While eating high amounts of red meat and non-dairy animal fat increases the risk of stroke, consuming more vegetable fats can lower stroke risk, according to a new study led by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Our findings indicate the type of fat and different food sources of fat are more important than the total amount of dietary fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease including stroke,” explained study lead author Fenglei Wang.
Wang and his colleagues analyzed data collected in two of the largest studies examining the risk factors for various diseases, the Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2016), and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2016). In these longitudinal studies, 117,136 participants were followed over a period of 27 years.
At the beginning of the studies, as well as every four years, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire in order to assess the types and amounts of dietary fats that they consumed. The amount of fat intake was divided in five groups, or quintiles.
The experts found that the participants in the highest quintile of non-dairy animal fat intake were 16 percent more likely to experience strokes compared to those in the lowest quintile.
By contrast, those who ate the most vegetable and polyunsaturated fats were 12 percent less likely to have strokes compared to those who ate the least. Furthermore, dairy fats consumed from products such as cheese, milk, butter, or ice cream were not associated with higher risks of stroke.
“Based on our findings, we recommend for the general public to reduce consumption of red and processed meat, minimize fatty parts of unprocessed meat if consumed, and replace lard or tallow (beef fat) with non-tropical vegetable oils such as olive oil, corn or soybean oils in cooking in order to lower their stroke risk,” said Wang.
“Key features of a heart-healthy diet pattern are to balance calorie intake with calorie needs to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, choose whole grains, lean and plant-based protein and a variety of fruits and vegetables; limit salt, sugar, animal fat, processed foods and alcohol; and apply this guidance regardless of where the food is prepared or consumed,” added Stanley Gershoff, a professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
The study will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2021.