A recent article published by the American Heart Association suggests those who follow a diet rich in plant-based monounsaturated fats are healthier. In fact, replacing saturated fats, trans fats and refined carbohydrates with plant-based alternatives could lead to a decreased risk of heart disease.

Plant-Based Monounsaturated Fats

According to Harvard Medical School, good sources of plant-based monounsaturated fats include: olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.

Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. This means they contain two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature, making them a healthier alternative to fats that are solid. Some sources of animal-based monounsaturated fats include: full-fat dairy products, eggs, poultry, red meats and fish.

The Study

To determine the health implications of animal-based monounsaturated fats, researchers analyzed 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 questionnaires were administered every four years to evaluate the participants’ diets. It should be noted that although this type of observational study can identify a trend among participants, it cannot prove cause and effect.

The Results

During an average 22 years of follow-up, there were 20,672 deaths among participants, with 4,588 caused by heart disease. By analyzing the diet information, researchers found:

  • Participants with a higher intake of mono-unsaturated fatty acids from plants had a 16 per cent lower risk of death from any cause compared to those with lower intakes.
  • Participants with a higher intake of mono-unsaturated fatty acids from animals had a 21 percent higher risk of death from any cause.
  • Replacing saturated fats, refined carbohydrates (like simple sugars) or trans fats with an equal number of calories (two per cent to five per cent of the total) from mono-unsaturated fatty acids from plants might lower the risk of heart disease deaths and death from any cause between 10 percent and 15 per cent.
  • Replacing mono-unsaturated fatty acids from animals with an equal amount of calories (five per cent of the total) of mono-unsaturated fatty acids from plants might lower the risk of heart disease deaths and deaths from any cause between 24 per cent to 26 per cent.According to researchers, these results should be interpreted with caution as the study relied on the participants to report their food intake. Furthermore, those consuming higher amounts of plant-based foods may be more health conscious in general.

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