Trade Animal Fats for Plant-Based Fats

by Sandy Todd Webster on Jul 21, 2016


In a detailed and powerful examination of how dietary fat affects health, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have shown that consuming higher amounts of unsaturated fats is associated with lower mortality. The findings suggest that replacing saturated fats like butter, lard and fat in red meat with unsaturated fats from plant-based foods—like olive oil, canola oil and soybean oil—can confer substantial health benefits and should continue to be a key message in dietary recommendations.

Published in the July 5 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, this large-scale study followed 126,233 participants from two long-term studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study—who answered survey questions every 2-4 years about their diet, lifestyle and health for up to 32 years.

Different types of dietary fat had different associations with mortality, the researchers found. Trans fats—which are near being phased out of food--had the most significant adverse impact on health. Every 2% increase in trans fat intake was associated with a 16% higher chance of premature death during the study period. Higher consumption of saturated fats was also linked with greater mortality risk. When compared with the same number of calories from carbohydrate, every 5% increase in saturated fat intake was associated with an 8% higher risk of overall mortality.

Conversely, consuming higher intakes of unsaturated fats—both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated—was associated with 11%-19% lower overall mortality than getting the same number of calories from carbohydrates. Among the polyunsaturated fats, both omega-6 fatty acids (found in most plant oils) and omega-3s (found in fish, soy, and canola oil) were associated with lower risk of premature death.

“Our study shows the importance of eliminating trans fat and replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats, including both omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. In practice, this can be achieved by replacing animal fats with a variety of liquid vegetable oils,” said senior author Frank Hu, MD, PhD, MPH, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.