Heart Health and Unsaturated Fats (March 2018)
There are many trends in the nutrition world, some effective and some ineffective. One of the trends that I currently see is people consuming more saturated fats from all the fad diets that exist.
Since I started my career as a cardiac dietitian, heart health has been an area that I have always paid attention to due to my family history of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Hypercholesterolemia (also known as high cholesterol).
A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) compared the four types of saturated fatty acids (palmitic, myristic, lauric, and stearic) both individually and combined.
This is the largest study regarding fatty acids and their impact on heart health to date, with researchers following more than 73,000 women and 42,000 men health care professionals over a 28-year span. Every four years, participants filled out a survey regarding the food choices they made and the scientist’s tracked heart attacks, heart disease and any related deaths.
Before discussing results, it’s important to understand the four types of unsaturated fats that were examined and what foods they can be found in.
Palmitic acid is found in cow’s milk, meat and poultry. The amount that we ingest depends on the cut of meat and the method of preparation.
Lauric acid is found in coconut (all forms of it) and palm kernel oil. Palm kernel is in many packaged foods and coconut has received a lot of press lately due the medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) that it contains.
Stearic acid is found in cocoa butter products (such as chocolate), beef tallow, lard and butter.
Myristic acids found in both coconut and palm oils, butter, and various forms of animal fat.
The study showed that increased risk of heart disease was dependent on the most popular types of saturated fats consumed (comparing the highest to the lowest in consumption).
For example, when the health impacts of stearic and palmitic acid were compared, palmitic acid caused the most heart-related difficulties, with an 18% risk of heart disease. This is likely due to this being the most common saturated fat in our food supply.
The study also demonstrated that replacing saturated fat with plant-based, polyunsaturated, fat is associated with a lower risk of coronary artery disease.
To reduce the changes of heart disease, it is best to shift from saturated to unsaturated fats. Examples of this include: avocado, nuts, olives, humus, vinaigrettes and using corn or soybean oil to cook foods at a high temperature.
You may consider simply changing to some of the unsaturated fats instead of eliminating all saturated fats for good. Some of these saturated fats taste delicious and it’s important to pay attention to what you are in the mood for, instead of eating what you believe you “should be” eating.
It is important to be aware of your family medical history when making food choices but this should not stop you from eating foods purely because they bring you joy.
I believe in balance, variety, and moderation as well as eating in the way that best fuels your unique body and brings you to optimal health and happiness.
- De Souza, R., Anand S. (2016). Saturated fat and heart disease. British Medical Journal: 355: i6257.
- Briggs, M., Petersen, K., & Kris-Etherton, P. (2017). Saturated fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: replacement for saturated fat to reduce cardiovascular risk, Retrieved on 21 November 2017 from www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov