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Eating Healthy Fats Could Save Almost 1M Lives Annually

  • Jessica Berman

People who eat more polyunsaturated fats have been found to have a lower risk of heart disease.

People who eat more polyunsaturated fats have been found to have a lower risk of heart disease.

People who do not consume enough polyunsaturated fats, the good kind found in soybeans, corn, nuts, fish and sunflower oil, are putting their lives at risk. These heart-healthy fats help reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood, in turn lowering the risk of heart disease.

Using 2010 data, researchers at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, estimated more than 711,000 people died that year because they did not eat enough of the good kinds of fat.

Meanwhile, bad fat — the saturated fat found in meats, cheeses, and palm and coconut oils — led to the heart disease-related deaths of some 250,000 people. Another bad fat — known as trans-fat and found in processed foods — was linked with more than a half million deaths worldwide.

FILE - Researchers found a correlation between risk of heart disease and the saturated fat found in meats, cheeses, and palm and coconut oils.

FILE - Researchers found a correlation between risk of heart disease and the saturated fat found in meats, cheeses, and palm and coconut oils.

Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author on the study, and his colleagues analyzed data, including diet and food availability information, from 186 countries.

"So, really, the major priorities for preventing heart disease should be to increase helpful fats and to reduce industrial trans fats," said Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

Trans fat ban

Looking at trends in fat consumption over time, researchers on the study — published in the Journal of the American Heart Association — found that recent bans of trans fats in processed food in some countries has led to a reduction in deaths.

"In high-income countries like in the U.S. and Western Europe, the burdens due to trans fat are going down, which is consistent with a lot of active policy measures to reduce trans fat in high-income countries,” Mozaffarian said. “But in middle-income and low-income countries, there is still a lot of deaths from trans fat. Trans fat is from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. [It is] a cheap fat in many of these countries."

Tropical nations, including the Solomon Islands, Malaysia and the Philippines, had the highest rates of heart-disease deaths linked to consumption of the saturated fats found in processed foods.

Countries in the former Soviet Union, in particular Ukraine, were notable for having the greatest numbers of deaths due to insufficient intake of good fats.

The findings were part of the Global Burden of Diseases Study funded by the Gates Foundation.

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