Crete, Greece

A study found eating a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) from plant sources was linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease and other causes. Conversely, it showed eating a diet plentiful in MUFA from animal sources was associated with a higher risk of death.

We should eat more mono-unsaturated fatty acids from plant sources and less mono-unsaturated fatty acids from animal sources.- Marta Guasch-Ferré, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

“MUFA from animal foods come mainly from dairy products, eggs, poultry, fish, processed red meat and unprocessed red meat,” lead author Marta Guasch-Ferré, told Olive Oil Times. “MUFA from plant foods come from vegetable cooking oils, especially olive oil; breads and cereals; fruits; vegetables; legumes; nuts; and seeds. High amounts of the latter are contained in olive oil, olives and avocados, as well as the nut varieties of almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans and macadamia.”

In the research, scientists examined data from 29,966 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and 63,412 women from the Nurses’ Health Study. The records included detailed food-frequency questionnaires that had been administered every four years.

Over the course of 22 years, 20,672 deaths occurred, 4,588 of which stemmed from heart disease. Evaluation of dietary information revealed the following:

  • Individuals with a higher intake of plant MUFA had a 16-percent lower likelihood of death from any cause.
  • Individuals with a higher consumption of animal MUFA had a 21-percent greater likelihood of death from any cause.
  • Substituting 2 to 5 percent of calories from refined carbohydrates, trans fats and saturated fats with an equal number of calories from plant MUFA might reduce the risk of death from heart disease and all causes between 10 to 15 percent.
  • Replacing 5 percent of calories from animal MUFA with an equal number of calories from plant MUFA might reduce the risk of death from heart disease and all causes between 24 to 26 percent.

The study was observational, a type of research that can identify a trend; but it doesn’t prove a cause-effect relationship exists. Results were adjusted for several factors that influence death risk, including alcohol intake, smoking, physical activity, intake of fruits and vegetables, body mass index, family history of chronic disease and the presence of heart disease risk factors at the study’s onset.

“MUFA from plants is a healthy type of fat. Research has shown that they can be beneficial for cardiovascular health because they have shown to benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, improve blood lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides and attenuate inflammatory processes. All of these are risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” added Guasch-Ferré.

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The MUFA from plant foods are wrapped in a healthful package: they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. In contrast, MUFAs from animal foods are often wrapped in an unhealthful package, as they contain saturated fat and other components that contribute to disease development.

“Our results emphasize the importance of the source and quantity of mono-unsaturated fatty acids in the diet. We should eat more mono-unsaturated fatty acids from plant sources and less mono-unsaturated fatty acids from animal sources,” said Guasch-Ferré in a press release.

The results were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2018.




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