Replace Saturated Fats with Healthy Fats to Prevent Heart Disease, AHA Says

Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced heart disease risk by 30%.

The American Heart Association (AHA) continues to urge individuals to replace saturated fats with healthy fats to mitigate heart disease, according to a new advisory published in Circulation. In this context, healthy fats include poly- and mono-unsaturated vegetable oil.

The evidence that supports limiting the intake of saturated fats has been questioned at times. The advisory committee examined current evidence to determine the benefits and risks associated with saturated fats. The committee also assessed the scientific framework of the AHA’s long-established recommendations.

“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,” said lead author Frank Sacks, MD. “Saturated fat increases LDL — bad cholesterol – which is a major cause of artery-clogging plaque and cardiovascular disease.”

Saturated fats are found in meat, dairy products, and certain oils derived from tropical plants. Poly-unsaturated fats are found in corn, soybean, peanut, and other oils, while mono-unsaturated fats are found in olive, canola, safflower, avocado, and other oils.

During the review, the authors discovered that randomized clinical trials that lowered intake of saturated fats and replaced it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced heart disease by 30%, according to the study. These results were observed to be similar to the risk reduction observed for statins, which reduce heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol.

The authors of the current study found that the results from observational studies suggest that lower intake of saturated fat with higher intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat lowered rates of cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, the authors found that coconut oil, which is composed of saturated fat, raises LDL cholesterol similar to butter, beef fat, and palm oil. These results may be surprising to some, as coconut oil has been largely embraced as a healthy oil.

The authors also reported that replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates and sugars does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the study. This particular finding highlights the importance of having an overall healthy diet.

The AHA recommends the Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension diet and the Mediterranean diet to reduce cardiovascular risks. Both diets feature unsaturated vegetable oils, nuts, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, and poultry, while limiting intake of red meat and food with high amounts of added sugar and salt, according to the authors.

“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,” Dr Sacks said. “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.”