(NaturalNews) Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats really does lower a person's risk of heart disease, scientists have shown for the first time.
In a paper published in the journal Public Library of Science, Harvard researchers conducted a meta-analysis of eight prior studies on more than 13,000 total participants. The individual studies followed patients for one to eight years.
Scientists have believed for some time that a diet lower in saturated fat can lower a person's risk of heart disease. Although the exact causes of heart disease remain unknown, it has been established that saturated fat raises the body's levels of LDL ("bad') cholesterol, which in turn can clog arteries. In contrast, the polyunsaturated fats found in sunflower or safflower oil and fish are known to lower LDL levels.
The researchers found that, consistent with the theory, people who switched from to polyunsaturated fats were 19 percent less likely to suffer from serious heart problems, including heart attacks, over the study period. The longer they stayed on the new diet, the lower their risk.
Participants who did not change their diets tended to get approximately 5 percent of their calorie intake from polyunsaturated fats. In contrast, those who switched were getting roughly 15 percent of their calories from polyunsaturated fats. Every 5 percent increase was associated with a 10 percent lower risk of serious heart problems.
The researchers noted, however, that due to the study design, much of the benefit observed could simply have come from a lower saturated fat intake and not from the polyunsaturated fats per se. They did not examine the effects of replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil), protein or carbohydrates.
In addition to a lower saturated fat intake, the best ways to improve heart health are to avoid smoking, get plenty of exercise, and eat a balanced diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.