CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH: Does reducing dietary fat lower LDL levels?

Remember: Much of the cholesterol in the blood is made in the liver and used to build cells. However, foods such as high-fat dairy products and red and processed meats contain relatively high amounts of cholesterol and are also high in saturated fat. Saturated fats induce an increase in the LDL cholesterol level in the blood (but also positively influence the HDL level). Excess LDL cholesterol in the blood contributes to the formation of thick, hard deposits (atherosclerotic plaque) inside the arteries, a process that underlies most heart diseases and strokes.

Opt for a diet that is naturally low in dietary cholesterol.

Reduce your intake of dietary cholesterol by opting for a generally heart-healthy diet which replaces these saturated fats (especially animal fats) with polyunsaturated fats (sunflower oil, corn, grape seeds, soybeans, nuts, flax, etc.) remains a good principle to maintain in the normal range, its LDL cholesterol levels (Low Density Lipoprotein or “bad cholesterol” which can clog arteries).

A bias identified in scientific research: until this meta-analysis, the research did not systematically and conclusively identify a link between the dietary cholesterol consumed and the LDL cholesterol level measured. The researchers explain these differences through the estimation of dietary cholesterol intakes, particularly when dietary intakes are self-reported and reported by questionnaires. Finally, it seems complex to disentangle the specific effect of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, since most foods rich in saturated fat are also rich in dietary cholesterol.

New meta-analysis confirms dose-dependent relationship between dietary cholesterol and higher levels of LDL cholesterol, but when the amount of dietary cholesterol tested exceeds the amount normally consumed. The analysis focused on trials evaluating the effects of food intake provided directly by the researchers to the participants, which made it possible to accurately estimate the intake of dietary cholesterol. At the same time, due to this methodology and its cost, the number of participants in each trial was reduced. Finally, the researchers were unable to compare the role of LDL cholesterol (or bad cholesterol), that of “good” HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in the blood. But the analysis does conclude that a dose-dependent relationship persists even after adjustment for the type of dietary fat.

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Food practice confirms this dose-dependent relationship: “We know,” write the researchers, through a huge body of scientific research, that heart-healthy diets such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets are inherently low in cholesterol, and effective in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Diet is therefore directly associated with LDL blood levels and cardiovascular health: researchers recommend:

  • opt for a diet rich in nutrients that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or 0% dairy products, a little lean meat, poultry, fish or vegetable proteins, nuts and seeds;
  • replace saturated fats, mainly found in animal products such as meat and dairy products rich in fats, as well as “tropical” oils (palm, palm kernel and coconut) with polyunsaturated fats such as oils corn, canola or soy;
  • limit foods rich in added sugars and sodium (salt);
  • Note: the consumption of eggs does not appear to be significantly associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease: the authors write “that it is reasonable to eat a whole egg a day as part of a heart-healthy diet.

In short, these findings are well in line with the recommendations of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and the reduction of dietary cholesterol intake for heart health.

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