Ditching butter and other saturated fat and eating margarine and vegetable oil instead cuts the risk of heart disease as much as statins, health officials said.
An official advisory by the American Heart Association, issued to cardiologists around the world, said consuming the polyunsaturated fat in ‘healthy’ spreads and oils could cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent – the same benefit as seen from taking cholesterol pills.
The document, written by experts at Harvard School of Public Health, cast doubt on the results of recent studies which promoted the return of butter and cream.
For decades, nutritionists have told us to cut down on full-fat milk and other meat and dairy high in saturated fat.
But several major studies in recent months have found that people who eat lots saturated fat are no more likely to have an early death than anyone else.
Scientists analyzed all available evidence and found saturated fat – such as that found in butter – was linked to an increased risk of heart disease
The new advisory aims to ‘set the record straight’ – concluding the evidence ‘overwhelmingly’ backs the theory that cutting saturated fat is better for the heart.
How was the study carried out?
The scientists analyzed all available evidence on the subject and found saturated fat – such as that found in butter, whole milk, cream, palm oil, coconut oil, beef, and pork – was linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Replacing this with polyunsaturated fat – found in spreads and vegetable oils – or monounsaturated oils found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts – cuts the risk of heart problems.
The study, published in the Circulation medical journal, bolsters NHS advice that saturated fat should be lowered in the diet.
Set the record straight
Lead author Professor Frank Sacks, of Harvard School of Public Health, said: ‘We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
‘Saturated fat increases LDL – bad cholesterol – which is a major cause of artery-clogging plaque and cardiovascular disease.’
He added: ‘A healthy diet doesn’t just limit certain unfavorable nutrients, such as saturated fats, that can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other blood vessel diseases.
‘It should also focus on healthy foods rich in nutrients that can help reduce disease risk, like poly- and monounsaturated vegetable oils, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and others.’
The official advisory said consuming the polyunsaturated fat in ‘healthy’ spreads and oils could cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent – the same benefit as seen from taking cholesterol pills
His team wrote: ‘Randomized controlled trials that lowered intake of dietary saturated fat and replaced it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil reduced cardiovascular disease by approximately 30 percent –similar to that achieved by cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins.’
Not all spreads are healthy
The authors, however, warned that not all margarines and spreads are healthy.
They found that some forms of margarine which use ‘trans-fats’ – a type of fat which improves shelf life – actually raise the risk of heart disease.
The use of trans-fats has been largely reduced in Britain, following major campaigns by organizations including the Daily Mail since the 1990s.
Consumption of trans-fats, made using partially-hydrogenated plant oils, has plummeted since companies started taking action – 2.1 percent of average energy intake came from the fats in 1985, down to an estimated 0.7 percent by 2012.
But it is still used by companies abroad, as well as takeaways, restaurants and some manufacturers of margarine, sweets, biscuits and cooking oil.
The report authors wrote: ‘[One] concern is the use of lightly hydrogenated corn oil margarine in the polyunsaturated fat diet. This type of margarine contains trans linoleic acid, the type of trans fatty acid most strongly associated with coronary heart disease.’
Replace saturated fats
Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We recommend replacing the saturated fats in the diet with unsaturated fats – using oils instead of butter and choosing foods like avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds instead of foods high in saturated fats like cakes, biscuits, chocolate and fatty meat.
‘This advisory is from the American Heart Association, but the recommendations are consistent with advice on diet and cardiovascular disease in the UK.
‘The 30 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease seen in the randomised controlled trials reminds us of the significance of dietary change as part of a range of lifestyle factors in lowering your risk of developing heart disease.
‘However, lifestyle change should go hand-in-hand with taking any medication prescribed by your doctor, it shouldn’t be seen as one or the other.’
BUTTER ISN’T BAD – AS LONG AS YOU WALK
For decades we’ve been told to steer clear of butter and cream if we want to stay healthy.
However, in April a group of doctors claimed that avoiding the saturated fats in these products does nothing to reduce heart disease.
Their call for a major shift away from the idea fat is bad for you provoked a heated scientific row.
The doctors, led by cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, said the widely held belief that saturated fats clog the arteries is misguided.
Instead, they said, people can best avoid heart disease by eating ‘real’ home-cooked food, taking a brisk 22-minute walk every day and avoiding stress.
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