Why you should eat healthy fats, ditch bad fats to protect your heart

If you're avoiding unhealthy fats, you ought to make sure you're eating healthy fats too, scientists say in a new study. File photo/Getty Images

You may be cutting back on the bacon and fast food, but you should make sure you’re also adding nuts, fish and sources of healthy fats into your diet, scientists say.

In a global study, American researchers say they’ve – for the first time – measured the negative effects of not eating enough healthy fats on the human heart. Turns out, it’s just as bad for you as indulging in too much saturated fat.

“Worldwide, policymakers are focused on reducing saturated fats,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, senior investigator and Tufts University professor, said.

“Yet we found there would be a much bigger impact on heart disease deaths if the priority was to increase the consumption of polyunsaturated fats as a replacement for saturated fats and refined carbohydrates,” Mozaffarian explained.

READ MORE: Fast food vs. restaurant fare – which is worse for your waistline?

The findings are based on the diet information of about 3.8 billion people from 186 countries. The research pulled data from longitudinal studies that followed study participants over the span of decades.

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Turns out, nearly 712,000 heart disease-related deaths were tied to patients not eating enough omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, such as healthy vegetable oils. That’s about 10.3 per cent of total global heart disease deaths.

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But only about 250,000 deaths linked to heart disease were caused by excess consumption of saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. That’s only 3.6 per cent of global heart disease deaths during the same time frame.

READ MORE: Some of the worst foods for your heart’s health

Saturated fats include processed meats, high-fat dairy and cheese products, palm and coconut oils.

The healthy fats the researchers are pointing to include fatty fish packed with brain-nourishing omega vitamins, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring, according to Carol Dombrow, who’s been a registered dietitian with the Heart and Stroke Foundation for almost 25 years.

Healthy oils, such as soybean, olive and canola, and walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are also great sources of polyunsaturated fats.

“Canadians need to look at both the quantity and the quality of the fat they consume,” Dombrow told Global News.

“There are still a lot of unknowns in terms of saturated fats. It makes sense to watch the amount you’re eating,” she said.

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READ MORE: 5 ways Canadians can reverse heart disease risk

Trans fat – found in deep fried foods, frozen foods and packaged products – was to blame for 7.7 per cent of heart disease deaths, too. That’s 537,200 deaths.

It’s made when a liquid vegetable oil is changed into a solid fat. It’s usually added to processed goods to make them tastier and helps keep the food stay fresh longer.

Health officials in the Western world have cracked down on food manufacturers using trans fat in their products. While trans fat-related deaths decreased in Canada and the U.S., the researchers note that it’s causing a pandemic of obesity and heart disease in the developing world.

READ MORE: What one woman in Gabon taught doctors about global obesity

It’s seeped into India and the Middle East, for example, because it’s inexpensive and easy to use in the home and by street vendors.

Cultural differences in diet also played a part: Countries, such as Russia, Germany and Egypt had the highest rates of heart disease-related deaths due to too little healthy fats.

“These findings should be of great interest to both the public and policymakers around the world, helping countries to set their nutrition priorities to combat the global epidemic of heart disease,” Mozaffarian said.

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His full findings were published Thursday in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Read the full study here.

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