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.
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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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