Consuming high amounts of saturated fats linked to increased heart disease risk

November 23, 2016, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Consuming high amounts of four major saturated fatty acids—found in red meat, dairy fat, butter, lard, and palm oil—may increase risk of coronary heart disease, according to a new study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their findings also suggest that replacing these fats with healthier fats, whole grains, and plant proteins may reduce coronary heart disease risk.

"Our findings strongly corroborate what the current USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend," said senior author Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition. "This includes reducing saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of total calories, and eating an overall healthful diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, vegetable cooking oils rich in polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, nuts, legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy."

The study will appear online November 23, 2016, in The BMJ.

Previous studies have shown that individual saturated have different effects on blood lipids, but little is known about associations between individual saturated fatty acid intake and coronary .

The researchers analyzed data from 73,147 women involved in the Nurses' Health Study between 1984 and 2012, and 42,635 men who were in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study between 1986 and 2010. Participants reported their diet and health status on questionnaires completed every four years.

The study found that a higher intake of the most commonly consumed major saturated fatty acids—lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid—was associated with a 24% increased relative risk of coronary .

Replacing just 1% of daily consumption of these fatty acids with equivalent calories from polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, whole grain carbohydrates, or , was estimated to reduce relative risk by 4%-8%. Replacing palmitic acid—found in palm oil, meat, and dairy fat—was associated with the strongest risk reduction.

"This study dispels the notion that 'butter is back,'" said co-author Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology. "Individual saturated fatty acids share the same food sources, such as , dairy, butter, lard, and palm oil. Therefore it is impractical to differentiate the types of saturated fatty acids in making dietary recommendations, an idea that some researchers have put forth. Instead, it is healthier to replace these fatty acids with unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and seafood as well as high quality carbohydrates."

"Replacing sources of saturated fat in our diets with unsaturated fats is one of the easiest ways to reduce our risk of heart disease," said Walter Willett, a co-author and professor of epidemiology and nutrition.

Explore further: Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids linked to smaller risk of coronary heart disease

More information: "Intakes of Individual Saturated Fatty Acids and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Two Large Prospective Cohort Studies of U.S. Men and Women," Geng Zong, Yanping Li, Anne J. Wanders, Marjan Alssema, Peter L. Zock, Walter C. Willett, Frank B. Hu, and Qi Sun, BMJ, online November 23, 2016, DOI: 10.1136/bmj.i5796

Related Stories

Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids linked to smaller risk of coronary heart disease

September 30, 2014
A recent study completed at the University of Eastern Finland shows that dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids include fish, vegetable ...

Higher consumption of unsaturated fats linked with lower mortality

July 5, 2016
Consuming higher amounts of unsaturated fats was associated with lower mortality, according to a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In a large study population followed for more than three decades, researchers ...

Unsaturated fats, high-quality carbs lower risk of heart disease

September 28, 2015
While eliminating saturated fats can improve heart health, a new study shows that it makes a difference which foods are used in their place. A study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows ...

Polyunsaturated fat in adipose tissue linked to lower mortality

August 18, 2016
In a study from Uppsala University, published in the American journal JAMA Cardiology, the fatty acid linoleic acid (Omega 6) in subcutaneous adipose tissue was linked to lower mortality among older men followed over a 15-year ...

Is coconut oil good for you?

September 29, 2014
There is no consistent body of data that I am aware of to indicate that coconut oil has documented specific beneficial effects; hence, there is no data that I'm aware of to suggest people should go out of their way to consume ...

New evidence raises questions about the link between fatty acids and heart disease

March 17, 2014
A new study raises questions about current guidelines which generally restrict the consumption of saturated fats and encourage consumption of polyunsaturated fats to prevent heart disease. The research was published today, ...

Recommended for you

Starting periods before age of 12 linked to heightened risk of heart disease and stroke

January 15, 2018
Starting periods early—before the age of 12—is linked to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke in later life, suggests an analysis of data from the UK Biobank study, published online in the journal Heart.

'Decorated' stem cells could offer targeted heart repair

January 10, 2018
Although cardiac stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for heart attack patients, directing the cells to the site of an injury - and getting them to stay there - remains challenging. In a new pilot study using an animal ...

Exercise is good for the heart, high blood pressure is bad—researchers find out why

January 10, 2018
When the heart is put under stress during exercise, it is considered healthy. Yet stress due to high blood pressure is bad for the heart. Why? And is this always the case? Researchers of the German Centre for Cardiovascular ...

Two simple tests could help to pinpoint cause of stroke

January 10, 2018
Detecting the cause of the deadliest form of stroke could be improved by a simple blood test added alongside a routine brain scan, research suggests.

Heart-muscle patches made with human cells improve heart attack recovery

January 10, 2018
Large, human cardiac-muscle patches created in the lab have been tested, for the first time, on large animals in a heart attack model. This clinically relevant approach showed that the patches significantly improved recovery ...

Place of residence linked to heart failure risk

January 9, 2018
Location. Location. Location.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.