This new study by Harvard researchers found that diets high in saturated fat increase the risk of early death:
Association of Specific Dietary Fats With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality, JAMA Internal Medicine, 5 July 2016
As epidemiological studies go, this was a good one. There was a large population (83,349 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, and 42,884 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study), high rates of follow-up, a long follow-up, and diet and lifestyle assessments every 2-4 years
Those who consumed more saturated fats (SFA) and trans fats (TFA) increased their mortality risk compared to those who consumed more unsaturated fats:
In 2 large cohorts with many repeated measures of diet and a long duration of follow-up, we found that … higher intakes of SFA and TFA were associated with increased mortality.
The best way to increase unsaturated fats while decreasing saturated fats is to eat less animal food and less vegetable oil. Processed plant oils are concentrated sources of fat that contribute to saturated fat intake (see below). Get your fat in no-oil-added, minimally processed plant foods.
Animal foods contain a lot of saturated fat, but that doesn’t mean plant foods are devoid of it. Recall that 14% of the fat in olive oil is saturated, and that one tablespoon of olive oil has more saturated fat than a large egg. About 20% of the fat in peanut butter is saturated. You can be eating a vegetarian diet and still be getting more saturated fat than the American Heart Association (AHA) advises.
If, for example, I was following the advice of the AHA and keeping my saturated fat intake to below 7% of the day’s calories, I would be eating less than 14 grams. If I ate all of the following (a vegetarian diet), I would be eating more saturated fat than the AHA recommends:
- 1 ounce cheddar cheese (6g sat. fat) or 1 tablespoon butter (7g)
- 1 ounce potato chips (2g)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (4g)
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter (3g)
People think olive oil is a health food. It’s not. It’s only because of marketing that we think olive oil is “heart healthy.” Here is the Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Lipidology, Dr. W. Virgil Brown:
Dr. Karmally: Because of the way the Mediterranean diet has been promoted, olive oil is in the center of that pyramid.
Dr. Brown: It’s viewed as healthful and as you pointed out, the Lyon Diet Heart Study really found that the one fat that correlated best with reduction in events was not monounsaturated oleic acid, the major fat of olive oil, it was linoleic acid.* And so I’m afraid that this has become a great hoax applied to the American diet and that we have not paid as much attention to the data as we should have in order to make a better decision about the content of fat in our diet.
– Discussion on Dietary Fat, Journal of Clinical Lipidology, October 2009
* Almonds are a great source of linoleic acid.