Replacing Saturated Fat with Mediterranean Diet Foods Lowers Heart Risk

A Harvard study found that the exchange of one percent of the saturated fat in a diet with healthful food can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dec. 2, 2016
By Mary West

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Sometimes small improve­ments in the diet can lead to a sig­nif­i­cant boost in health. New research from Harvard University finds exchang­ing one per­cent of daily sat­u­rated fat intake with foods from the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) can lead to a 6- to 12 per­cent reduc­tion in car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk.
See Also: Olive Oil Health Benefits
This trans­lates into cut­ting back on meat, milk and but­ter and replac­ing them with nutri­tious dietary com­po­nents such as whole grains, plant pro­teins and unsat­u­rated fat. The results add to the large body of evi­dence that shows the well­ness advan­tages of this eat­ing plan. 

In the research pub­lished in the British Medical Journal, 115,000 adults were fol­lowed from 1984 to 2010. All the par­tic­i­pants were free of chronic dis­ease at the study’s onset. Every four years, they were ques­tioned about their diet and evi­dence of coro­nary heart dis­ease was recorded. Deaths that occurred dur­ing the 26-year period were identified. 

When eval­u­at­ing the out­come of sub­sti­tut­ing health­ful foods for sat­u­rated fat, the research team exam­ined sev­eral fatty acids sep­a­rately. Replacing lau­ric acid and stearic acid resulted in a 6- to 8- per­cent car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk reduc­tion while replac­ing palmitic acid resulted in a 10- to 12 per­cent risk drop. 

In addi­tion, the study found a mod­est increase in sat­u­rated fat intake pro­duced an ele­va­tion in car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk. Participants who con­sumed 5 per­cent more sat­u­rated fat had a 25 per­cent higher like­li­hood of coro­nary heart dis­ease over a period of 28 years. 

Since a one per­cent decrease in sat­u­rated fat con­sump­tion can make a dif­fer­ence, it is help­ful to know what this amount might look like in the diet. 

Assistant Professor Qu Sun, a mem­ber of the research team, pro­vided an exam­ple for Olive Oil Times: One cup of whole-fat milk roughly con­tains 5 grams of sat­u­rated fat, which is equiv­a­lent to 2 per­cent energy for an aver­age adult. For an indi­vid­ual who reduces whole-fat milk intake by one cup every day for twenty years, the health effects can be quite sig­nif­i­cant. So I think the 12 per­cent reduc­tion of risk is not really sur­pris­ing,” he said. 

The authors rec­om­mended replac­ing sat­u­rated fat with foods from the MedDiet because they con­tain health­ful fat and are nutri­ent-dense. Moreover, stud­ies link the eat­ing plan to a 30 per­cent reduc­tion in coro­nary artery dis­ease inci­dence. The diet includes fruit, veg­eta­bles, nuts, seeds and legumes. 

It also includes two excel­lent sources of health­ful fat: olive oil, which is rich in monoun­sat­u­rated fat, and oily fish, which is plen­ti­ful in omega‑3 fatty acids. The find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions have con­sid­er­able import, as heart dis­ease is the top cause of death in the U.S., accord­ing to the CDC.



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