Moderate consumption of fat and carbs is best for good health

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MB-Foods-oil-salads-iStockResearch with more than 135,000 people across five continents has shown that a diet which includes a moderate intake of fat and fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of high carbohydrates, is associated with lower risk of death. As well, contrary to popular belief, consuming a higher amount of fat (about 35% of energy) is associated with a lower risk of death compared to lower intakes.

To be specific about moderate, the lowest risk of death was in those people who consume three to four servings (or a total of 375 to 500 grams) of fruits, vegetables and legumes a day, with little additional benefit from more.

However, a diet high in carbohydrates (of more than 60% of energy) is related to higher mortality, although not with the risk of cardiovascular disease.

These are the top messages of two reports, both produced from a major global study led by researchers at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Canada. The reports are also being presented at the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona, Spain.

The data are from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study which followed more than 135,000 people from 18 low-income, middle-income and high-income countries. The study asked people about their diet and followed them for an average of seven and half years.

The research on dietary fats found that they are not associated with major cardiovascular disease, but higher fat consumption was associated with lower mortality; this was seen for all major types of fats (saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and mono unsaturated fats), with saturated fats being associated with lower stroke risk.

Total fat and individual types of fat were not associated with risk of heart attacks or death due to cardiovascular disease.

The researchers point out that, while this may appear surprising to some, these new results are consistent with several observational studies and randomised controlled trials conducted in Western countries during the last two decades.

The large new study, when viewed in the context of most previous studies, questions the conventional beliefs about dietary fats and clinical outcomes, says Mahshid Dehghan, the lead author for the study and an investigator at PHRI. “A decrease in fat intake automatically led to an increase in carbohydrate consumption and our findings may explain why certain populations such as South Asians, who do not consume much fat but consume a lot of carbohydrates, have higher mortality rates,” she said.

Dehghan pointed out that dietary guidelines have focused for decades on reducing total fat to below 30% of daily caloric intake and saturated fat to below 10% of caloric intake. This is based on the idea that reducing saturated fat should reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but did not take into account how saturated fat is replaced in the diet.

She added that the current guidelines were developed about four decades ago using data from some Western countries where fat was more than 40% or 45% of caloric intake and saturated fat intakes were more than 20%. The consumption of these are now much lower in North America and Europe (31% and 11% respectively).

The second paper from the PURE study assessed fruit, vegetable and legume consumption and related them to deaths, heart disease and strokes. The study found current fruit, vegetable and legume intake globally is between three to four servings per day, but most dietary guidelines recommend a minimum of five daily servings. Given that fruits and vegetables are relatively expensive in most middle-income and low-income countries, this level of consumption is unaffordable for most people in many regions of the world such as South Asia, China, Southeast Asia and Africa, where the levels of their consumption is much lower than in Western countries.

“Our study found the lowest risk of death in those who consumed three to four servings or the equivalent to 375 to 500 grams of fruits, vegetables and legumes per day, with little additional benefit for intake beyond that range,” said Victoria Miller, a McMaster doctoral student and lead author of the paper. “Additionally, fruit intake was more strongly associated with benefit than vegetables.

“The PURE study includes populations from geographic regions which have not been studied before, and the diversity of populations adds considerable strength that these foods reduce disease risk.”

Previous research has shown that eating fruits, vegetables and legumes decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and deaths, but most studies were conducted mainly in North America and Europe with a few from other parts of the world. “Raw vegetable intake was more strongly associated with a lower risk of death compared to cooked vegetable intake, but raw vegetables are rarely eaten in South Asia, Africa and Southeast Asia,” Miller said. “Dietary guidelines do not differentiate between the benefits of raw versus cooked vegetables – our results indicate that recommendations should emphasize raw vegetable intake over cooked.”

Legumes include beans, black beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas and black-eyed peas and are frequently eaten as an alternative for meat or some grains and starches such as pasta and white bread.

“Legumes are commonly consumed by many populations in South Asia, Africa and Latin America. Eating even one serving per day decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Legumes are not commonly consumed outside these geographic regions, so increased consumption among populations in Europe or North America may be favourable,” said Miller.

In a third study, the same researchers looked at the impact of fats and carbohydrates on blood lipids and blood pressure. They found that LDL (so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol) is not reliable in predicting effects of saturated fat on future cardiovascular events. Instead, the ratio of Apolipoprotein B (ApoB) and Apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1), or organising proteins in the blood, give the best indication of the impact of saturated fat on cardiovascular risk.

Andrew Mente, an investigator at PHRI and an associate professor of the department of health research methods, evidence and impact at McMaster, is an author on the three studies. “The findings of these studies are robust, globally applicable and provide evidence to inform nutrition policies. This is relevant because in some parts of the world nutritional inadequacy is a problem, whereas in other parts of the world nutritional excesses may be the problem,” he said.

“Most people in the world consume three to four servings of fruits, vegetables and legumes a day. This target is likely more affordable and achievable, especially in low and middle-income countries where the costs of fruits and vegetables are relatively high.”

“Moderation in most aspects of diet is to be preferred, as opposed to very low or very high intakes of most nutrients,” said Salim Yusuf, principal investigator of the study and the director of the PHRI.

Summary 1
Background: The relation between dietary nutrients and cardiovascular disease risk markers in many regions worldwide is unknown. In this study, we investigated the effect of dietary nutrients on blood lipids and blood pressure, two of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, in low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries.
Methods: We studied 125 287 participants from 18 countries in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Habitual food intake was measured with validated food frequency questionnaires. We assessed the associations between nutrients (total fats, saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, and dietary cholesterol) and cardiovascular disease risk markers using multilevel modelling. The effect of isocaloric replacement of saturated fatty acids with other fats and carbohydrates was determined overall and by levels of intakes by use of nutrient density models. We did simulation modelling in which we assumed that the effects of saturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease events was solely related to their association through an individual risk marker, and then compared these simulated risk marker-based estimates with directly observed associations of saturated fatty acids with cardiovascular disease events.
Findings: Participants were enrolled into the study from Jan 1, 2003, to March 31, 2013. Intake of total fat and each type of fat was associated with higher concentrations of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, but also with higher HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1), and lower triglycerides, ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, and ratio of apolipoprotein B (ApoB) to ApoA1 (all ptrend<0·0001). Higher carbohydrate intake was associated with lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and ApoB, but also with lower HDL cholesterol and ApoA1, and higher triglycerides, ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, and ApoB-to-ApoA1 ratio (all ptrend<0·0001, apart from ApoB [ptrend=0·0014]). Higher intakes of total fat, saturated fatty acids, and carbohydrates were associated with higher blood pressure, whereas higher protein intake was associated with lower blood pressure. Replacement of saturated fatty acids with carbohydrates was associated with the most adverse effects on lipids, whereas replacement of saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats improved some risk markers (LDL cholesterol and blood pressure), but seemed to worsen others (HDL cholesterol and triglycerides). The observed associations between saturated fatty acids and cardiovascular disease events were approximated by the simulated associations mediated through the effects on the ApoB-to-ApoA1 ratio, but not with other lipid markers including LDL cholesterol.
Interpretation: Our data are at odds with current recommendations to reduce total fat and saturated fats. Reducing saturated fatty acid intake and replacing it with carbohydrate has an adverse effect on blood lipids. Substituting saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats might improve some risk markers, but might worsen others. Simulations suggest that ApoB-to-ApoA1 ratio probably provides the best overall indication of the effect of saturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease risk among the markers tested. Focusing on a single lipid marker such as LDL cholesterol alone does not capture the net clinical effects of nutrients on cardiovascular risk.

Authors
Mahshid Dehghan, Andrew Mente, Xiaohe Zhang, Sumathi Swaminathan, Wei Li, Viswanathan Mohan, Romaina Iqbal, Rajesh Kumar, Edelweiss Wentzel-Viljoen, Annika Rosengren, Leela Itty Amma, Alvaro Avezum, Jephat Chifamba, Rafael Diaz, Rasha Khatib, Scott Lear, Patricio Lopez-Jaramillo, Xiaoyun Liu, Rajeev Gupta, Noushin Mohammadifard, Nan Gao, Aytekin Oguz, Anis Safura Ramli, Pamela Seron, Yi Sun, Andrzej Szuba, Lungiswa Tsolekile, Andreas Wielgosz, Rita Yusuf, Afzal Hussein Yusufali, Koon K Teo, Sumathy Rangarajan, Gilles Dagenais, Shrikant I Bangdiwala, Shofiqul Islam, Sonia S Anand, Salim Yusuf

Summary 2
Background: The relation between dietary nutrients and cardiovascular disease risk markers in many regions worldwide is unknown. In this study, we investigated the effect of dietary nutrients on blood lipids and blood pressure, two of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, in low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries.
Methods: We studied 125 287 participants from 18 countries in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Habitual food intake was measured with validated food frequency questionnaires. We assessed the associations between nutrients (total fats, saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, and dietary cholesterol) and cardiovascular disease risk markers using multilevel modelling. The effect of isocaloric replacement of saturated fatty acids with other fats and carbohydrates was determined overall and by levels of intakes by use of nutrient density models. We did simulation modelling in which we assumed that the effects of saturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease events was solely related to their association through an individual risk marker, and then compared these simulated risk marker-based estimates with directly observed associations of saturated fatty acids with cardiovascular disease events.
Findings: Participants were enrolled into the study from Jan 1, 2003, to March 31, 2013. Intake of total fat and each type of fat was associated with higher concentrations of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, but also with higher HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein A1 (ApoA1), and lower triglycerides, ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, and ratio of apolipoprotein B (ApoB) to ApoA1 (all ptrend<0·0001). Higher carbohydrate intake was associated with lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and ApoB, but also with lower HDL cholesterol and ApoA1, and higher triglycerides, ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, and ApoB-to-ApoA1 ratio (all ptrend<0·0001, apart from ApoB [ptrend=0·0014]). Higher intakes of total fat, saturated fatty acids, and carbohydrates were associated with higher blood pressure, whereas higher protein intake was associated with lower blood pressure. Replacement of saturated fatty acids with carbohydrates was associated with the most adverse effects on lipids, whereas replacement of saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats improved some risk markers (LDL cholesterol and blood pressure), but seemed to worsen others (HDL cholesterol and triglycerides). The observed associations between saturated fatty acids and cardiovascular disease events were approximated by the simulated associations mediated through the effects on the ApoB-to-ApoA1 ratio, but not with other lipid markers including LDL cholesterol.
Interpretation: Our data are at odds with current recommendations to reduce total fat and saturated fats. Reducing saturated fatty acid intake and replacing it with carbohydrate has an adverse effect on blood lipids. Substituting saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fats might improve some risk markers, but might worsen others. Simulations suggest that ApoB-to-ApoA1 ratio probably provides the best overall indication of the effect of saturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease risk among the markers tested. Focusing on a single lipid marker such as LDL cholesterol alone does not capture the net clinical effects of nutrients on cardiovascular risk.

Authors
Mahshid Dehghan, Andrew Mente, Xiaohe Zhang, Sumathi Swaminathan, Wei Li, Viswanathan Mohan, Romaina Iqbal, Rajesh Kumar, Edelweiss Wentzel-Viljoen, Annika Rosengren, Leela Itty Amma, Alvaro Avezum, Jephat Chifamba, Rafael Diaz, Rasha Khatib, Scott Lear, Patricio Lopez-Jaramillo, Xiaoyun Liu, Rajeev Gupta, Noushin Mohammadifard, Nan Gao, Aytekin Oguz, Anis Safura Ramli, Pamela Seron, Yi Sun, Andrzej Szuba, Lungiswa Tsolekile, Andreas Wielgosz, Rita Yusuf, Afzal Hussein Yusufali, Koon K Teo, Sumathy Rangarajan, Gilles Dagenais, Shrikant I Bangdiwala, Shofiqul Islam, Sonia S Anand, Salim Yusuf

 

Meanwhile, Christopher E Ramsden and Anthony F Domemochiello at the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health in the US comment that the relationships between diet, cardiovascular disease, and death are topics of major public health importance, and subjects of great controversy.

They write: “In European and North American countries, the most enduring and consistent diet advice is to restrict saturated fatty acids, by replacing animal fats with vegetable oils and complex carbohydrates (and more recently whole grains). Mahshid Dehghan and colleagues echo the views of a growing number of scientists by stating that advice to restrict saturated fatty acids is largely based on selective emphasis on some observational and clinical data, despite the existence of several randomised trials and observational studies that do not support these conclusions”.

McMaster University material
The Lancet article summary
The Lancet comment
The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology article summary


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