Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats and carbohydrates from whole grains can significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) while replacing with refined carbohydrates does not, according to new research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The study followed 84,628 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and 42,908 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were free of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at baseline over the course of 24–30 years. The participants completed questionnaires on diet, lifestyle, medical history, and newly diagnosed diseases at baseline and every two to four years during follow-up.

A total of 7,667 incident cases of CHD were reported during follow-up, with higher intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and carbohydrates from whole grains significantly associated with a lower risk of CHD. the lowest quintile for PUFAs. Carbohydrates from refined starches/added sugars were positively associated with CHD risk, but replacing 5% of calories from saturated fats with equivalent calories from PUFAs, monounsaturated fatty acids, or carbohydrates from whole grains was associated with a 25%, 15%, and 9% lower risk of CHD, respectively. Replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates from refined starches/added sugars was not significantly associated with CHD risk.

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Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, FACC, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, added in a statement that clinicians play an important role in helping patients make healthy lifestyle choices. “All physicians and medical personnel who interact with patients should speak with them about the benefits of consuming unsaturated fats and healthy carbohydrates,” said Fuster.

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