Swapping saturated fat and carbohydrates for linoleic acid — the main polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds — lowers risk of coronary heart disease, according to a new study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers. We talked to lead author Maryam Farvid, a visiting scientist and Takemi fellow in the Department of Nutrition, about the study to find out more. Your research shows that by reducing the amount of saturated fat and carbohydrates we eat, and replacing those calories with foods rich in linoleic acid — such as vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds — we can reduce our risk of developing coronary heart disease. And should consumers focus on reducing saturated fat and carbohydrates equally, or should we reduce one more than the other? Replacing either saturated fat or carbohydrate with vegetable oils and seeing significant benefits indicates that reduction in saturated fat or carbohydrate is not the only reason for the beneficial effects of linoleic acid. Instead, linoleic acid itself plays a special role in support of heart health. Randomized clinical trials have shown that replacing saturated fat with linoleic acid reduces total and LDL cholesterol. There is also some evidence that linoleic acid improves insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. What can readers learn from your research about polyunsaturated versus saturated fats? The current debate about the role saturated fat misses an important point: the replacement nutrient. If saturated fat is replaced by carbohydrates typically refined carbohydrates, there will be no benefit on heart disease.
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It is found in flaxseed oil, and in canola, soy, perilla, and walnut oils. Alpha-linolenic acid is similar to the omega-3 fatty acids that are in fish oil, called eicosapentaenoic acid EPA and docosahexaenoic acid DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids — especially EPA and DHA — have been shown to reduce inflammation and may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis. They may also be important for brain health and development, as well as normal growth and development. There is good evidence that fish oil containing EPA and DHA may help treat heart disease, prevent heart attack and stroke, and slightly reduce high blood pressure. Some researchers think the same may be true for alpha-linolenic acid. There is evidence that this may be so, but the evidence is not as strong as it is for fish oil. Note: Alpha-linolenic acid is not the same as alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that helps the body turn glucose into energy.