The world is experiencing an epidemic of heart disease. Figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, causing three out of 10 deaths each year.

Findings of a new study, however, suggest that every year, more than a million lives worldwide can be saved if people begin eating healthy fats and limiting their intake of unhealthy fats.

For the new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Jan. 20, Dariush Mozaffarian from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and colleagues examined the diet and death rates from heart disease in 186 countries.

They found that 711,900 of deaths from heart disease, or more than 10 percent of all deaths from heart disease worldwide could be attributed to the lack of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in the diet.

Polyunsaturated fats are known to reduce bad cholesterol level and have long been linked to reduced risk for heart disease and stroke. These healthy fats can be found in walnuts, vegetable oil and fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, and salmon.

The researchers also found that 250,900 deaths, or 3.6 percent of deaths due to heart disease worldwide, were due to people consuming too much saturated fat, considered the bad fat, which are primarily found in meat and dairy products.

"We estimated that insufficient n‐6 PUFA, excess TFA, and, to a lesser extent, excess SFA are leading to significant CHD mortality globally," the researchers wrote in their study.

"These findings will help inform global, regional, and national policy priorities and public health programs to reduce burdens of chronic disease."

Health experts have been urging people to reduce saturated fats from their diet but the results of the study suggest that prevention of heart disease should be two-fold. One is to cut intake of unhealthy fats and the other is to replace these with healthy fats.

"Our findings highlight the importance of ending America's fear of all fat. We estimate that nearly 50,000 Americans die of heart disease each year due to low intake of vegetable oils," Mozaffarian said.

Besides adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight are other measures to prevent heart disease.

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