New Study Suggests Link Between Saturated Fat and CVD Risk Varies by Food Source

ESC Congress 2021

Consuming saturated fat from meat may be associated with a higher risk of CVD than other food sources, according to a new study presented at ESC Congress 2021.

Saturated fat from meat may be associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than other food sources, according to preliminary research presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2021, held virtually between August 27-30, 2021.

Previous studies suggest that different foods rich in saturated fatty acids (SFA), particularly meat and dairy, have differing associations with CVD. Therefore, researchers from the United Kingdom and US aimed to determine how SFA from various foods relates to total CVD (CVD and stroke combined), ischemic heart disease (IHD), and stroke.

Researchers analyzed data on over 114 000 UK Biobank participants who had completed more than two 24-hour dietary assessments and were free of CVD at the date of the latest dietary assessment. Participants also completed a detailed lifestyle questionnaire and had blood samples and body measurements taken.

Risks of incident total CVD, IHD, and stroke by intakes of SFA from different dietary sources (eg, dairy and meat) were estimated using multivariable Cox regressions, according to the study abstract. Additional models assessed the role of body mass index (BMI) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) as potential mediators.

Over a median 8.5 years of follow-up, there were 4365, 3394, and 1041 cases of total CVD, IHD and stroke, respectively. Researchers did not observe any significant associations between total SFA consumption and CVD outcomes.

When researchers assessed the different food sources, they found consuming 5% higher total energy from SFA from meat was associated with 19% and 21% increased risk of total CVD and IHD, respectively. However, the associations did not remain significant after researchers adjusted for BMI.

Results also showed that SFA from dairy was inversely associated with IHD risk, but this association was not clear after adjusting for BMI, according to the abstract.

“Our results suggest that differences in BMI may be responsible, in part, for the association between cardiovascular disease and saturated fat from meat. It is not possible to determine whether this is because of a specific impact of saturated fat from meat on BMI or because those with a higher BMI consume more meat,” said lead author Rebecca Kelly, MPH, DPhil student, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, in an ESC press release.

“It is difficult to fully disentangle whether part of the effect of saturated fat on cardiovascular disease may be through higher LDL cholesterol in this cohort because cholesterol-lowering medication use is high in UK adults,” added Kelly.

Kelly and colleagues recommend that patients follow the dietary guidelines recommendation to consume less than 10% of daily energy from saturated fat.

“Our findings emphasise the importance of studying the different food sources of saturated fat when examining risk of cardiovascular disease. Further research is needed to ensure that these observations were not influenced by dietary or non-dietary factors that were not measured in this study,” concluded Kelly in the press release.


Reference: Kelly RK, Tong TYN, Guasch-Ferre M, et al. Associations between saturated fatty acids from different dietary sources and cardiovascular disease risk in 114,285 UK Biobank study participants. Abstract presented at: ESC Congress 2021; August 26, 2021.