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Healthy fats may save a million lives

Posted:  Monday, March 21, 2016

Fats have garnered a bad reputation with scientists linking them to heart disease and other chronic ailments. Now a new study finds that dietary intake of certain healthy fats can actually save lives. The study finds that replacing refined carbohydrates and saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats could avert 1 million heart disease-related deaths each year.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at food availability and diet related data from 186 countries. The study also analysed previous longitudinal studies to understand the effect of specific fats on heart disease.

The researchers found an interesting association between various fat consumption patterns and global heart disease burdens. They found that eating too little healthy polyunsaturated fats as a replacement for saturated fats was responsible for 711,900 (10.3%) deaths from heart disease worldwide.

Polyunsaturated fats are mainly found in plant-based foods and oils, including soybean, sunflower oil, tofu, nuts, seeds and fatty fish (for example, omega-6 oils). Consumption of polyunsaturated fats has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

The study indicated that 250,900 (3.6%) of global deaths from heart disease resulted from the excess consumption of saturated fats. Saturated fats can be found in meat, cheese, butter, and palm and coconut oils. The study also found that excess consumption of trans fats is responsible for 537,200 (7.7 %) of global heart disease deaths. Trans fats are present in processed, baked and fried goods, and cooking fats.

On comparing data from 1990 and 2010, the researchers found the following trends:

Deaths due to inadequate omega-6 oils consumption declined by 9%

Deaths due to high saturated fat intake dropped by 21%

Deaths due to high trans fats consumption rose 4%

Commenting on these findings, the senior study author Dr Dariush Mozaffarian said, "Worldwide, policymakers are focused on reducing saturated fats. Yet, we found there would be a much bigger impact on heart disease deaths if the priority was to increase the consumption of polyunsaturated fats as a replacement for saturated fats and refined carbohydrates, as well as to reduce trans fats. Because of strong policies, trans fat-related deaths are going down in Western nations (although still remaining important in the United States and Canada), but in many low- and middle-income countries, trans fat-related deaths appear to be going up, making this a global problem."

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