The diet advisory provides evidence-based information to counter the claim that saturated fats are good for you, especially coconut oil.

You may have seen that the American Heart Association issued a new Presidential Advisory on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease on June 15.

The diet advisory provides evidence-based information to counter the claim that saturated fats are good for you, especially coconut oil.

The advisory examined scientific evidence on the effects of dietary saturated fat intake on cardiovascular disease, as well as the effects of replacing it with other types of fats and carbohydrates.

The review included the following five key elements.

Saturated Fats: It is well-documented that dietary saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol levels. But simply reducing saturated fats won’t reduce cardiovascular risk. The greatest cardiovascular benefit occurs when saturated fats are replaced with polyunsaturated fat. No benefit results when refined carbohydrates and sugar replace these fats. Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn and peanut oils. Monounsaturated fats, found in sunflower oil, olive oil, canola oil, nuts and avocado, are also more heart-healthy than saturated fats.

Dairy Products: Dairy fat is a major source of saturated fat in the American diet. Recent headlines have led the public to believe that full-fat dairy products belong in a heart-healthy diet, but this appears to be wishful thinking. The advisory concludes that cardiovascular risk is reduced when dairy fats are replaced with poly- or monounsaturated fats. For people who consume dairy, low-fat or nonfat products are recommended to reduce saturated fat intake.

Coconut Oil: Touted as a cure for everything from skin problems to Alzheimer’s, coconut oil has skyrocketed in popularity. According to the American Heart Association, a recent survey reported that 72 percent of Americans rate coconut oil as a healthy food. Coconut oil is highly saturated, with the primary fatty acid being lauric acid. Lauric acid raises LDL by about half as much as other fatty acids and raises HDL about the same, thus the claims that coconut oil is heart healthy. Despite these claims, the advisory determined that because of its LDL cholesterol-raising effect, coconut oil is not expected to have a cardiovascular benefit and should be avoided.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: The advisory found that not all omega 3 fats have the same cardiovascular benefit. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-sourced omega 3 fatty acid, was not linked to lower cardiovascular risk. ALA sources include flaxseeds, canola oil and walnuts. The best omega 3 fats for cardiovascular health are the marine-derived omega 3 fatty acids that include EPA and DHA. Fish and fish oils contain both EPA and DHA fatty acids.

Trans Fat: Little debate remains regarding the negative cardiovascular impact of trans fatty acids. Industrial fatty acids, mainly in the form of partially hydrogenated oils, have mostly been removed from our food supply and are scheduled to be completely phased out by mid-2018. But naturally occurring trans fats, found in beef, lamb and dairy, appear to have the same negative health consequences. Because the sources of natural trans fatty acids are also high in saturated fat, limiting these foods and replacing them with proteins that are low in saturated fat and free of trans fat, such as fish and legumes, is advised.

The advisory also acknowledged that reducing saturated fats and replacing them with carbohydrates or sugars does not prevent cardiovascular disease.

In the past, most reduced-fat diets have been high in carbohydrates, which has contributed to increased triglycerides, weight gain, decreased HDL cholesterol and insulin resistance, altogether resulting in a cardiovascular disease risk similar to that of a diet high in saturated fat.

Despite this advisory, nothing has really changed as far as eating for heart health. We still should eat a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables; use liquid plant oils for cooking; include fish at least twice a week; choose lean meats and limit their amount; eat whole grains, nuts and beans; and opt for low-fat dairy. Seldom eat processed meats, avoid foods high in sodium, and limit sugar intake. Best advice? Start with whole, raw foods, and cook them yourself.