Consuming high levels of saturated or trans fat can increase the risk of dying, a new report has found. The good news is that people can reduce some of the risks by going for the good or healthy fats.
According to Dr. Frank B. Hu, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, the new study is the most powerful and detailed analysis of the link between different dietary fat types and mortality to date.
"Eating healthy unsaturated fats at the expense of unhealthy saturated and trans fats is an important way to live a longer and healthier life," said Hu, adding that the findings show that not all fats were created equal.
The large study involved more than 126,000 male and female participants. The research team monitored and analyzed their eating habits during a 32-year period, from 1980 all the way to 2012.
At the start of the study, none of the participants had any symptoms of type 1 or type 2 diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease.
Every two to four years, the researchers touched base with the participants and asked them about the type of fat and amount consumed in their diets. In particular, the participants answered questionnaires inquiring how often they ate portions of about 150 types of fatty foods. They were also asked about the types of oil, fat or margarine they used for cooking and preparing food.
The data gathered were then compared to death rates among the participants. In the course of the 32-year study, more than 33,300 participants died.
The team found that while consumption of high levels of trans or saturated fats increased death risks, the effects can be lowered by eating more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Findings showed that if people switched 5 percent of their caloric intake from the bad fats with polyunsaturated fats, the associated death risk can be reduced by as much as 27 percent. If they opted for monounsaturated fats, death risks can drop by up to 13 percent.
"Essential fatty acids are found in most foods in their natural state, such as coldwater fish, nuts, seeds, hemp and avocados. The saturated sources are usually processed, including fractioned oils, hydrogenated oils, margarine, butter, animal fats and high-fat dairy products," said Lenox Hill Hospital's nutritionist Sharon Zarabi.
In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned trans fats from products. However, many can still be found in food items such as donuts, crackers, pies, cakes and cookies.
The research was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on July 5.