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Dietary fat and coronary heart disease

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By David Liu, PHD

Wednesday Aug 15, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- A person's risk for coronary heart disease is strongly influenced by his diet.  It has been known that a plant-based diet can completely stop the progression of the disease or even reverse the disease condition in many cases.

A review article by W.C. Willett of Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston MA suggests that dietary fats actually play a major role in the risk of coronary heart disease.

For his report published in the July 2012 issue of Journal of Internal Medicine, Dr. Willett reviewed 95 studies of all sorts including experimental studies, epidemiological studies and trials.  He has found something that may help food consumers understand the role of each major type of dietary fat in the risk of coronary heart disease.

Trans fat, commonly known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils should be eliminated from everyone's diet, according to the author, as they pose clear adverse effects on the risk of coronary heart disease.  It should be noted that beef and dairy products carry naturally occuring trans fat (about 15% of total fat), which is also detrimental.

Harvard nutritionists and epidemiologists have suggested that trans fat is involved in more than 100,000 deaths from heart disease.

Intake of saturated fat should be controlled and reduced intake of this type of fat may also moderately reduce the risk of coronary heart disease if saturated fat is replaced by a combination of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.

Replacement of saturated fat with certain carbohydrates may also further reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  Buy it should be remembered that not all carbohydrates are good. Replacing saturated fat with added sugar such as cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup may not help.

Dr. Willett says in his report "both N-6 and N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential and reduce risk of heart disease, the ratio of N-6 to N-3 is not useful and can be misleading."  This does not mean that omega-3 fatty acids are not helpful. Many nutritionists believe a low ratio of N-6 to N-3 is desirable. 

Generally speaking, Americans are believed to have too high intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fat from vegetables, which is not good for the protection against coronary heart disease. Two undesirable oils are corn oil and soybean oil bcause they contain too much N-6.

In reality, the author suggests that reducing red meat and dairy products (they likely contain naturally occuring trans fat) and increasing intakes of nuts, soy foods, fish and non-hydrogenated vegetable oils can improve the fatty acid profile and help protect against coronary heart disease.

Additionally, "a diet generous in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in refined starches, sugar-sweetened beverages, potatoes and salt "  helps prevent coronary heart disease.   This diet is similar to the plant-based diet Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a Cornell University nutrition professor suggests. 

Dr. Dean Ornish, a professor of University of California in San Fransisco in California used a plant-based diet and a lifestyle program to treat coronary heart disease patients. The efficacy is up to 99% and the treatment can stop effectively progression of the disease and in many cases reverse the condition.

President Bill Clinton is now using a plant-based diet (still using some fish) as advised by Dr. Ornish, and he claims that he feels much better now than ever.

Coronary heart disease kills about 600,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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