Dr. Manny: New study on saturated fats and heart disease could confuse patients

A new review of studies that looked at the amount of fat people consume in their diets found that it may not have as much of an effect on the risk for heart disease as we once thought.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and led by top scientists at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., examined data from 72 previously published studies of more than 600,000 people in 18 countries.

Here’s what they found: No specific saturated or polyunsaturated fats had a significant impact on heart disease risk.

Current guidelines from the U.S. government and recommendations from the American Heart Association suggest people consume more polyunsaturated fats and limit their consumption of saturated fats. But this study may change the way we look at dietary fats.

Now everybody stay calm – this is not the medical community giving you free rein to eat whatever you want. Researchers also found that trans fats, found mostly in processed foods, were responsible for a 16 percent increased risk for heart disease.

So, here’s a clear message you can take from this study: Eliminate all trans fats from your diet right now. That question has been answered clearly.

Now let’s get back to saturated and polyunsaturated fats that were examined in the study. When the researchers looked at fatty acids in the blood, they found little difference in heart disease risk based on levels of saturated or polyunsaturated fats.

But just because fatty acid intake, whether saturated or polyunsaturated, was not tied to heart disease specifically, does not mean that they may not still pose health risks when consumed in large quantities.

Saturated fat comes mostly from animal sources like processed meats or high-fat dairy products, while polyunsaturated fats tend to come from plant-based foods and fish.

From a standpoint of what is healthier for you, certainly, polyunsaturated fats are the way to go. When we talk about cardiovascular risk, such as heart attack or stroke, evaluating risk is more complex than just looking at fat consumption.  A lot of what we know today about these health maladies has to do with inflammation of the blood vessels, irritant pollutants— such as cigarette smoke—and of course, genetic predisposition.

So don’t get confused: If you give in to a diet high in saturated fats, your internal plumbing will become clogged.