New research suggests that as many as 700,000 deaths each year could be avoided if people ate more healthy fats.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Seven million people each year die due to complications of damage to the heart’s blood vessels. The importance of fat in regulating the health of these blood vessels is well established.
Saturated fats have multiple actions inside the human body to raise circulating cholesterol, particularly the bad or LDL cholesterol. Along with salt, saturated fats also raise blood pressure, increase inflammation and reduce the ability of blood vessels to relax.
In the quest to lower saturated fats, all dietary fats are being avoided.
Fats are chemically very complex but they can be broadly divided into saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The level of saturation depends upon the chemical bonds in the fat and this regulates its chemical behaviour in the body.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish (as omega-3 polyunsaturated fats) and plants (mainly as omeg-6 polyunsaturated fats in plant oils such as sunflower, safflower, seeds and nuts).
In a recently published analysis of international trends in health and dietary fat intakes, the dangers of not consuming enough healthy polyunsaturated fats was exposed.
From the worldwide database of heart deaths and dietary records it was calculated that reducing saturated fat in the diet would reduce the rates of heart disease death by 4%. This same analysis also highlighted that eating too little healthy polyunsaturated fats increased the risk of heart disease by 8%.
This research highlights the importance of healthy fats in the diet. Saturated fats pose a real and measureable threat to heart health. Nevertheless the benefit of polyunsaturated fats is often forgotten.
Unlike saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats may have a beneficial effect on lowering risk of heart disease. Fish, nuts, seeds and vegetables oils should make up part of a healthy diet.