The American Heart Association (AHA) lists Cardiovascular disease (CVD) as the leading global cause of death. According to the AHA, CVD is responsible for 17.3 million deaths per year. Links are often drawn between heart health and fat consumption, thus making research into fats and their impact on the body a very important contribution to the fight against heart disease. Commonly touted as a negative factor in a healthy diet, debate is growing concerning how bad fat really is for us. Animal fats, such as butter and lard, have been seen as worse alternatives to plant oils, such as olive and sunflower. This is because animal fats are higher in saturated fat. This is because sat fats have been linked to plaque build up in the arteries which can lead to heart problems.
However, research conducted by Public Health England offers a starkly different conclusion. In a survey, it was discovered that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates or protein did not decrease people’s risk of suffering a heart attack. In fact, refined carbohydrates such as those present in white bread – as opposed to complex carbs in vegetables and whole grain foods – were seen to be just as bad as the often maligned sat fats. A significant reduction in the risk of heart attacks was only seen when saturated fats were replaced like-for-like with polyunsaturated fats. The lead author of the study Dr Lee Hooper concluded that “saturated fat isn’t quite as much a villain as we thought.” The ongoing debate regarding how bad fats really are for us continues, and has even been the subject of a Time magazine cover.
The focus on plant fats as a healthier alternative to animal fats, as well as the quest for healthier cooking options could be seen as factors which contributed to the recent rise in the popularity of coconut oil. In 2015, Whole Foods reported that sales of coconut oil had doubled every year for the preceding three years. The health benefits associated with this oil claimed that the fat it contained was better for the body than other fats as it could help increase the levels of good cholesterol in the body. However, new guidance from the AHA is suggesting otherwise.