We have all heard that we should avoid eating too much saturated fat, but using vegetable oils to lower cholesterol may not really be the answer to improved health and longevity.
It has long been believed that people should replace saturated fats – those that typically come from animal-based foods such as butter, cheese, and some cuts of pork and beef – with unsaturated fats, which come from vegetables.
However, according to a new study, eating less saturated fat may not really have that big of an effect on how long we live or our overall health.
The study, which examined 40-year-old data from a study known as the Minnesota Coronary Experiment (MCE), concluded that there is no real association between having lower cholesterol and living a longer life. In other words, reducing the amount of saturated fat that you eat may not actually reduce your risk of dying from heart disease.
Based the original MCE, which took place between 1968 and 1973, researchers divided 9,000 participants into two groups and studied them for four to five years. One group avoided saturated fats and ate only unsaturated vegetable fats such as corn oil and corn oil margarine, while the other group continued with a diet that included saturated fats.
The unsaturated fat diet was shown to reduce cholesterol levels when compared to the control group, but there was no apparent change in the rate of death from heart-related issues.
What the study did not look into is whether or not the corn oil and corn oil margarine contained any artery-clogging hydrogenated vegetable oils or trans fats, both of which are now linked with heart disease. The study also did not look at the patients’ medical history or any genetic risk of heart disease.
The important lesson from this study is that the factors that we usually think are the main causes of heart disease – saturated fats and high cholesterol – may not be as important as we once believed. However, it is vital to remember that if you are on a low-cholesterol diet at the recommendation of your doctor, you should not make any changes without careful consideration and discussion.
Currently, worldwide guidelines suggest following the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on a mixture of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish. A number of studies have shown that this type of diet is healthy and can help to keep overall levels of cholesterol down in most people.