Reboot your diet: Consuming more mono-unsaturated fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease by 26%

Make your diet more heart-healthy by including foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. A study found that eating more monounsaturated fatty acids from plants can lower the risk of heart disease by 26 percent.

Led by researchers at the Harvard School T.H. Chan of Public Health in Boston, the study investigated the effect of monounsaturated fatty acids consumption may have on death from cardiovascular disease and other causes. The researchers used data from 63,412 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 29,966 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. In both studies, detailed food-frequency surveys were given every four years to evaluate the composition of the participants’ diets.

More than 20,000 participants died during an average of 22 years of follow-up, and 4,588 of them died due to a heart disease. After that, the researchers analyzed the diet information and adjusted for other factors that could affect the risk of death, such as ethnicity, smoking status, consumption of alcohol, fruits and vegetables and total calories, family record of chronic disease, physical activity, body mass index, and heart disease risk.

They discovered that the participants who ate more monounsaturated fatty acids from plants had a 16 percent reduced risk of death from any cause than those who ate less. Conversely, those who ate more monounsaturated fatty acids from animals had a 21 percent increased risk of death from any cause.

The researchers suggested that consuming monounsaturated fatty acids instead of saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, or trans fats with the same caloric content might reduce the risk of death from heart disease and from any cause by 10 to 15 percent. Furthermore, consuming monounsaturated fatty acids from plants rather than from animals might reduce the risk of death from heart disease and any cause by 24 to 26 percent. Plant-based sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and other vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds. (Related: Boost good cholesterol with monounsaturated fats.)

“Our results emphasize the importance of the source and quantity of mono-unsaturated fatty acids in the diet – we should eat more mono-unsaturated fatty acids from plant sources and less mono-unsaturated fatty acids from animal sources,” said Marta Guasch-Ferré, one of the lead authors of the study.

The researchers presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention| Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2018. It doesn’t appear that the research differentiated between naturally grown animal sources from conventionally grown animal sources.

Other health benefits of monounsaturated fats

In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, monounsaturated fats also provide other health benefits. One of these is that it contributes to weight loss. Diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, like the Mediterranean diet, can help with weight loss and may be more effective than low-fat, high-carb diets. Moreover, studies also found that people who include high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids in their diet had lower rates of breast cancer. Adhering to these type of diets may also improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, both in people with and without high blood sugar. In addition, diets with high amounts of monounsaturated fats may help lessen inflammation. Although inflammation is a normal process in the immune system that helps the body fight infection, inflammation that happens for a longer period can contribute to chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease.

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