The link between saturated fats and the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) remain controversial, but few studies have compared saturated with unsaturated fats and sources of carbohydrates in relation to CHD risk. So a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology did just that: it compared saturated with unsaturated fats and different sources of carbohydrates in relation to CHD risk (2015;66(14):1538-48).
A total of 84,628 women (Nurses’ Health Study, 1980 to 2010) and 42,908 men (Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 1986 to 2010), who were free of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer at baseline were followed; diet was assessed every four years.
Over the course of the 24 to 30 years of follow-up, the researchers documented 7,667 incident cases of CHD. Higher intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and carbohydrates from whole-grains were significantly associated with a lower risk of CHD comparing the highest with lowest quintile for PUFAs and for carbohydrates from whole grains. In contrast, carbohydrates from refined starches/added sugars were positively associated with a risk of CHD. Replacing 5 percent of energy intake from saturated fats with equivalent energy intake from PUFAs, monounsaturated fatty acids or carbohydrates from whole grains was associated with a 25-percent, 15-percent and 9-percent lower risk of CHD, respectively. Replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates from refined starches/added sugars was not significantly associated with CHD risk.
The researchers concluded, “Our findings indicate that unsaturated fats, especially PUFAs, and/or high-quality carbohydrates can be used to replace saturated fats to reduce CHD risk."