A new Harvard study showed that good fats reduce mortality. This study consisted of 126,000 men and women over a 32-year period from 1980 to 2012. First of all, the researchers checked with every participant of the study every 2 to 4 years what amounts and what types of fat they were eating. Furthermore, none of the participants had heart disease, diabetes or cancer in the beginning of the study. In addition the participants were asked about 150 various kinds of fatty foods. This included margarine, fat or oil they were using to prepare dishes. Finally, this was compared to the death rates over the time of the study.
Main findings that good fats reduce mortality
Dr. Hu and co-researchers found out that more saturated and trans fat intake caused the following. When people ate more red meat, bacon and sausages (with saturated and trans fat) more people were dying. But they also found that replacing a small amount of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat could reduce mortality. The researchers found that people had to replace only 5% of the daily calorie intake from saturated fat. If they replaced it with good fats. such as polyunsaturated fat, their risk to die was reduced by 27%. If these calories came from monounsaturated fats, the death rate was reduced only 13%.
Diseases that are reduced when good fats reduce mortality
People who ate less saturated fats and avoid trans fats had a lower risk to die from neurodegenerative diseases, like MS and Parkinson’s disease and diseases of the airways. More evidence that good fats reduce mortality: the polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Other studies demonstrated in the past that this leads to lower cholesterol, better-controlled blood pressure and better insulin sensitivity (diabetes is prevented). The monounsaturated fatty acid from olive oil reduced mortality significantly.
When good fats reduce mortality, what are bad fats?
The Standard American diet is full of unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats. It is found in red meats and full-fat dairy. People were dying from diseases of the airways to a higher degree when they consumed more saturated fats. Replacing fats with carbohydrates did not reduce mortality. Whole-milk dairy products were associated in some studies with less obesity. The authors felt that this likely was because they make you feel full, so you stop consuming more food. Consuming dairy and butter can lead to less diabetes. But every tablespoon of more butter causes a 1% higher risk of death. If you enjoy a buttery Hollandaise sauce, bear in mind that the two tablespoons of butter in your helping amount to a 2% higher risk of dying down the road. And if you top the meal off with a butter tart, you may hike the risk to 3 %.
Trans fats, saturated fats and too many omega-6 fats are bad
The FDA has banned trans fats from food in 2013. Many processed foods, red meat and full-fat dairy products still contain trans fats. This causes cardiovascular disease like heart attacks, strokes and many cancers. Think about your consumption of crackers, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, pies and cakes. You can appreciate how quickly these items can add up with significant amounts for poor fat choices in them.
Good fats reduce mortality, but omega-6 fatty acids don’t
Unfortunately manufacturers put omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats into these food items as they lead to a longer shelf life. Profit, not health is what motivates snack food sellers. The study by the Harvard School of Public Health has shown that for every 2% of calories obtained from trans fat the risk of heart disease will be elevated by 23%! This is why junk food kills so many Americans and why the Standard American diet is so unhealthy.
Dr. Frank B. Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology and the main author of this Harvard study said: “Our study demonstrates that not all fats are created equal, and eating healthy unsaturated fats…[instead of] unhealthy saturated and trans fats is an important way to live a longer and healthier life.”
Good fats reduce mortality like omega-3 and omega-6
There is a lot of misunderstanding about unsaturated fatty acids. A few years back the news was out that unsaturated fatty acids are healthy. Immediately the food industry jumped on this and created all kinds of omega-6 fatty acid containing foods. Why? Because they are the ones that prolong the shelf life in the grocery store. Omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, fish, seafood, ground flax seed, hemp seed and chia seeds are oxidized more easily. This makes them turn rancid faster. And this shortens their shelf life.
Merchants have no knowledge about this and happily advertise how “healthy” their omega-6 products are. It is important to balance omega-6 fatty acids with omega-3 fatty acids in order to have a healthy combination of fats.
Balancing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Keep in mind that you want to change the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (the ratio in this link is cited as omega-6 to omega-3) more in the direction of omega-3 fatty acids. This ensures that the ratio will be between 1:1 and 1:3. Most Americans are exposed to ratios of 1:8 to 1:16. This means there are too many omega-6 fatty acids in fast food and processed foods. This leads to inflammation of the arteries as well. Omega-6 fatty acids from safflower oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, canola oil and soybean oil are bad for you when not balanced by enough omega-3’s (flax seed oil and fish oil). Unbalanced they can cause inflammation through the arachidonic acid system in the body.
It may be a surprise to you that saturated fats are OK: animal fat like butter, lard, cream, ghee (clarified butter), and other animal fats are much less of a problem. But they must come from clean (not antibiotic or bovine growth hormone treated) animals. Buy organic and buy organic meats as well such as grass fed beef and bison, chicken and turkey.
Healthy fats are omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) from fish oil as they are very protective, anti-inflammatory oils. Olive oil and coconut oil are healthy as well. These latter two are anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids. You want to replace some of the saturated fats with these latter anti-inflammatory fats and keep omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids balanced. This will prevent arthritis, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and may even be beneficial for cancer prevention.
In conclusion, the Harvard study is very powerful, as it has a large number of both male and female participants (126,000). In addition it was conducted over a long period of time (32 years) giving it a lot of statistical relevance. As a result it has a lot of stratified information about various fat sources and tabulated mortality as an end point. Consequently, we learn from this study that saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthy. On the other hand, if we consume only 5% of the calories derived from fat as polyunsaturated fatty acids our risk to die is reduced by an impressive 27%. Hence, this hard evidence points to the fact that good fats reduce mortality. Add more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet to keep body inflammation at bay. Get some exercise daily and control your body weight and you will likely reap even more health benefits.