Saturated Fat And Heart Disease: Understanding The Link

Jan 28. 2023

It’s not always clear what we should and shouldn’t eat to improve our heart health, especially when it comes to fats. Although there have been previous studies showing how individual saturated fatty acids pose certain effects on blood lipids, little is known about the relationship between individual saturated fatty acid intake and the risk for heart diseases.

This article will delve further into understanding if saturated fat actually increases the risk for heart disease from the perspective of a heart specialist and based on relevant clinical studies.

What Exactly Is Saturated Fat?

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and occurs naturally in many foods. Most types of saturated fat come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products and other tropical fats like coconut, palm, and palm kernel. To name a few, beef, lamb, pork, poultry, especially with skin, beef fat (tallow), lard and cream, butter, cheese, ice cream, coconut, palm kernel oil, palm oil, and some baked and fried foods are some common examples of saturated fat.

Saturated fats are generally considered the “unhealthy” type of fat because they tend to increase total cholesterol, including the more harmful LDL cholesterol. On the other hand, unsaturated fats are the “healthy fats” that help minimize health risks associated with LDL cholesterol. These fats can be found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado.

Saturated Fats And Heart Disease – The Connection

Eating foods containing saturated fats raises cholesterol levels in your blood (LDL). In parallel to that, high levels of LDL cholesterol raise the risk of blockages forming in arteries in the heart, thereby increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. This is why dietary recommendations focus on reducing or limiting saturated fat intake to avoid developing the risk of heart conditions.

This has been proven by a research from Harvard University, USA, where people who had a 5% high intake of chain dietary saturated fatty acids mainly lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid had an 18% increased risk of coronary heart disease during 24- 28 years of follow-up.

The research was analyzed from two longitudinal cohort studies. One was from 42,635 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study between 1986 and 2010, and the second used 73,147 women in the Nurses’ Health Study between 1984 and 2012. The follow-up study was conducted between 1986-2010, and the participants reported their diet and health status through questionnaires every four years.

The Latest Dietary Advice

Dietary experts say that limiting all food sources of saturated fat is too complex and not necessarily accurate. They say food is more than just the sum of its parts. This may include many different nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and other properties that may act together to prevent or cause certain diseases. For example, although dairy products are commonly known as a form of saturated fat, they also have many other beneficial nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin K2, and probiotics.

The best way to reduce the risk of heart disease is to replace saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats. Replacing only 1% of these fatty acids with equal calories from polyunsaturated fats like whole grain carbohydrates or plant proteins has reduced the risk of relative coronary heart disease by 6%-8%. The strongest risk reduction was replacing palmitic acid, typically found in palm oil, meat, and dairy fat.

In addition, the Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025 suggests that you should get no more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories from fats and limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily calories. So, for example, if you have a 2000-calorie diet, 200 calories or 22 grams (g) of saturated fats, a day is your daily allowance.

To win the battle against heart conditions, patients need behavioural science-led care between in-person appointments. This is why at GluCare. Health we have developed the region’s first cardiac monitoring program, which involves continuous remote data monitoring of patients with data streaming back to us in real time. From prevention, and early detection, to sustainable management of heart conditions, we aim to provide a comprehensive and inclusive treatment plan for all our patients from the moment they start their healthcare journey with us.

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