According to British cardiologist Aseem Malhotra, the risk from saturated fat in foods such as butter, cakes and fatty meat is being overstated and demonized.
Dr. Aseem Malhotra said there was too much focus on the fat with other factors such as sugar often overlooked.
It is time to “bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease”, Dr. Aseem Malhotra writes in an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal.
However, the British Heart Foundation said there was conflicting evidence.
It added reducing cholesterol through drugs or other means does lower heart risk.
The risk from saturated fat in foods such as butter, cakes and fatty meat is being overstated and demonized
Studies on the link between diet and disease have led to dietary advice and guidelines on how much saturated fat, particularly cholesterol, it is healthy to eat.
Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiology registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London, says the “mantra that saturated fat must be removed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has dominated dietary advice and guidelines for almost four decades”.
The cardiologist says saturated fat has been “demonized” and any link with heart disease is not fully supported by scientific evidence.
The food industry has compensated for lowering saturated fat levels in food by replacing it with sugar, he says, which also contributes to heart disease.
Adopting a Mediterranean diet – olive oil, nuts, oily fish, plenty of fruit and vegetables and a moderate amount of red wine – after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing mortality as taking a statin, writes Dr. Aseem Malhotra.
Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower rates of cholesterol in the blood.
Cholesterol can also be reduced by eating a healthy, balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and doing regular physical activity.
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Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that a diet high in red meat can shorten life expectancy.
The study of more than 120,000 people suggested red meat increased the risk of death from cancer and heart problems.
Substituting red meat with fish, chicken or nuts lowered the risks, the authors said.
According to The British Heart Foundation, red meat could still be eaten as part of a balanced diet.
The researchers analyzed data from 37,698 men between 1986 and 2008 and 83,644 women between 1980 and 2008.
The researchers said adding an extra portion of unprocessed red meat to someone’s daily diet would increase the risk of death by 13%, of fatal cardiovascular disease by 18% and of cancer mortality by 10%.
The figures for processed meat were higher, 20% for overall mortality, 21% for death from heart problems and 16% for cancer mortality.
The study of more than 120,000 people suggested red meat increased the risk of death from cancer and heart problems
The study said: “We found that a higher intake of red meat was associated with a significantly elevated risk of total, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality.
“This association was observed for unprocessed and processed red meat with a relatively greater risk for processed red meat.”
The researchers suggested that saturated fat from red meat may be behind the increased heart risk and the sodium used in processed meats may “increase cardiovascular disease risk through its effect on blood pressure”.
Victoria Taylor, a dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Red meat can still be eaten as part of a balanced diet, but go for the leaner cuts and use healthier cooking methods such as grilling.
“If you eat processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages or burgers several times a week, add variation to your diet by substituting these for other protein sources such as fish, poultry, beans or lentils.”