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Eating healthy fats can lower cholesterol as much as taking a statin

July 12, 2017—Want to eat your way to a healthier heart? The American Heart Association (AHA) offers this latest advice: Replace the saturated fat in your diet with poly- and mono-unsaturated vegetable oils. Doing so can reduce your risk of heart disease as much as taking a cholesterol-lowering drug.

The latest information

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. Because there's a lot of information out there about diet, cardiovascular disease and cholesterol, the AHA put together an advisory committee to look at the research and assess what's accurate—and what isn't. After reviewing current evidence, the committee found that:

• Lowering saturated fat and replacing it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil can reduce cardiovascular disease by about 30 percent. That's the same result usually seen with taking a cholesterol-lowering drug called a statin.

Saturated fats are found in meat, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oils. Polyunsaturated fats are found in walnuts and in oils such as canola, corn and peanut oils. Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados; nuts such as almonds, cashews and pecans; and oils such as olive and safflower oils.

• Rates of cardiovascular disease don't decrease when saturated fats are replaced with refined carbohydrates and sugars.

• Coconut oil, a trendy ingredient right now, raises LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). Even though it's marketed as a health food, coconut oil is more than 80 percent saturated fat. It raises cholesterol the same way as the saturated fats found in butter, beef fat and palm oil.

Want to learn more? Check out the advisory.

What you can do

People in East Asian and Mediterranean countries eat very little saturated fat. They also have low rates of cardiovascular disease. With this in mind, the AHA suggests following the Mediterranean-style diet outlined in the 2015&ndash2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) dietary pattern.

Both of these diets are high in fresh fruits and vegetables. They include whole grains and moderate amounts of dairy, fish and poultry. Get the details about DASH from this handy PDF. And learn more about the Mediterranean-style diet in the online version of the guidelines.

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