A study published in the British Medical Journal revealed findings that, at first glance, are not that surprising: Saturated fat in the diet is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
However, the study offers a unique twist by teasing out the effects of different types of saturated fatty acids (SFAs).
Recent articles have attempted to exonerate saturated fat from its long time connection with heart disease, questioning if certain types of SFAs may have a weaker effect on raising blood cholesterol.
Butter, cheese, red meat, and full-fat dairy are high in saturated fat. Some plant-based fats like coconut and palm oil are also rich in saturated fat.
However, all of these foods differ slightly in their relative proportions of individual SFAs.
Commonly eaten SFAs include lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic. Coconut oil is richest in lauric acid, whereas butter is highest in palmitic acid; both contain smaller amounts of the other fatty acids.
The BMJ study examined the associations of individual and combined SFA intake (lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid) with heart disease risk in more than 73,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 42,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.
Additionally, the researchers estimated the effects of replacing 1% of daily calories from these fatty acids with the same amount of calories from polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, whole grain carbohydrates, and plant proteins.
There was an 18% greater risk of heart disease in the group consuming the highest amounts of SFAs compared with the group consuming the least, with palmitic acid and stearic acid showing the highest risk.
When replacing intake of individual SFAs, the greatest risk reduction was seen when replacing palmitic acid (found in palm oil, fatty cuts of red meat, and dairy fat) with plant proteins or polyunsaturated fat, with an 11% and 12% risk reduction, respectively.