Eliminating saturated fats can improve the health of the heart, but what you replace them with makes all the difference, says a study.
Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats and high-quality carbohydrates has the most impact on reducing the risk of heart disease, according to the study.
When saturated fats were replaced with highly processed foods, there was no benefit, the study found.
"We found that when study participants consumed less saturated fats, they were replacing them with low-quality carbohydrates such as refined grains that are not beneficial to preventing heart disease," said study author professor Frank B. Hu from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
"Our findings suggest that when patients are making lifestyle changes to their diets, cardiologists should encourage the consumption of unsaturated fats like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, as well as healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains," Hu said.
For this study, researchers followed 84,628 women and 42,908 men who were free of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer and documented 7,667 incidents of coronary heart disease.
Researchers noted that participants generally replaced calories from saturated fatty acids with calories from low-quality carbohydrates -- such as white bread or potatoes -- rather than calories from unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds or high-quality carbohydrates like those in whole grains.
Replacing 5 percent of energy intake from saturated fats with an equivalent intake from either polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, or carbohydrates from whole grains was associated with 25 percent, 15 percent, and 9 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, respectively.
However, replacing 5 percent of energy intake from saturated fats with carbohydrates from refined starches or sugars was not associated with either increased or decreased risk of coronary heart disease.
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.