Saturated Fat vs. Polyunsaturated Fat

If you’ve read Eat to Live you know Dr. Fuhrman’s position on saturated fat: avoid it. Especially since it leads to heart disease and cancer:
Some naturally occurring fats are called saturated fats because all the carbon are single bonds. These fats are solid at room temperature and are generally recognized as a significant cause of both heart disease and cancer. Saturated fats are found mainly in meat, fowl, eggs, and dairy. Coconut and palm oil are largely saturated and are also not desirable. The foods with the most saturated fat are butter, cream, and cheese.
Another fat Dr. Fuhrman talks about in Eat to Live is polyunsaturated fat, found in many vegetable oils:
These fatty acids have more than double bond in their chain. These fats include corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. They are soft at room temperature. These fats promote the growth of cancer in lab animals more than olive oil does.
According to the Associated Press a recent study examined the differing effects of consuming polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat. Even though both aren’t exactly health promoting, polyunsaturated fat does appear to be less harmful on the body. Joe Milicia reports:
Saturated fat has long been linked to the buildup of plaque that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. HDL, the "good" cholesterol, protects arteries from the inflammation that leads to artery-clogging plaques. And plaque hurts the ability of arteries to expand to carry blood to tissues and organs.
The researchers, led by Dr. Stephen Nicholls, a cardiologist now at the Cleveland Clinic, found that three hours after eating the saturated-fat cake and shake, the lining of the arteries was hindered from expanding to increase blood flow. And after six hours, the anti-inflammatory qualities of the good cholesterol were reduced.

But the polyunsaturated meal seemed to improve those anti-inflammatory qualities. Also, fewer inflammatory agents were found in the arteries than before the meal.
If you had to choose between the two Dr. Fuhrman would probably advise passing on both. What kind of fats does he recommend? One favorite is DHA:
DHA is a long-chain Omega-3 fat that is made by the body, but it can also be found in fish, such as salmon and sardines. DHA is used in the production of anti-inflammatory mediators that inhibit abnormal immune function and prevents excessive blood clotting. DHA is not considered an essential, because the body can manufacture sufficient amounts if adequate short-chain omega-3 fats are consumed (flax, walnuts, soybeans, leafy green vegetables). However, because of genetic differences in the enzyme activity and because of excess omega-6 fats, many people who do not consume fish regularly are deficient in this important fat.
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Comments (10) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Greg - August 9, 2006 4:47 PM

Hello- I am enjoying the books by Dr. Fuhrman- can you tell me what he is working on next for publication and when it might be out?
A cookbook I hope...

Kyle Key - August 10, 2006 10:24 AM

But omega-3 fats ARE polyunsaturated fats.

Bob - August 10, 2006 3:13 PM

"If you had to choose between the two Dr. Fuhrman would probably advise passing on both."

My understanding of Eat to Live is that Dr. Fuhrman strongly recommends eating nuts and seeds, which are high in PUF's as long as it does not lead to weight gain. He does recommend not getting these fats from oil however (as I understand it).

Leanne - August 11, 2006 2:09 AM


That is so true.

People in western societies tend to hear about just one study suggesting that a nutrient is healthy, and the next thing you know they're consuming it in bucketloads. Moderation seems to be a thing of the past, as does commonsense.

Logic tells me that the closer we stick to a wholefoods, natural diet, the healthier we'll be. And when I say 'natural' I don't mean it in the sense that manufacturers use the term, with additives, packaging, processing, and a host of fillers and sugar and fat added for good (bad!) measure. I'm talking about foods as close as possible to their native state. Exactly as the good Doc Fuhrman recommends.

Michael - August 14, 2006 9:17 AM

I know what you mean Leanne. A friend of mine is diabetic, and will shun carrots because of their high GI and saute chicken in large amounts of olive oil because it's "healthy" for you.

Ruth - August 15, 2006 4:55 PM

Even if I knew that saturated fatty acids are bad, the results of the study were still startling. Two meals, one month apart had that effect? Imagine if we don't consciously avoid saturated fats and consume them meal after meal, day after day?!

It would have been great if they could conduct a longer-term study.

David Brown - August 24, 2006 2:12 AM

Saturated fats are bad? Where is the evidence? I've been studying nutrition since 1977 and have never found evidence that there is evidence that saturated fats cause clogged arteries. Yes, I know. Mainstream nutrition science has been telling us for 50 years to consume less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat. Well, if consensus of opinion is the proper test for truth, I'm in BIG trouble because I've been consuming a diet high in saturated fat for about a quarter century. This includes between two and three pounds of butter a week plus cheese, yoghurt, cottege cheese, sour cream, beef, bacon, and eggs. So why haven't my arteries clogged? Because I consume adequate supportive nutrition. One can't consume bakery goods, chips, soda pop, candy bars, and all those other manufactured foods and expect to process saturated fat properly. Rather than go on and on about this I'll let Dr. Roger J. Williams explain the matter.

Dave Brown

Book excerpt: (my thanks to Dr. Donald R. Davis, Jr. Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin, for permission to use this material in my Nutrition Education Project).

The following paragraphs are from pages 81-83 of Nutrition Against Disease (1972) by Roger J. Williams, PhD. More information about Dr. Williams and his work is available at I encourage you to read the references and notes. They are every bit as interesting as the associated text. Dave Brown

No discussion of heart disease would be complete without mention of the question of saturated fats. It has come to be almost an orthodox position that if one wishes to protect oneself against heart disease, one should avoid eating saturated (animal) fats. While this idea may not be entirely in error, it is misleading in its emphasis. The evidence shows that high fat consumption, when accompanied by plenty of the essential nutrients which all the cells need, does not cause atherosclerosis or heart disease.
Rats have been used extensively to study the effects of diet on atherosclerosis. Under ordinary dietary conditions the inclusion of saturated fats in their diet will consistently promote the deposition of cholesterol in their arteries.(50) For 285 days rats were fed a diet containing 61.6 percent animal fat, but highly superior with respect to protein, mineral, and vitamin content, without producing any pathological changes in the aorta or in the heart.(51) The animals did, to be sure, become obese, as much as three to four times their normal weight. Animals fed vegetable fats at the same level fared essentially no better and no worse. These findings were based upon extensive long-term experiments at Yale, using a total of 600 rats, which were observed for as long as two years. There were no findings suggestive that either high animal fat diets or high vegetable fat diets were conducive under these conditions to atherosclerosis.
These animals represented an extreme condition, since 81 percent of their energy came from fats. Their diets otherwise were extremely good. The protein was of high quality (casin) and was kept at a high level (20 percent); the vitamin levels were double those ordinarily used in this laboratory. The Yale findings were corroborated almost a decade later (1965) at Tufts University School of Medicine.(52)
That cardiovascular disease is not associated with high fat diets is also shown by comparison study of matched groups of twenty-eight railwaymen from North India and twenty-eight from Southern India.(53) The consumption of fats, mostly of animal origin, was ten times higher among the North Indians than the South Indians, but there were no significant differences between their lipid and cholesterol levels. Among the South Indian population, the incidence of heart disease is said to be fifteen times as high as among the North Indians where the fat content of the diet is ten times higher. Dietary factors are doubtless very important in connection with the incidence of heart disease, but fat is only one factor, and other dietary factors are considerably more important.
This is also corroborated by a study of 400 Masai men in Tanganyika.(54) In spite of the fact that the diet of these men is almost exclusively milk and meat (consumption of whole blood is relatively rare), both of which contain much fat and plenty of cholesterol, the cholesterol levels in the blood of the Masai are extraordinarily low, and there was "no evidence of arteriosclerotic heart disease." It should be noted that a diet containing large quantities of meat is free from "naked calories," and is certain to supply an assortment of amino acids, minerals, and vitamins in liberal amounts. Though the Masai have other health disorders - many of infective origin - they probably escape heart disease because their body cells are furnished with an environment that is adequate enough to protect their hearts and blood vessels.
A corollary of the notion that saturated fats are archvillains is the idea that one should eat substantial amounts of polyunsaturated fats. (The phrase "polyunsaturated fatty acids" has become virtually synonymous with "heart protection" in both popular and orthodox medical thinking.) While everyone should have unsaturated fats in his diet, their presence does not by any means afford adequate protection against atherosclerosis and heart disease. The current consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the USA is higher than it has ever been, yet this does not curb heart disease.(55) There are many reasons on which to base our conclusion that other factors are far more important.(56) When other deficiencies are eliminated, the amount of unsaturated fat is of secondary importance. If there is plenty of vitamin B6 in the diet, fat metabolism tends to take care of itself.
I have said a good deal about vitamin B6, but I do not mean to imply that it is, by itself, the answer to heart disease. All the nutrients contribute to the prevention of heart trouble.

References and notes:
50. Thomas, W.A., and Hartroft, W.S. "Myocardial infarction in rats fed diets containing high fat, cholesterol, thiouracil, and sodium cholate." Circulation, 19:65, 1959; Taylor, C. B., et al. "Fatal myocardial infarction in rhesus monkeys with diet-induced hyper-cholesterolemia." Circulation, 20;975, 1959.
In the above experiments, the investigators found that prolonged feeding of butter or lard to rats resulted in hyperlipemia and finally coronary thrombosis and myocardial infarction with lesions similar to those found in human beings. The diets of these animals were regarded as otherwise "normal" in respect to their intake of supplementary vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Other data, however (see reference note 52 below) demonstrate that when fat and cholesterol (or animal protein) are increased in the diet, certain nutrients (particularly pyridoxine) must be increased above "average" or "normal" requirements.

51. Barboriak, J.J., et al. "Influence of high-fat diets on growth and development of obesity in the albino rat." J. Nutr., 64: 241, 1958.

52. Naimi, S., et al. "Cardiovascular lesions, blood lipids, coagulation and fibrinolysis in butter-induced obesity in the rat." J. Nutr., 86:325, 1965.
In this more recent study, Naimi and his colleagues were directly interested in the effects of a high fat butter-induced obesity on the cardiovascular system of seventeen male Wistar albino rats. Butter constituted 65 percent of the total calories, with 20 percent protein (casin) and generous vitamin and mineral supplements equal to if not superior to those used in the above-mentioned Yale study.
Under the conditions of their experiment, these investigators found that a high fat butter diet causing obesity in rats did not produce changes in blood cholesterol nor result in cardiovascular lesions, as other data had led them to expect. The authors note, "The absence of such adverse changes, despite, the development of gross obesity in these animals may be significant, since both obesity and animal fats have been considered to be associated with lipemia and vascular lesions. It may be suggested that other dietary factors might have protected the experimental group against such changes. Yet, even if this happens to be the case, it should not detract from the significance of the fact that large amounts of saturated fat and obesity are not necessarily associated with lipemia and vascular lesions."
We are confident that other dietary factors did protect these rats, and that only in the absence of sufficient supportive nutrients are obesity and high fat and high cholesterol diets associated with atherosclerosis and heart disease in the human population.

53. Malhotra, S.L., "Serum Lipids, dietary factors and ischemic heart disease," Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 20:462, 1967.
See also Malhotra, S.L., "Geographical aspects of acute myocardial infarction in India, with special reference to the pattern of diet and eating." Brit. Heart J., 29:777, 1967.

54. Mann, G.V., et al. "Cardiovascular disease in the Masai." J. Atheroscler. Res., 4:289, 1964.
In an extensive review of the various peoples of the earth who have little or no atherosclerosis and are virtually free of heart disease, Lowenstein found that the fat intake ranged from 21 grams per day to as much as 355 grams per day (Lowenstein, F.W. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 15:175, 1964). In both the Somalis and the Samburus of East Africa, the diet is from 60 to 65 percent fat (animal), and yet they are nearly free from atherosclerosis and heart attacks. While it might be argued that ethnic differences are involved here, population groups of wide ethnic variation have been reported who subsist on high fat, high cholesterol, high caloric diets while remaining virtually free of coronary heart disease.
In the text we have mentioned the report of Mann and his colleagues of the Masai tribe who subsist on a diet excessively high in butter fat (and cholesterol), the fat constituting as much as 60 percent of the total calories consumed, yet are virtually free of cardiovascular disease. Gsell and Mayer report that the semiisolated peoples of the Loetschental valley in the Valaisian Alps of Switzerland habitually eat a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in calories, but evidence low serum cholesterol values and little cardiovascular disorders (Gsell, D., and Mayer, J. "Low blood cholesterol associated with high calorie, high saturated fat intake in a Swiss Alpine village population." Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 10:471, 1962).
Stout and his coworkers report that an Italian immigrant colony in Roseta, Pennsylvania, consumes diets much richer than other Americans, yet have less than half the incidence of coronary heart disease (J. A. M. A., 188:845, 1964).
In a survey study of 27,000 Kenya East Indians, A. D. Charters and B. P. Arya report (Lancet, 1:288, 1960) that the animal fat consumption was relatively high among the Punjabi nonvegetarians and relatively low among the vegetarian Gujeratis, but the percentage of heart disease morbidity "is closely proportional to that of the population." The statistics of their survey, conclude these investigators, suggest that in the case of the East Indian population in Kenya, "the ingestion of animal fats is not an important etiological factor" in heart disease morbidity. Interestingly, besides their low animal fat diet, the Gujerati vegetarians consume foods rich in polyunsaturated oils, as groundnut, cottonseed, and simsim oils, yet were not "protected from coronary occlusion by a high intake of unsaturated fatty acids."
In an epidemiological study of coronary heart disease in a general population of 106,000 Americans conducted over a one year period, W.J. Zukel and his coworkers found the highly provocative fact that farmers showed a much lower incidence of coronary heart disease than males of other groups, in spite of the fact that there were no substantial differences in their mean caloric intake or fat and cholesterol consumption (Zukel, W. J., et al. Am. J. Pub. Health, 49:1630. 1959).
In an epidemiological study of two Polynesian island groups, Hunter compared the diet, body build, blood pressure, and serum cholesterol levels of the tradition-following Atiu and Mitiaro with the more Europeanized Raroyongan Neighbors (Hunter, J.D. Fed. Proc., 21, Supp. 11:36, 1962). The Atiu-Mitiaro people live on a diet low in calories and protein but rich in highly saturated coconut fat. Hunter found that 25 percent of Rarotongans (males) suffered from hypertension as compared to only 10 percent of the Atiu-Mitiaro males. While the serum cholesterol levels of the saturated coconut fat-eating Atiu-Mitiaro males were higher (as high as European males), Hunter was unable to discover by electrocardiographic readings any tendency to coronary heart disease.
Finally we turn to the early primitive Eskimo who subsisted almost totally on an excessively high animal fat diet. In an early 1927 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (May), in an article titled "Health of a Carnivorous Race," Dr. William Thomas reports that of 142 adults between the ages of forty and sixty who were completely examined, he found no unusual signs of vascular or renal morbidity, and all indications were that diseases of the cardiovascular system were not prevalent among these people. This is in agreement with other reports of scientists of the primitive Eskimo (e.g. C. Lieb. J. A. M. A., July, 1926; V. Stefannsson, in his book Cancer: Disease of Civilization, p. 76; I. M. Rabinowitch, Canad. Med. Assoc. J., 31:487, 1936; W. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. New York: Hoeber, 1939).
It is clear, therefore, that adult males of a widely differing ethnic stock can subsist on a high fat, high cholesterol, high caloric diet, and yet remain relatively free of cardiovascular disorders. Even if prevailing views are to the contrary, I think that the evidence points strongly toward the conclusion that the nutritional environment of the body cells - involving minerals, amino acids, and vitamins - is crucial, and that the amount of fat or cholesterol consumed is relatively inconsequential.

55. Antar, M.A., et al. "Changes in retail market food supplies in the United States . . . ." Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 14:169, 1964

jairaj shetty - October 23, 2006 8:10 AM

dear dr. fuhrman
what is your opinion on coconut, both dessicated and cold pressed oil? they seem to be getting a lot of press lately, so your views/opinions are highly sought.

Susan Allport - February 11, 2008 10:45 AM

Thought you'd be interested in this short omega-3 video:


Jon - January 26, 2010 12:42 AM

I have to side with Dave Brown. You must understand that polyunsaturated fats suppress your thyroid finction and have an immunosuppressive affect. They are usually rancid (although perfume is added to cover the odor) and if not become rancid in your body through oxidation at body temperature within a short time. Saturated fats are much more stable as they don't have the extra bond sites an unsaturated oil does. The deleterious effects of saturated fat have been refuted sufficiently. It is more likely that unsaturated fat is responsible for arterial plaque and possbly even diseases such as alzhiemers, and even cancer. As I often say "follow the money and you will find the truth".

If you are considering coconut oil, only use organic cold pressed extra virgin to avoid pesticide residue, solevent residue, and mycotoxins.

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