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Sep 12, 2014

Fatty Acids in Nuts and Seeds Protect the Heart

Replacing meats and dairy products with nuts and seeds helps reduce risk for heart disease, finds study.

Replacing meats and dairy products with nuts and seeds helps reduce risk for heart disease, according to a study recently published in Circulation.

This study was designed to resolve past controversy over omega-6 fatty acids—a type of unsaturated fat found in vegetable oil, seeds and nuts. Although unsaturated fat is considered heart-healthy in moderation, some researchers believed that omega-6 fatty acids may cause damage to the arteries, actually increasing risk for heart disease. However, most studies on the subject have been small and there’s little research supporting these concerns. That’s why organizations like the American Heart Association still recommend that people get 5-10% of their daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids.

To appease any concerns about omega-6 fatty acids, Harvard researchers reviewed past studies analyzing relationship between these unsaturated fats and heart disease. After identifying 13 studies including more than 310,000 individuals, researchers found that adults with the highest intake of omega-6 fatty acids had 15% lower risk of cardiac events like heart attack and stroke compared to those with the lowest intake levels. Compared to those with the lowest intake of omega-6 fatty acids, individuals with the highest intake also had 21% lower risk of death from heart disease. Confirming current recommendations, researchers also found that replacing just 5% of caloric intake with omega-6 fatty acids from saturated fat reduced risk of cardiac events by 9% and risk of death by 13%.

Based on these findings, authors conclude that consuming omega-6 fatty acids does, in fact, reduce risk for heart disease. Findings also support current recommendations to replace saturated fat found in meats and dairy with polyunsaturated fats to reduce risk of heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats?
  • Eating saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in the blood, which increases risk of heart disease and stroke. Unsaturated fats, however, help lower cholesterol levels and, in moderation, can lower risk of heart disease. Most saturated fats come from meat and dairy products, as well as baked and fried foods. Unsaturated fats can be found in fish, nuts, seeds and certain oils. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is recommended to reduce risk for heart disease.
  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

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