Replacing saturated fats with healthier ones found in some vegetable oils can reduce cholesterol levels and heart disease risk as much as statins, a new American Heart Association (AHA) advisory says.
Those healthier fats are poly-unsaturated fats and mono-unsaturated fats. Poly-unsaturated fats are found in corn, soybean and peanut oils. Mono-unsaturated fats are found in oils such as olive, canola, safflower and avocado.
Saturated fats are found in meat, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils such as coconut and palm.
Recently, questions have been raised about recommendations to limit foods high in saturated fats, so the AHA ordered a review of current evidence.
“We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels,” lead advisory author Dr. Frank Sacks said in an AHA news release. Sacks is a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Saturated fat increases LDL — bad cholesterol — which is a major cause of artery-clogging plaque and cardiovascular disease,” he said.
In clinical trials, reducing use of saturated fat in favor of poly-unsaturated vegetable oil reduced heart disease by about 30 percent, similar to statin drugs, according to the advisory.
Lower intake of saturated fat combined with higher intake of poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fat is linked to lower rates of heart disease, other studies show.
Several studies found that coconut oil — which is widely promoted as healthy — increased LDL cholesterol levels in the same way as other saturated fats do.
Replacing saturated fat with mostly refined carbohydrate and sugars is not linked to reduced risk of heart disease, according to the advisory published June 15 in the journal Circulation.
“A healthy diet doesn’t just limit certain unfavorable nutrients, such as saturated fats, that can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other blood vessel diseases. It should also focus on healthy foods rich in nutrients that can help reduce disease risk, like poly- and mono-unsaturated vegetable oils, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and others,” Sacks said.
Examples of this type of healthy eating include the Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and a Mediterranean-style diet.
The American Heart Association has more on fats.