Saturated fat and coronary heart disease

Part 2: The early studies

The Anti-Coronary Club Project, launched in 1957, compared two groups of New York businessmen 49 to 59 years old. One group followed a 'Prudent Diet' which replaced butter with corn oil and margarine, eggs with cold cereal and skim milk, and beef with chicken and fish. A control group ate eggs for breakfast and meat three times per day.[1]

The report noted that the cholesterol levels of those on the Prudent Diet were significantly lower than the control group eating eggs and meat — but there were eight deaths from heart disease among the Prudent Dieters and no deaths from heart disease in the control group.

There have been well over 50 studies searching for a possible link between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease — with a singular lack of success.

The longest running and most respected is the Framingham Heart Study which began in 1948 and it still running today. After testing for saturated fat intake over twenty-two years of research, the researchers concluded:

"There is, in short, no suggestion of any relation between diet and the subsequent development of CHD in the study group."[2]

That was said in 1970; it is still the case today.

The huge Multiple Risk Factor Intervention trial, known as MR FIT, involved 28 medical centres, 250 researchers and cost $115,000,000.[3] They screened 361,662 men and deliberately chose those who were at very high risk to ensure that they achieved a statistically significant result. They cut cholesterol consumption by 42%, saturated fat consumption by 28% and total calories by 21%. But despite all this, their results, they say, were "disappointing". The conclude conclude that:

"The overall results do not show a beneficial effect on coronary heart disease or total mortality."

By far the majority of other studies also showed little convincing correlation between either the amount of fat eaten and heart disease or the type of fat eaten and heart disease. But there were a handful of exceptions. These supportive trials are cited far more often than the much larger number of unsupportive ones.[4]


1. Cristakis G. Effect of the Anti-Coronary Club Program on Coronary Heart Disease Risk-Factor Status. JAMA 1966; 198: 129-35.
2. Kannel WB, Gordon T. The Framingham Diet Study: diet and the regulations of serum cholesterol (Sect 24). Washington DC, Dept of Health, Education and Welfare, 1970.
3. Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial. J A M A. 1982; 248: 1465.
4. Ravnskov U. Cholesterol lowering trials in coronary heart disease: frequency of citation and outcome. BMJ 1992; 305: 15-19.

Part 1: Keys | Part 2: Early studies | Part 3: Supportive studies? | Part 4: Other evidence | Part 5: Margarines | Part 6: Conclusion

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Last updated: December 9, 2011