A new review from the American Heart Association (AHA) revealed that swapping unhealthy dietary fats, like saturated fat, with healthier choices like monounsaturated fat—found in olive oil—can reduce bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s nearly as effective as taking statins.
Healthy fats include polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fat is found in corn, soybean, and peanut oils, while monounsaturated fat can be found in olive, avocado, and safflower oil. On the other hand, saturated fat is found in meat, full-fat dairy products, and oils such as coconut or palm oil (tropical oils).
The AHA carried out a review of healthy and unhealthy fats, as there were questions regarding the dietary limits of such fats. Lead advisory author Dr. Frank Sacks explained, “We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Saturated fat increases LDL — bad cholesterol — which is a major cause of artery-clogging plaque and cardiovascular disease.”
The advisory board found that reducing one’s intake of saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated fat reduced the risk of heart disease by nearly 30 percent—similar to that of a person taking statins.
There have been numerous other studies that support the idea that reducing the intake of saturated fat and increasing one’s intake of poly- and mono-unsaturated fats can have a positive effect on heart health and cholesterol overall.
Although many believe that coconut oil is a healthy fat to intake, the researchers found that it actually increased LDL cholesterol similar to that of intaking saturated fat.
Sacks concluded, “A healthy diet doesn’t just limit certain unfavorable nutrients, such as saturated fats, that can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other blood vessel diseases. It should also focus on healthy foods rich in nutrients that can help reduce disease risk, like poly- and mono-unsaturated vegetable oils, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and others.”
The Mediterranean diet is perhaps the best diet to follow. It focuses on lean proteins, high amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, minimal refined or processed foods, and of course, healthy fats like olive oil.