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Sigma Nutrition Radio

Aug 29, 2023


About this Episode:

One of the most important and influential papers in nutrition science is one by Ancel Keys and his colleagues that was published in The Lancet in 1957. This seminal paper examined the relationship between dietary fat intake and serum cholesterol levels. The researchers investigated how different types of fats in the diet affected cholesterol levels in a series of their previous tightly-controlled dietary experiments..

Those studies involved feeding the participants various diets with different compositions of fats. The researchers analyzed the participants’ blood samples to measure changes in serum cholesterol levels in response to dietary changes.

The most important aspect of this paper is the presentation of the ‘Keys Equation’; a predictive equation for the impacts of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, and dietary cholesterol, on blood cholesterol levels.

Crucially, the Keys Equation identifies the importance of the ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fats in the diet; known as the ‘P:S ratio’. It showed that the P:S ratio is the most important dietary factor impacting blood cholesterol levels. And specifically that saturated fats increase total and LDL cholesterol twice as much as polyunsaturated fats lower them.

The findings of this study were significant in highlighting the potential impact of dietary fat subtypes on serum cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. It contributed to the growing body of evidence supporting the hypothesis that high serum cholesterol levels, particularly due to a diet rich in saturated fats, were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

In this episode, as part of our new series taking an in-depth look at seminal nutrition studies, we go through this influential paper from Keys, Anderson and Grande.