Saturated Fats And Their Impact On Cardiovascular Disease

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What are Saturated Fat?

There are 24 different saturated fatty acids that are distinguished by the length of their carbon chain.

Saturated fat is found mainly in animal products, such as meat, milk or cheese, but also in certain vegetable oils, such as coconut or palm oil. However, since industrialization, saturated fats are increasingly present in foods, especially because they are used in processed products. Medium and long chain saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. It is among other things for this characteristic and for their stability that they are used in many processed products.

How are they dangerous?

As early as the early 1950s, several key studies established a parallel between the consumption of saturated fat and the increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats increase the “bad” cholesterol (LDL-C) in the blood, which causes, through a series of metabolic reactions, deposits in the arteries that prevent the blood from circulating properly.

This association is deeply rooted in the minds of health professionals. Most health institutions recommend consuming as little saturated fat as possible. For example, Health Canada and the American Institute of Medicine recommend reducing saturated fat to a minimum. Likewise, the American Heart Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation suggest limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total energy. These recommendations are intended to reduce the risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease. Yet more and more studies are questioning these recommendations, and many researchers believe that we have placed too much emphasis on the impact of these fats.

What are the new studies saying?

A 2009 meta-analysis of 28 prospective cohort studies (including 280,000 participants) found no significant association between saturated fat and cardiovascular health. Likewise, eating a diet with a higher polyunsaturated / saturated fat ratio does not appear to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality.

Similar conclusions were drawn from a second meta-analysis, published in 2010, this time including 21 prospective cohort studies including 347,747 participants followed for an average of 14 years.

In 2012, a meta-analysis by the Cochrane group analyzed the results of 48 randomized controlled clinical trials (involving 65,000 participants). Reducing the amount of fat in the diet and / or changing the fatty acid profile of the diet (reducing saturated fat in favor of unsaturated fatty acids) had no impact on mortality overall or mortality from cardiovascular disease. In addition, these changes in diet reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by 14%. However, when studies that changed other aspects of the intervention in addition to fat (e.g., smoking cessation, promotion of physical activity, consumption of fruits and vegetables, etc.) were withdrawn from the study. analysis, the results were no longer significant. In short, it is difficult to isolate the effect of saturated fat on the risk of cardiovascular events.

What to do to prevent cardiovascular disease?

The results of these studies challenge our beliefs about the effects of saturated fat on our cardiovascular health. They show us once again that we should never put all our eggs in one basket by relying on a particular nutrient to reduce our risk of disease. Although reducing the saturated fat in our diet seems ineffective in preventing cardiovascular disease, several nutritional recommendations remain valid in this regard:

Eat as little trans fat as possible. These fats have a very negative impact on cardiovascular health.
Make sure you are getting omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish regularly, as they have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.
Reduce your intake of added sugars. In an effort to decrease saturated fat in processed products, manufacturers frequently add more sugar. Unfortunately, this nutrient, primarily fructose, is increasingly criticized for its role in the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome.