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New Study Questions Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease

18/03/2014 12:49 GMT | Updated 17/05/2014 10:59 BST

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A new scientific review analyzing dietary fat and heart disease from a variety of studies conducted in 18 countries with data collected on over 600,000 people was recently completed at the University of Cambridge in the UK. The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest that saturated fat intake may not be as closely related to heart disease risk as previously thought. However, a diet laden with trans fat (which is a type of saturated fat) found in many processed foods was linked to a 16 percent higher risk of heart disease.

The review analyzed the risk of heart disease associated with diets varying in the amounts of saturated, unsaturated and hydrogenated fats. (Hydrogenated fats are also known as trans fats).

Saturated fats are mostly from foods of animal origin such as red meat and full-fat dairy. Saturated fats are also found in coconut and palm oils.

Unsaturated fats are mainly from plant-based foods and include polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fats are commonly found in cooking oils like safflower and soybean oil. Monounsaturated fats are present in olive oil and avocados. Omega-3 fats are primarily in seafood, flaxseeds and walnuts.

Trans fats are man-made and produced by hydrogenating oils (adding hydrogen to oils) to make them solid at room temperature. Trans fats are margarine spreads, shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Although the review could not confirm that it is better to eat less saturated fats and more unsaturated fats, the results found that higher blood levels of two forms of omega-3 fatty acids - docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) - were associated with a lower risk of heart disease. These types of omega-3s are found in fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies and black cod.

In my opinion, based on the findings of this paper there is no evidence to tell people to consume a diet high in saturated fat. It is still a bad idea to eats lots of fast-food burgers and processed hot dogs. Yet, a diet rich in plant-based foods protects our health.

According to my new book "Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy," eating a well-balanced diet consisting of high-quality fresh ingredients that are produced organically and raised naturally has proven to be effective in prolonging life and reducing the risk of heart disease. Rather than trying to find a magic bullet or pinpoint a culprit in our food supply, it is more beneficial to take a holistic approach.

Choose natural foods in the right amounts. Locally produced food is the freshest and you can go right to the source to find out how it's being made. Eat a variety of seasonal vegetables and cook healthfully at home. When it comes to meat, choose grass-fed and lean cuts. As for dairy, opt for organic fat-free or low fat varieties. Grass-fed dairy products are hard to find in the markets.

The bottom line is that this research magnifies how difficult it is to blame one nutrient for the state of our health affairs.