The facts on saturated fat

(Photo: Kaboompics)

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One area that has received plenty of attention over recent years is saturated fat and heart health. Along with the rise of the Paleo diet, there has been a rise in claims that the long-held belief that saturated fat is bad for heart health is misguided; that consuming an abundance of saturated fat is actually the key to good health rather than a danger to a healthy heart. But is this new message actually based on a change in the science?

Researchers have been looking at this question on behalf of the American Heart Association, wading through and summarising all the available evidence to assemble a presidential advisory on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease.

So when it came to saturated fat, what did they find? Three key conclusions were:

  1. Randomised clinical trials showed that polyunsaturated fat from vegetable oils replacing saturated fats from dairy and meat lowers cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  2. Prospective observational studies in many populations showed that a lower intake of saturated fat coupled with a higher intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat is associated with lower rates of CVD and all-cause mortality.
  3. A dietary strategy of reducing the intake of total dietary fat, including saturated fat, and replacing the fats mainly with unspecified carbohydrates does not prevent CVD.

So fat as a whole isn’t the enemy but the type of fat we eat matters. By reducing our saturated fat intake in favour of poly and monounsaturated fats, as part of an overall healthy, plant-heavy diet, evidence suggests we can lower our risk of heart disease and help protect our health.

Types of fats and where they’re found

Saturated fats. These are found in higher amounts in animal foods like meats and high fat dairy foods like butter and cream. Discretionary foods like cakes, biscuits and fried foods also tend to have high levels.

Polyunsaturated fats. Found in seeds like flax, chia, sunflower and sesame seeds and their oils and pine nuts, walnuts and brazil nuts. Canola oil is also a source along with oily fish.

Monounsaturated fats. You’ll find these in avocados, almonds, cashew nuts and peanuts. They’re also in plant-based oils like olive, canola, peanut, soybean, rice bran and sunflower oil.

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