Streams of information about the role of fats in people’s health have been flooding the population for years, with changing and sometimes contradictory messages. From the condemnation of cholesterol, we have gone on to distinguish between good (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega 3, etc.) and bad (trans, saturated, etc.) fats. But all is still not clear, for example, regarding saturated fats. Specifically, to what extent is the message that eating fewer saturated fats helps prevent cardiovascular disease true?
A recent evaluation by Nutrimedia, a project of the Science Communication Observatory at Pompeu Fabra University (OCC-UPF) and the Iberoamerican Cochrane Center, has concluded that this message is “probably true” because the available scientific evidence indicates (with a moderate degree of certainty) that reduced consumption of saturated fats for at least two years can slightly reduce the risk of suffering cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke or heart attack.
The Nutrimedia evaluation, supported by systematic reviews of numerous randomized clinical trials involving more than 50,000 participants, also reveals that this reduction in the consumption of saturated fats leads to little or no effect on mortality (with a high degree of certainty). This is not incompatible with the slight reduction in cardiovascular risk noted in the studies, since the observed effect is very small (1.4% risk reduction).
In quantitative terms, this slight reduction in risk means that for every 100 people who reduce their consumption of saturated fats, between 1 and 2 cases of stroke or heart attack may be prevented. The results are applicable to men and women, healthy people, and people at high cardiovascular risk.
Health benefits can be seen after reducing the consumption of saturated fats for at least two years, replacing them with polyunsaturated fats, carbohydrates and proteins. But what does this mean in practical terms? What fats and foods should we reduce and replace?
Among other practical ways of reducing saturated fats in the diet is switching to low-fat dairy products, reducing the consumption of animal fats and products with a high saturated fat content, such as biscuits, cakes and pastries, butter, ghee or gui (a type of clarified or light butter of Indian origin), lard, palm oil, cold-cuts and cured meat, hard cheeses, cream, ice-cream and chocolate, according to the Cochrane review by the group of Lee Hooper published in August 2020, used as a benchmark for this evaluation.
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