Unsaturated Fats May Help You Live Longer, Study Says

But trans and saturated fats may have the opposite effect.

Olive oil

Olive oil photo via istock.com/zeljkosantrac

Good news, avocado lovers. A diet high in unsaturated fats may help you live longer, according to new research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

This study adds to a growing body of research that says some fat consumption may not be so bad, after all. Researchers found that unsaturated fats may help lengthen your life, while saturated and trans fats seem to have the opposite effect.

Researchers followed 126,233 participants from two large, long-term studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study—logging data about their diets and lifestyles, and documenting deaths due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and respiratory disease.

They found that eating the same number of calories from unsaturated fats as from carbohydrates seemed to reduce premature mortality by up to 19 percent. The most positive effects came from polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in most plant oils and in fish and soy and canola oils, respectively.

The results also suggest that trans fats are the worst offender, increasing odds of early death by 16 percent for every 2 percent jump in consumption. Saturated fat followed closely behind. Compared with calories from carbohydrates, every 5 percent increase in saturated fat consumption raised mortality risk by 8 percent.

Finally, the researchers found that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates led to a slightly lower chance of death, but replacing all fats—including healthy, unsaturated sources—with carbohydrates raised mortality risk modestly.

Interestingly, the study comes just a week after Tufts researchers found no strong link between butter consumption and heart disease, diabetes, or overall mortality. Still, those researchers also stressed that plant oils are a better choice than butter.

The most important thing to keep in mind, as the researchers note, is that fat isn’t inherently bad, but not all fats are created equal.