A Danish study of diet and heart-attack risk concluded that replacing dietary saturated fats with refined carbohydrates such as white potatoes and bread resulted in a significantly higher risk of heart attack than replacing the fats with whole grains and vegetables.

Marianne U Jakobsen, MSc, PhD, of Aarhus University Hospital, and her team followed 53,644 healthy adults for an average of 12 years.  During that time, 1,943 participants had heart attacks.

Those whose glycemic index (GI) indicated they’d substituted refined carbs for saturated fats were 33% more likely to have a heart attack.

Subjects who’d picked low-GI carbohydrates to replace saturated fat were at lower risk.

Jakobsen and colleagues advise reducing heart-disease risk by eating “less-refined foods, non-starchy vegetables, fruits and legumes.”

Whole grains, but most especially those rich in soluble fiber—barley, oats and rye—are better choices than highly processed carbohydrate sources such as white bread.  Processed grains, such as white flour, are faster to digest, thus leading to a spike in blood sugar associated with greater risk of diabetes and heart disease.

“Clearly, diets high in either saturated fat or refined carbohydrates are not suitable for heart-disease prevention,” says Dr Frank B Hu, MD, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health and author of the study.  “However, refined carbohydrates are likely to cause even greater metabolic damage than saturated fat in a predominantly sedentary and overweight population.”

Alice H Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, advises, “Since 2000 the major dietary guidelines intended to prevent or treat heart disease have advocated a moderate fat diet that is low in saturated fat.  That translates to displacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat.“

Sources: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter,  May 13, 2013        Study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


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