Consuming higher amounts of unsaturated fats has been associated with lower mortality, according to a study published on July 5th from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


In a large data capture over three decades, researchers found that higher consumption of saturated and trans fats was linked with higher mortality rates compared with the same number of calories from carbohydrates. They also found that unsaturated fats from plant-based food such as olive oil, canola oil, and soybean oil conferred substantial health benefits and should continue to be recommended in federal dietary guidelines.  


The participants answered survey questions every 2-4 years about their diet, lifestyle, and health. Researchers then examined the relationship between types of fats in the participants' diets and overall deaths among the group during the study period, as well as deaths due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and respiratory disease.


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The study claims to be the most detailed and powerful examination to date on how dietary fats impact health but to be honest, the findings aren’t exactly groundbreaking. Anybody with a cursory knowledge of dietary macronutrients and their function won’t drop their teacup over the data. The listed correlation between high saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease has been well worn by health professionals for decades, and the researchers admit in the article’s press release that the worst offender in the data – trans fats – are so well known as a nutritional no-no that they’re being ‘phased out’ of the public diet. They also present evidence for the health benefits of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, information generally found these days on a supermarket tin of tuna.


What is pleasing about this study is the lack of bias. Whilst so many seek to demonize one macronutrients or food group, this research presents a comparatively equable view. The researchers note that participants who replaced saturated fats with carbohydrates were at a lower risk of early death as the saturated fat groups, but only slightly, and of those populations who consumed higher amounts of carbohydrate, there was a 11-19% lower overall mortality rate in populations who consumed more unsaturated fat.


If not in its newness, then, the “power” of these findings may refer to the sheer amount of data they collected for the study, with participants totalling over 120,000 people. In any case, this report is exactly how nutritional research should be: empirically sound, with inclusive conclusions that don’t manipulate the data.



"Specific Dietary Fats in Relation to Total and Cause-Specific Mortality," Dong D. Wang, Yanping Li, Stephanie E. Chiuve, Meir J. Stampfer, JoAnn E. Manson, Eric B. Rimm, Walter C. Willett, and Frank B. Hu, JAMA Internal Medicine, online July 5, 2016, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.2417.


Press release information can be found here:

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