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New research suggests that the type of fat matters when it comes to its impact on cardiovascular health.
According to a new study, it’s not just about the amount of fat consumed in one’s diet, but where this fat comes from when it comes to heart health. While vegetable fat could decrease the risk of stroke, animal fats have the opposite effect.
Presenting their findings at the recent American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, the research team showed how eating higher total amounts of red meat, processed red meat and non-dairy animal fat was linked to increased risk of stroke. The study, which involved more than 117,000 health care professionals over 27 years, found that those who ate more animal fats had a 16% higher risk of stroke compared to those who ate the lowest amounts.
Vegetable fat lowers stroke risk
On the other hand, participants who ate the highest amount of vegetable fat and polyunsaturated fat had a 12% decreased risk of developing stroke compared to those who ate the lowest amount.
Participants had an average age of 50 years and completed food frequency questionnaires every four years of the study. After 27 years, 6,189 participants had strokes, including 2,967 ischemic strokes and 814 hemorrhagic strokes.
The research marks the first study of its kind to comprehensively examine the impact of fats derived from vegetable, dairy and non-dairy animal sources on stroke risk.
“Our findings indicate the type of fat and different food sources of fat are more important than the total amount of dietary fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease including stroke,” shared lead author Fenglei Wang, Ph.D. of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
The study also found that people who ate more than one serving of total red meat per day had an 8% higher risk of stroke, while those who ate one more serving of processed red meat elevated the risk of stroke by 12%.
Replace animal fats with plant-based sources
Sharing more about the results, the research team advised the general public to slash their red and processed meat intake, and replace animal-based fats with vegetable-based sources.
“Replace lard or tallow (beef fat) with non-tropical vegetable oils such as olive oil, corn or soybean oils in cooking in order to lower their stroke risk,” said Wang.
“Many processed meats are high in salt and saturated fat, and low in vegetable fat. Research shows that replacing processed meat with other protein sources, particularly plant sources, is associated with lower death rates,” added Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., during the virtual AHA conference.
Liechtenstein further urged the public to adopt a plant-forward approach to their diet to achieve better overall health outcomes. “Choose whole grains, lean and plant-based protein and a variety of fruits and vegetables; limit salt, sugar, animal fat, processed foods and alcohol; and apply this guidance regardless of where the food is prepared or consumed.”
Vegan diets and health
The latest study adds to the growing bed of scientific evidence emphasising the positive health impact of plant-based diets, compared to meat-heavy ones. Data shows that vegan diets reduce the risk of heart disease, and help increase the presence of gut microbes that are linked to lower obesity rates and diabetes.
Other studies have connected higher amounts of plant-based food intake with better urological health, reduced risk of prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction in men.
Most recently, one paper examined the connection between pill use in older adults and their diets. It found that seniors who ate a vegan diet took on average 58% fewer medications than meat-eaters.
All images courtesy of Pexels.