Emerging nutrition science on fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: nutritionists' perspectives

Adv Nutr. 2015 May 15;6(3):326S-37S. doi: 10.3945/an.114.006981. Print 2015 May.


Recent dietary guidance for heart health recommends a reduction (by ∼50%) in saturated fatty acid (SFA) intake to reduce LDL cholesterol and to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends substituting unsaturated fat [both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs and MUFAs, respectively)] for SFAs. There are many dietary options that can be implemented to replace SFAs, given the different sources of unsaturated fats in the food supply. Compelling evidence exists for the cardioprotective benefits of n-3 (ω-3) PUFAs, both marine- and plant-derived. In addition, the evidence of cardioprotective benefits of n-6 (ω-6) PUFAs is strong, whereas that for MUFAs is mixed, although there is emerging evidence of benefits. Quantitatively, lowering SFAs by 50% will require, in part, substituting food sources of n-6 and n-3 PUFAs and MUFAs for food sources of SFAs. The use of n-3 PUFAs as a replacement for SFAs will result in a shortfall in reaching the SFA goal because of the relatively low amounts that can be incorporated in the diet, even with very high n-3 PUFA substitution. SFAs also can be replaced with dietary carbohydrate and/or protein. Replacing SFAs with carbohydrate, specifically refined sources, however, has little impact on reducing CVD risk. There is evidence about the health benefits of dietary protein on CVD risk, which merits study. Dietary guidelines have advanced considerably with the "replacement of SFA with unsaturated fat message" instead of recommending decreasing SFAs alone. A key question that remains is what is the optimal mix of macronutrients to maximally reduce CVD risk.

Keywords: cardiovascular disease; monounsaturated fatty acids; omega-3 fatty acids; polyunsaturated fatty acids; saturated fatty acids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated* / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated* / therapeutic use
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Fatty Acids* / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids* / therapeutic use
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Nutritional Sciences*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Fatty Acids