Agree or Disagree: We Should Replace Saturated Fat with Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats Nutrition Science Panel

In order to reduce the rate of cardiovascular disease, organizations including the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, the British National Health Service, the United States Food and Drug Administration, and the European Food Safety Authority have recommended replacing intake of saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. However, the recent analysis of the Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-73) suggests that replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) may not lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Agree or disagree: adults should actively replace saturated fat with a balance of foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and fish.

Date Published: April 17, 2016

Last Updated: July 26, 2016

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Panelist Response

Tim Crowe, PhD
Deakin University

10Agree - Very Confident

Nutrition advice is fortunately not based on single studies. Looking at the research field as a whole, there is a reduction in cardiovascular disease when saturated fat is replaced with food sources higher in unsaturated fats. Yet this loses focus that we don’t eat nutrients; we eat foods. A huge diversity of foods contain both saturated and unsaturated fats. A 30g serving of walnuts has more saturated fat than a rasher of bacon yet the long-term health effects of these are clearly divergent!

Grant Schofield, PhD
Auckland University of Technology

60Disagree - Somewhat Confident

There is no evidence that saturated fat is harmful to humans in the context of eating whole food. You may well benefit from eating more fat, MUFA and PUFA included but that's not because saturated fat is a problem.

Richard Hoffman, PhD
University of Hertfordshire

11Agree - Very Confident

The Mediterranean diet epitomises a diet rich in monounsaturated fats and is recognised as the best dietary pattern for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. When discussing polyunsaturated fats, it is important to distinguish between omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acids, and omega- 3 fatty acid found in fish oils and plants. Many people in the West consume too much omega-6 fatty acids - which are pro-inflammatory - and not enough omega-3 fatty acids.

Tanis R. Fenton, PhD
University of Calgary

10Agree - Very Confident

Adults should replace some saturated fat with mono (MUFA) & poly-unsaturated fats. The best balance of omega 6, omega 3, and MUFA fats are in canola, olive and soybean oils as well as walnuts (not all nuts/seeds) & fish. While MUFAs are theoretically desirable to maintain good HDL levels, their effect on CVD is not clear (Cochrane review, RCTS, Hopper 2015). CV events were moderately reduced in studies that replaced saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat, and but not with carbohydrate (Hooper).

Chris Marinangeli, PhD
Pulse Canada

11Agree - Very Confident

Foods that provide mono- and polyunsaturated fat, such as those suggested here, have long been known to be part of dietary patterns that confer health benefits and lower the risk of life-style related diseases. The Mediterranean dietary pattern is one such paradigm. It is not surprising that overemphasis of one dietary constituent can cause imbalances or displace consumption of alternative nutrients that confer a positive effect.

Sean F. O'Keefe, PhD
Virginia Tech

11Agree - Very Confident

High 18:1n-9 plus 200-250 mg HUFA n-3 and low 18:2n-6.

David Katz, MD
Yale University

10Agree - Very Confident

A balance of unsaturated oils is clearly a good thing; we have long known that chugging linoleic acid (omega-6 fat, sourced in this study from corn oil) is not. If we ask a question that conflates the two, we will get a useless answer. If we unbundle the two, we get to sense: they are NOT the same, and one is good for us, the other bad. A fully developed discussion here.

Scott Harding, PhD
King's College London

10Agree - Very Confident

Sat fat and CHD is probably one of the most confusing issues in nutrition. CHD is not only driven by LDL and sat fat intakes, they do contribute, along with unhealthy dietary patterns, high inactivity, low fitness, other conditions like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Replacing sat fats with poly fats will lower your CHD risk ( but eating no more than 10% sat fat (% of energy) is OK - no need to fear sat fat at these levels. Don't focus on 1 nutrient in health.

Chafik Hdider, PhD
National Institute of Agronomic Research, Tunisia

11Agree - Very Confident

Natalie Parletta, PhD
University of South Australia

21Agree - Somewhat Confident

There is good evidence for the health benefits of monounsaturated fats but the evidence for polyunsaturated fat is muddied by the fact that omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are thrown into the mix together. They have very different mechanisms of action ( are pro-inflammatory and omega-3 are anti-inflammatory), an issue with the high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s in modern diets. I would recommend olive oil, avocado, nuts, fish etc. rather than vegetable oils and margarine.

David Thurnham, PhD
University of Ulster

11Agree - Very Confident

Duane Mellor, PhD
University of Canberra

20Agree - Somewhat Confident

This is not quite the right question. There is evidence to move towards unsaturated fats, but both Minnesota Coronary Experiement (amongst other flaws) and Sydney Heart Study replaced too much saturated fat with possibly the wrong ratio of polyunsaturated fats. Where proportions of the different types of fat were more balanced around 10% energy from both saturated fat and polyunsaturated fats in Lyon Heart Study, Olso Heart study and PREDIMED positive effects were seen.

William B. Grant, PhD
Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center

10Agree - Very Confident

The Nurses' Health Study just reported "Replacing 5% of energy from saturated fats with equivalent energy from PUFA and MUFA was associated with estimated reductions in total mortality of 27% (HR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.70-0.77) and 13% (HR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.82-0.93), respectively."

Rebecca C. Reynolds, PhD
University of New South Wales

50Disagree - Not Confident

We should replace foods high in saturated fat (maybe less so dairy saturated fat?) with foods high in monounsaturated and n-3 polyunsaturated fats (olive oil and fish) -and then whole foods that contain n-6 polyunsaturated fats (nuts), but less so refined n-6 oils like corn oil - until we have more research on the health effects of n-6

Claire McEvoy, PhD
Queen's University Belfast

10Agree - Very Confident

The Mediterranean diet, high in olive oil and natural nuts, is proven to prevent primary cardiovascular disease.


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