The widely held belief that dietary saturated fat clogs up the arteries and so causes coronary heart disease is just “plain wrong”, according to an international editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“Coronary artery disease is a chronic inflammatory disease and it can be reduced effectively by walking 22 minutes a day and eating real food,” the authors write.
They say the public health message in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease must shift away from measuring cholesterol in the blood and reducing dietary saturated fat.
Australian experts agree that the idea that saturated fat increases cardiovascular disease is a “misconception”.
Dr Yutang Wang, senior lecturer at the School of Applied and Biomedical Sciences at Federation University Australia, says food is an important part of our life and saturated fat has been an important nutrition source for humans for thousands of years.
“Depriving saturated fat from our diet, unsurprisingly, has been shown to increase mortality risk,” he says.
The frequent consumption of deep fried food, which uses both saturated and unsaturated fats, has however been linked to coronary artery disease and should be avoided, Wang adds.
Dr Jacqueline Phillips is professor of neuroscience at Macquarie University and says an individual’s risk of heart disease is influenced by a number of factors including genetics and environment but a healthy diet and exercise can be “powerful” interventions.
The Mediterranean diet, high in good fat such as those found in nuts, olive oil and fish, has been proven to have significant health benefits, Phillips says.
“The benefit is derived not from lowering of bad cholesterol (LDL) but fixing the balance of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) to overall (or total) cholesterol in the blood,” she adds.
Studies also show that 30 minutes of moderate activity more than three times a week improves insulin sensitivity, and therefore reduces the risk of heart disease.
However, Peter Clifton, professor of nutrition at the University of South Australia, is not so supportive of the editorial.
He says lowering saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and has been shown to reduce heart events.
“Many interventions with a variety of agents that lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by different mechanisms clearly show that lowering LDL cholesterol is important,” Clifton says.
“Saturated fat also enhances insulin resistance and inflammation so replacing it with unsaturated fat has other benefits than just lowering LDL cholesterol.”
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