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Saturated Fat Increases Risk of Heart Disease

by Dr. Jamesh Meschino on

December 14, 2023 in

Source: British Medical Journal (November 2016)
Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update (March 20, 2017)

A study published in the November 2016 issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) confirmed what many previous studies have shown over the years.  Saturated fat in the diet is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

This message has been lost in recent years as news reports focus their attention on sugar and trans fats. There’s no question that too much sugar and the ingestion of foods loaded with trans fats contribute to heart and vascular disease.

How saturated fat intake causes cardiovascular diseases?

Studies show that sugar increases triglyceride levels and inflammation and trans fats raise cholesterol levels, elevates blood pressure, increases blood sugar level all of which contribute to heart and vascular disease.

However, for some reason in recent years, some authorities have given saturated fat a free pass, failing to acknowledge the significant impact that saturated fat has on raising total cholesterol, increasing the bad cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol), and promoting clot formation in the blood vessel wall, all of which are known to increase risk of heart attack, stroke and other vascular problems.

In fact, many people have gone back to eating fatty meats, like beef and pork and bacon, as well as high-fat dairy products, including butter because they were told that these foods don’t raise blood sugar or contain trans-fats, which makes them okay.

But research has shown for many years that foods high in saturated fat are a key culprit in heart disease risk. The BMJ (Nov. 2016) study examined the association between the consumption of different types of saturated fats and risk of heart disease in more than 73,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 42,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

That’s over 115,000 individuals. Additionally, the researchers estimated the effects of replacing 1% of daily calories from these saturated fats with the same number of calories from polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, whole grain carbohydrates, and plant proteins.

The results showed there was an 18% greater risk of heart disease in the group consuming the highest amounts of saturated fats, compared with the group consuming the least. The study also showed that certain types of saturated fat were riskier than others.

Which are the three most unhealthy saturated fats that can risk our heart health?

The three most important saturated fats with respect to heart disease risk included lauric acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid. Beef products are very high in palmitic acid. So are most pork products. Hot dogs, salami, bacon, sausages are very high in this heart-disease-promoting fat.

High-fat dairy products, like whole milk, cream, most cheeses, butter, even 2% milk, are very high in myristic acid and palmitic acid. Coconut oil, which is very popular these days, has a fat distribution that is 48% lauric acid, 16% myristic acid and 9.5% palmitic acid. Coconut oil is almost entirely fat, and 73.5% of the fats are heart-disease-promoting fats.

In this study, following over 115,000 people, the individuals eating these foods (especially high-fat meats and high-fat dairy products) had the greatest risk of developing heart disease. When individuals replaced the fats from these foods with plant protein (like soy products, peas, beans etc.) or polyunsaturated fats, there was an 11-12% reduction in risk of developing heart disease.

Other studies have clearly shown that lauric acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid raise cholesterol. For some, it’s a hard message to swallow, but avoiding or eliminating the consumption of beef, pork, high-fat fat dairy products, and tropical oils, like palm and coconut oil, is a prudent strategy in the fight against heart disease, stroke, and other vascular diseases.

Having worked with many patients over the years, the ones who follow my advice and avoid these foods see an almost instant drop in bad cholesterol, blood vessel inflammation, and body fat. So, the November 2016 study in the BMJ really “rings true” for me, based on my personal blood results and what I have watched patients achieve over the years.

I’ve included the British Medical Journal reference and a couple of other supportive references in the text below if you would like to learn more.

Primary References:

1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2016/12/19/saturated-fat-regardless-of-type-found-linked-with-increased-heart-disease-risk 

2. Zong, G., Li, Y., Wanders, A.J., Alssema, M., Zock, P.L., Willett, W.C., Hu, F.B., Sun, Q. Intake of individual saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: two prospective longitudinal cohort studies BMJ. 2016;355:i5796.

Secondary References:

3. Mensink, R.P., Zock P.L., Kester, A.D., Katan, M.B. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:1146-55. 

4. Hu, F.B., J.E. Manson, Willett, W.C. Types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr, 2001;20(1): p. 5-19.

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great!

Dr. James Meschino

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