New epidemiological study confirms dietary guidelines on saturated fats

Posted on: December 07, 2016

Consuming high amounts of four major saturated fatty acids – predominantly found in butter, dairy, meat and in coconut and palm oil – may increase risk of coronary heart disease, according to a new study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The findings also suggest that replacing these fats with other fats, whole grains and plant proteins may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Previous studies have shown that individual saturated fatty acids have different effect on blood lipids, but little is known about associations between individual saturated fatty acid intake and risk of coronary heart disease.

The researchers analyzed data from two large US longitudinal cohort studies that involved 73,147 women between 1984 and 2012, and 42, 635 men between 1986 and 2010. Participants reported their diet and health status on questionnaires completed every four years.  

The results revealed that the most commonly consumed major saturated fatty acids were lauric, myristic, palmitic and stearic acids. Each of these saturated fatty acids was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Replacing 1% of daily consumption of palmitic, stearic, and the major saturated fatty acids pooled together with equivalent calories from polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, whole grain carbohydrates, or plant proteins, was estimated to reduce relative risk of coronary heart disease of 5-8%. Replacing palmitic acid – naturally present in palm oil, meat, dairy products and cheese – was associated with the strongest risk reduction.

The current study findings are in line with dietary guidelines that focus on replacing saturated fat rich foods with those rich in unsaturated fats.