Issue: 2011 > September > review

Saturated fat, carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease

R.S. Kuipers, D.J. de Graaf, M.F. Luxwolda, M.H.A. Muskiet, D.A.J. Dijck-Brouwer, F.A.J. Muskiet


The dietary intake of saturated fatty acids (SAFA) is associated with a modest increase in serum total
cholesterol, but not with cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Replacing dietary SAFA with carbohydrates (CHO), notably those with a high glycaemic index, is associated with an increase in CVD risk in observational cohorts, while replacing SAFA with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) is associated with reduced CVD risk. However, replacing a combination of SAFA and trans-fatty acids with n-6 PUFA (notably linoleic acid) in controlled trials showed no indication of benefit and a signal toward increased coronary heart disease risk, suggesting that n-3 PUFA may be responsible for the protective association between total PUFA and CVD. High CHO intakes stimulate hepatic SAFA synthesis and conservation of dietary SAFA . Hepatic de novo lipogenesis from CHO is also stimulated during eucaloric dietary substitution of SAFA by CHO with high glycaemic index in normo-insulinaemic subjects and during hypocaloric high-CHO/low-fat diets in subjects with the metabolic syndrome. The accumulation of SAFA
stimulates chronic systemic low-grade inflammation
through its mimicking of bacterial lipopolysaccharides
and/or the induction of other pro-inflammatory stimuli.
The resulting systemic low-grade inflammation promotes
insulin resistance, reallocation of energy-rich substrates
and atherogenic dyslipidaemia that concertedly give rise to increased CVD risk. We conclude that avoidance of SAFA accumulation by reducing the intake of CHO with high glycaemic index is more effective in the prevention of CVD than reducing SAFA intake per se.