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Cutting down on saturated fat can shorten your life, study shows

Saturated fats are typically found in animal products such as milk, cheese and meat.

Slashing dietary saturated fat is not recommended for good health and can even shorten your life, an international study has shown.

Scientists who investigated a global population of more than 135,000 people found that cutting saturated fat intake so that it accounted for less than 3% of total calories increased death rates by 13%.

Higher levels of consumption of fats of all kind reduced the overall risk of death by 23%, stroke risk by 18% and non-heart related mortality by 30%.

Diets high in carbohydrates – accounting for 77% of calories – were associated with a 28% greater risk of death, although they did not affect rates of heart attacks and strokes.

The researchers compared people in the top fifth of fat and carbohydrate consumers with those in the bottom “quintile” over a period of 7.4 years. Study participants had an age range of 35 to 70 and came from 18 low, middle and high income countries.

Globally, the average diet consisted of 61.2% carbohydrates, 23.5% fats, including 8% saturated fats, and 15.2% protein.

Carbohydrate intake was highest in China, South Asia and Africa, while people who ate the most fat lived in North America, Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia.

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(Andy Butterton/PA)

Lead scientist Dr Mahshid Dehghan, from McMaster University in Canada, said: “The current focus on promoting low-fat diets ignores the fact that most people’s diets in low and middle income countries are very high in carbohydrates, which seem to be linked to worse health outcomes.

“In low and middle-income countries, where diets sometimes consist of more than 65% of energy from carbohydrates, guidelines should refocus their attention towards reducing carbohydrate intake, instead of focusing on reducing fats.

“The best diets will include a balance of carbohydrates and fats – approximately 50-55% carbohydrates and around 35% total fat, including both saturated and unsaturated fats.”

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(Yui Mok/PA)

Results from the Pure (Prospective Urban-Rural Epidemiology) study were published in the Lancet medical journal and presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress taking place in Barcelona, Spain.

During the study, 5,796 participants died and there were 1,649 deaths caused by heart and artery disease. The researchers recorded 2,143 heart attacks and 2,234 strokes.

Saturated fats, typically found in animal products such as milk, cheese and meat, have traditionally been viewed as unhealthy and harmful to the heart and arteries.

But the study found that higher consumption of saturated fat reduced the risk of dying by 14% and the risk of stroke by 21%.

So-called “healthy” mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats cut mortality by 19% and 20% respectively.

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(John Walton/EMPICS Sport)

Saturated fat owes much of its bad reputation to the fact that it raises levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.

However, the Pure researchers found that higher intakes of saturated fat also raised levels of “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) which protects arteries.

They also found that measuring LDL level was not a reliable way of predicting the likely effect of saturated fat consumption on the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.

The researchers said their findings did not support average global recommendations to limit total fat intake to less than 30% of calories and saturated fat intake to less than 10%.

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