CVD risk increases with intake of saturated fats from meat

Elvira Manzano
16 Sep 2021

Regular intake of saturated fatty acids (SFA) from meat could increase cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk whereas dairy sources, grains, fruits, and vegetables could be cardio-protective, suggests a study in the UK.

The risk of total CVD increased by 19 percent for every 5 percent increase in energy consumption from SFA from meat among patients enrolled in the study. As for ischaemic heart disease (IHD), the risk rose by 21 percent.

By contrast, IHD risk decreased by 11 percent for every 5 percent increase in SFA intake from dairy sources.

“The association of saturated fat with CVD varied by source,” reported study author Dr Rebecca Kelly of the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, England. “This partly explained the lack of association between total SFA intake in the current study and in previous observational trials.”

The current study involved 114,285 individuals enrolled in the UK Biobank who had full dietary and CVD assessments for 8.5 years. [ESC 2021, abstract 84799]

Grains, fruits, veggies lower stroke risk

Replacing SFA from meat with either grains or fruits and vegetables reduced the risk of stroke by 14 percent.

BMI accounted for a large proportion of the associations between SFA intake from meat and CV outcomes, suggesting confounding or mediation by adiposity, Kelly added.

Commenting on the study, Professor Christi Deaton from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK said the finding supports the recommendations of the American Heart  Association (AHA) and the US Dietary Guidelines to restrict SFA intake to <10 percent of total calories to reduce CVD. It also put forth the importance of SFA sources.

What do we know about SFA and CVD?

Previous studies have linked foods rich in SFA, for example, meat and dairy, with CVD risks. The current study sought to identify the associations between SFA and CVD, including potential mediators.

Data on 114,285 UK Biobank participants, who were free of CVD at baseline, were investigated. There were 4,365 CVD cases overall – 3,394 were for ischaemic heart disease and 1,041 were for stroke – over a median follow-up of 8.5 years.

There was no significant association between total SFA intake and CVD outcomes when lifestyle and CV risk factors were looked into. Nonetheless, intake of SFA from meat was associated with an elevated risk of total CVD (p=0.006). The same was also true for IHD (p=0.010). Adjustment for BMI attenuated the associations (hazard ratio [HR], 1.11 for every 5 percent increase in energy intake for total CVD whereas  HR, 1.12 for IHD).

Dairy foods inversely associated with IHD

SFA from dairy foods was inversely associated with IHD risk (HR, 0.89 for every 5 percent increase in energy intake; p=0.003). Adjustment for BMI attenuated this risk (HR, 0.91).

There was no association between consumption of SFA from processed food and total CVD, IHD, or stroke. Replacing energy intake from meat with that from other sources appeared to reduce the risk of CV outcomes (HR, 0.86; p=0.002 with whole grains, HR, 0.86; p=0.003 with fruits and vegetables).

More data are needed to examine these associations in other populations, including in Southeast Asia.

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