Live longer: swap animal fats for vegetable fats

Despite recent claims, research shows meat free polyunsaturated fats are still healthier than saturated fats

Butter on a wooden board/olive oil and olives

Forget what you may have read in recent weeks: fats found in animal products such as butter and red meat are not a wise menu choice if you’re looking after yourself. Those chasing health and longevity should instead replace them with fats from meat free sources – and see the risk of an early death drop by between 11% and 19%.

That’s the conclusion of a American study of 126,000 people carried out over 30 years that has established that the unsaturated fats found in foods such as olive, canola and soybean oil are still best for human health – not to mention that of the planet – and can help you live longer. Trans-fats and saturated fats were linked to higher mortality rates when compared to carbohydrates delivering the same amount of calories, the study found.

The three decades of research, carried out by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, comprehensively puts to bed recent claims that it is better to eat animal fats than carbohydrates. In May, the National Obesity Forum advised people to eat more fat and fewer carbohydrates and to ignore Public Health England’s recommendation to eat less red meat and butter.

As well as reducing the chances of dying early from cancer and heart disease, swapping meat-derived fats for polyunsaturates decreases the risk of developing respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases too. And even a slight change in diet makes a difference, according to the research. Eat 15% less saturated fat and 15% more polyunsaturated fat – so replace 15 g of butter with olive oil, say – and the risk of early death dives by 27%.

“There has been widespread confusion in the biomedical community and the general public in the last couple of years about the health effects of specific types of fat in the diet,” said Dong Wang, lead author of the research. “This study documents important benefits of unsaturated fats, especially when they replace saturated and trans fats.”

Read a Q&A with the Harvard study’s lead author Dong Wang

 

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