!.
    It’s both funny & saddening to see the lack of common sense & good science in the food industry. The chiropractor finally came up w/a diet I would even consider trying, The Caveman Diet. One, huge meal a day followed by a nap, just like a hunter gatherer, or what the author believed a h/g to be eating like.
    I figure if we evolved eating it it’s still good to run the mechanism, especially animal fats.
    I like the info from the Weston Price Foundation
    for a logical, commonsense look at diet.

  7. People, stop worrying, just do what I do: Simply hedge all bets on diet and smoking and disease and cancer by driving really recklessly.

    It’s the only virtually foolproof method of being able to enjoy life’s little treasures while also simultaneously ensuring that you’ll never suffer their negative consequences.

    Oh and none of this 40mph stuff, people. There is no point in participating in my program if you aren’t going to take it seriously. So please, drive safely until you get above 70mph, because we really can’t afford to keep you in an ICU just because you half-assed it.


    On a related note: I saw a recent episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” in which Ted Allen talked about DEEP FRIED BACON! Deep. Fried. BACON!!! Just let that sink in for a minute. Bacon. Battered and deep fried. Yes, please.

  9. From a Harvard study published in JACN in 2001:

    “Data from international comparisons as well as migration studies, although providing evidence for the importance of diet and environmental factors in the cause of CHD, are inadequate in testing specific hypotheses regarding the role of individual dietary components due to confounding by other aspects of diet, physical activity, smoking, obesity and economic development. Prospective cohort studies of individuals, in which diet is assessed prior to the occurrence of disease, are typically considered as the strongest nonrandomized design. Despite the long-standing interest in the diet-heart hypothesis, the number of cohort studies that have directly addressed associations between dietary fat intake and risk of CHD is surprisingly small and the results are not consistent. A significant positive association between saturated fat intake and risk of CHD was found in two studies [5,6], but not in others [7–13]. A significant inverse association between polyunsaturated fat intake and CHD was found in only one study [11], but not in others [7–10,12,13]. The interpretation of these findings is complicated by small study size, inadequate dietary assessment, incomplete adjustment for intake of total energy, failure to account for trans isomers of unsaturated fats and lack of control for intakes of other types of fat and other components of diet.”

    Hu et al., Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 20, No. 1, 5-19 (2001).

  10. As a diehard fan of animal fat, I’ll take this article with the same pinch of salt you should take every other food science article. Funding for this research comes in part from the National Dairy Council and Unilever, who appear to own several big name butter brands. Hmmm…

  11. The results of my personal meta-analysis:

    • X is good for you.
    • Too much X is bad for you.

    X isn’t for everyone. Be sure to consult your doctor to find out if X is right for you.

  12. Reminds me of the breast implant / cancer studies. Lots of studies done, but because the results didn’t meet expectations, everyone assumed their study was a mistake. Until UCLA (IIRC) did a meta-study. Turns out breast implants reduce the chance of breast cancer by 1/3. They even figured out how to replicate the effect in rats. Yes, with little tiny silicone rat tatas.

    (mild inflammation revs up local immune system response, clears out cancers)

  13. the missing piece from most studies on meat and fat is *what kind* of meat and fat.
    Not only are you what you eat, but you are what the animal you are eating ate.

    Most reputable folks acknowledge that there are some fairly significant nutritional differences between wild and factory / industrial agriculture raised meat and fat. Especially the lipid profile.

    So when you see a study saying “eating more fat / meat was bad” ask, were those people eating wild meats? with high Omega-3 levels, etc, or were they eating the corn-fed chemical laden garbage that comes out of CAFOs?

    This result bears that out, I think.

  14. I recall a paper from several years ago that studied the fat the thin, those on “good” diets and those on “bad” diets over a period of thirty or so years.

    It seemed that the same proportion in all groups died from heart disease.

    Except where fat people died doctors tutted and said they’d eaten them selves to death whilst the thin people were deemed to be either having a congenital defect or blamed stress.

    The one thing that came out as a constant in all the deaths was they all had chlamydia in the heart wall.

    Now I am not about to suggest that this is the last word on the subject but do recall that for the last couple of hundred years gastric ulcers were thought to be diet and lifestyle related and were treated with either powerful ant-acids or in extreme cases surgery, before it was discovered, by a non medical person, that they were actually caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium.

    Over 60% of the time it can be directly linked to this and in the remaining portion it is suspected that it caused the ulcer but the bacterium was no longer present leaving the stomach lining compromised.

    Now I am not saying that the chlamydia/heart disease idea is written in stone, but considering the resistance to the Helicobacter pylori/Ulcer idea and it being found to be true it seems to be worth a great deal more attention.

    But basically

    Animal fats = Good

    Too much animal fats = not so good, until we know more.

  15. I’ll just stick with Michael Pollan’s advice. If you don’t know it; Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

    Also, we don’t have CAFOs in New Zealand, so all our beef is free range and grass fed, with some supplemented grain in the winter (palm kernal). The same can’t be said for our chikens and pigs.

    1. The issue I have with this simplistic view is that “mostly plants” includes grain. There is no way we should be eating anywhere near the amount of grain we do. The USDA food pyramid is ridiculous. I’m doing quite nicely on mostly grass fed/pastured beef, pastured bacon and almonds. Occasionally I’ll have some pastured chicken too.

      1. Actually, Pollan definitely makes a point of discouraging grains, including grain fed meat. The slightly expanded version is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants (Mostly Leaves).

  16. Sadly I can’t find a link to a study I’ve read about the positive effects of eating animals based on what the animals eat. A study done in Iceland showed that something which sheep in eastern Iceland were eating seemed to lower the cholesterol (LDL) of the consumers. An interesting note (from the study) was that those people were eating meat and fat in quantities WAY outside the accepted norms, yet were measured as being very healthy (and Iceland has a very high life expectancy)

    This was published in some fancy pants science publication, but I couldn’t find it now with a short search AND I’m feeling too lazy to search properly ;)

  17. My mother, 95, and father, 99, have been eating German cold cuts and wursts their entire lives, including for breakfasts. They’re a nutritionist’s nightmare. And they’ve outlived almost everybody they ever knew.

    I’m visiting with them right now. Last night, after a steak dinner I’d cooked for them, my mom pointed to the little pile of fatty pieces that I’d pushed to the side of the cutting board. What a waste! She dug in and ate them.

    They were both competitive athletes in their youth, which likely has something to do with their good health. Genetics probably played a part. But the main point is… When it comes to nutritional studies, there are too few, performed on population segments that are too small. You just can’t generalize.

  18. I’d heartily recommend Gary Taube’s book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” for a comprehensive look at the whole “fat is bad” advice that’s been canon for decades.
    ( )

    As a diabetic managing my blood sugars (very successfully) using a low-carb diet, I get a fairly high percentage of my calories from fats, and I don’t shy away from animal fat much, except for the fact that I prefer lean meat. The results from my regular blood tests have been uniformly excellent, even though my “food pyramid” is quite a different shape to the standard model!

  19. Here’s the deal about red meat and cancer – red meat and its fat are not generally carcinogenic. It’s all in the preparation. The carcinogens are much more prevalent in burned meat, and especially burned fat. Animal fat intake is simply a lurking variable / red herring in its relationship to cancer.

    So if you’re going to eat alot of red meat, don’t order it cooked well-done or even medium-well, and you have very little to worry about. Unfortunately for me, I *love* the taste of blackened meat, and I cannot digest any meat that isn’t fully cooked… but whatever, i’d rather have cancer than vegetables. yechh!

  20. I don’t see anything in this study promoting or condoning eating animal fat. Saturated fats are present in vegetable cooking as well. I know or have met many vegetarians and vegans who swear by coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat. There is already plenty of studies out there promoting the use of coconut oil in cooking, aka cooking with saturated fat.

  21. So, this leads to the question: What is causing America’s absurdly high rates of heart disease, stroke, and CDV?

    Does the study contain any additional data? The conclusion indicates that age and sex did not change the results, but does it consider, for instance, exercise habits, drug use, psychological health, family members’ health history, etc.? Those variables could help build a profile of the 11,000 people in the study that did develop cardiovascular disease.

  22. Diet food marketing is the 21st century incarnation of the 19th-century medicine show.

    In other news, the late comic Bill Hicks used to do a routine about (runner) Jim Fixx vs. actor Yul Brynner:

  23. Jeeze, those are some huge p values. Where I come from we like those to be below .05, I don’t know about these nutritionists…

  24. I think I’ll go the route of dying 10 years earlier and enjoy eating what I want.

    Reminds me of some quote, “Health nuts are going to be awfully embarrassed lying in a hospital bed someday, dying of nothing.”

  25. It makes a big difference, not just what kinds of animal fats we’re talking about, but what kinds of polyunsaturated fats. If they’re the kind of Omega-6 fats that predominate in the American diet, they could very well be worse than animal fats for the cardiovascular system. The gross imbalance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in the standard American diet is responsible for a lot of inflammatory disease.

    The best advice is to buy food from the periphery of the grocery store: fresh meat, fruits and veggies, and fresh-baked bread.

    Taking a handful of Omega-3 gelcaps and a megadose of niacin is also an excellent idea for your blood lipids.

  26. Let’s see, I’ve been eating lots of saturated fats for the last 10 years and very few carbohydrates. As a result, my triglycerides dropped like a rock and my HDL shot up. My blood pressure is 120/70. Not bad for a 47 year old woman.

  27. In some cultures meat eating is essential for survival, such as with the Inuit’s that live in areas where cultivation of ground grown crops is virtually impossible due to the severe cold and frozen land. Over the centuries many other cultures have had an adaptive lifestyle where depending on climatic conditions, eating meat was again essential for survival. But would this not contradict what I have been saying about eating meat, how high protein diets can be damaging to our liver, kidneys and be the cause of many cancers? Well yes and no! Remember, some 90 percent of us live in a processed world, where we hunt for food from supermarket shelves. A key difference in the Inuit’s diet is that more than 50 percent of the calories in Inuit native foods come from fats. Much more important, the fats come from wild animals. Wild-animal fats are different from both farm-animal fats and processed fats. Farm animals, cooped up and stuffed with agricultural grains (carbohydrates) typically have lots of solid, highly saturated fat. Wild animals that range freely and eat what nature intended, have fat that is far more healthful. Less of their fat is saturated, and more of it is in the monounsaturated form, like olive oil. What’s more, cold-water fish and sea mammals are particularly rich in polyunsaturated fats called n-3 fatty acids or omega-3 fatty acids. These fats appear to benefit the heart and vascular system. Whale blubber for example consists of 70 percent monounsaturated fat and close to 30 percent omega-3s. So it’s not that these wild meats are lean like we would choose of the shelf but are rich with fat, and fat has more calories than protein for energy. This is by no means a green light to start eating fatty meat, but an insight to how our food differs from that which was, and still is, consumed by some traditional cultures on our planet. It’s an example of how our processed environment has lead to our down fall rather than our uprising. Eating meat has become for some an ethical choice due to how animals are reared, an economical choice due to price of imported product. Disease has seen the mass slaughter of farmed animals raising the question of ethics even higher. But what choice will you make as we pollute more of the land and sea our food comes from? Grow your own and forget supermarket shopping!

  28. the fat fact that animal fat being part of human diet for billions of years can not be used to sum up any good effects cooking with it has, due to the fact that in the last 200 years or so, life has become increasingly easier, not so much manual labour, meaning we shouldn’t eat so much fat, yet we do.

  29. The incomprehensible lack of basic physiological knowledge that starts with the understandable ignorance of a lay person and proceeds to the astounding prejudicial suppression of facts by the pharma/medical community is the root of all discussions about fat, cholesterol, heart disease and strokes.

    The human body uses a combination of acids, enzymes (lipase) and bile salts to emulsify all fats to produce fatty acids and lipids of lengths that can be encapsulated in lipoproteins and triglycerides so that the insoluble fats can be moved by the water based blood to the nutrition creating liver. The body only rejects indigestible fats like wax and they are given a quick trip to the exit ramp.

    Fat is food. High calorie food. If you eat too much you gain weight. If you are overweight and don’t exercise you will become increasingly less healthy.

    Cholesterol is made by your body. If you don’t eat any the body will make all it needs. If you eat too much your body cuts down. Clogged arteries are caused by age, oxidant substances like the residuals from smoking, too much extreme exercise (wall damage repair is performed by cholesterol) and genetics. Primarily genetics. How many people do you know under 50 who have heart disease?

  30. I get the impression that everything you eat, except for truly artificial things like trans fats or strong poisons like tetrodotoxin, are good for you in small doses and bad for you in large ones.

  31. @Anon #38:
    It is a myth that grain-fed or pastured animals have a greater proportion of saturated fat than wild animals. The truth is that grain-fed animals have more ‘total’ fat with a greater percent of MUFAs and less of PUFAs than wild animals in their LEAN MUSCLE TISSUES. Because they have more toal fat in their muscles, they are bound to have more total sat fat. Grass-fed animals have similar total fat to wild ones but more MUFAs and less PUFAs in their muscle tissues.

    When you look at subcutaneous fat, wild animals have a high saturated fat content(60-65%). Marrow fat ranges from 20-45% saturated fat depending on the bone used. Brain fat is around 39% of the total fat. Visceral fat like that surrounding the kidneys is extremely saturated approx 80%.

    The Inuit ate wild game as well. Their subcutaneous and Visceral fats were highly saturated and their Marrow and Brain fat were moderately high in sat fats. It is a myth that their diet was extremely low in saturated fat.

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