Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France — Saturated fat is a major factor in the buildup of cholesterol and heart disease, but a new study reveals a lot may depend on where you’re getting those saturated fats from. Researchers with the European Society of Cardiology find that saturated fats from meat may be more harmful than consuming them in other foods.

“The association seen between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease risk in observational studies has previously been unclear; our findings are important because they provide a possible explanation — that the relationship may vary depending on the food source. We found that saturated fat from meat may be associated with a higher risk than other food sources – in part because those consuming large amounts of meat also had a higher body mass index (BMI) than low consumers,” says study author Dr. Rebecca Kelly from the University of Oxford in a media release.

Researchers studied over 114,000 participants of the U.K. Biobank who were all in good cardiovascular health at the start of the study. Each person completed a dietary questionnaire which helped the team to estimate how much total saturated fat the group consumes as well as how much saturated fat they take in from different foods like meat or dairy products. Study authors also collected blood samples and had participants complete a lifestyle questionnaire as well.

Study authors tracked each person for just under nine years using health records from hospitals and death records to determine if anyone developed heart problems during that time. Overall, 4,365 participants developed cardiovascular disease, 3,394 had heart disease, and 1,041 suffered a stroke.

Weight may be a bigger factor than food choices

Although the results did not find a clear link between total saturated fat and cardiovascular disease risk, researchers find that if a person increases their consumption of saturated fat from meat by five percent, total cardiovascular disease risk rises by 19 percent. Moreover, increasing your total energy intake by eating more saturated fat from meat also increases heart disease risk by 21 percent.

Despite these findings, the link did not hold up as well after account for body mass index (BMI). Additionally, researchers discovered that taking in saturated fat from dairy products actually reduced the risk of heart disease in participants. Again, however, the link did not hold up as well after accounting for a person’s weight.

“Our results suggest that differences in BMI may be responsible, in part, for the association between cardiovascular disease and saturated fat from meat. It is not possible to determine whether this is because of a specific impact of saturated fat from meat on BMI or because those with a higher BMI consume more meat. In addition, it is difficult to fully disentangle whether part of the effect of saturated fat on cardiovascular disease may be through higher LDL cholesterol in this cohort because cholesterol-lowering medication use is high in UK adults,” Dr. Kelly explains.

Finding ways to cut out ‘bad’ cholesterol

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally. Previous studies find that eating higher amounts of saturated fat leads to more low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol in the arteries. Having more bad cholesterol increases a person’s chances of eventually developing heart trouble.

Despite saturated fat’s link to high cholesterol counts and heart disease, some studies point to that risk differing depending on what foods you’re eating. Moreover, some reports suggest that not all kinds of saturated fat are completely bad for your healthy. In the long run, however, researchers says it’s best to limit how much of these fats are a part of your daily diet.

“We recommend following the dietary guidelines advice to consume less than 10% of daily energy from saturated fat. Our findings emphasize the importance of studying the different food sources of saturated fat when examining risk of cardiovascular disease. Further research is needed to ensure that these observations were not influenced by dietary or non-dietary factors that were not measured in this study,” Dr. Kelly concludes.

Researchers presented their findings at ESC Congress 2021.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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