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The original scientific paper was a meta-analysis of 72 individual studies, including a mix of clinical trials and observational (epidemiological) research. The media widely portrayed the meta-analysis results as an invitation to step up saturated fats in the diet, but the study showed no such thing: it originally found that saturated and polyunsaturated omega-6 fats appeared neutral for heart health, while omega-3 fats provided some heart health benefits.
Some of the studies considered dietary fat intake alone, and others included blood measures of fatty acids. Given the range in type and quality of study included in the meta-analysis, the results depend upon how carefully and properly the data are combined.
Many health experts who took exception with the paper raised questions about the validity of some assumptions made when the pooled data were analyzed, hence the subsequent corrections issued on the paper:
Dr. Emanuele Di Angelantonio of the University of Cambridge, one of the authors of the meta-analysis, believes the paper’s conclusions remain valid. He believes the main problem is how the results were “wrongly interpreted by the media.” While media misrepresentation of scientific papers is a valid concern for many researchers, Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Department believes the paper has done damage. Dr. Willett noted, “A retraction [of the original paper] with similar press promotion should be considered.”
This brings us back to the basics: a heart-healthy diet means eating real food, and limiting the amount of processed and packaged foods in the diet. Many health experts feel small amounts of high-fat animal products are okay, but only in the context of a totally healthy diet.
In terms of heart disease, and just about any other chronic disease one can name, the best nutritional insurance comes from eating unprocessed, whole foods, including nuts, legumes (beans and peas), vegetables and fruit, whole grains, vegetable and olive oils, and small portions of animal products, if desired.
(Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:398–406)