Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women

N Engl J Med. 1997 Nov 20;337(21):1491-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199711203372102.


Background: The relation between dietary intake of specific types of fat, particularly trans unsaturated fat and the risk of coronary disease remains unclear. We therefore studied this relation in women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study.

Methods: We prospectively studied 80,082 women who were 34 to 59 years of age and had no known coronary disease, stroke, cancer, hypercholesterolemia, or diabetes in 1980. Information on diet was obtained at base line and updated during follow-up by means of validated questionnaires. During 14 years of follow-up, we documented 939 cases of nonfatal myocardial infarction or death from coronary heart disease. Mutivariate analyses included age, smoking status, total energy intake, dietary cholesterol intake, percentages of energy obtained from protein and specific types of fat, and other risk factors.

Results: Each increase of 5 percent of energy intake from saturated fat, as compared with equivalent energy intake from carbohydrates, was associated with a 17 percent increase in the risk of coronary disease (relative risk, 1.17; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.97 to 1.41; P=0.10). As compared with equivalent energy from carbohydrates, the relative risk for a 2 percent increment in energy intake from trans unsaturated fat was 1.93 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.43 to 2.61; P<0.001); that for a 5 percent increment in energy from monounsaturated fat was 0.81 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.65 to 1.00; P=0.05); and that for a 5 percent increment in energy from polyunsaturated fat was 0.62 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.46 to 0.85; P= 0.003). Total fat intake was not signficantly related to the risk of coronary disease (for a 5 percent increase in energy from fat, the relative risk was 1.02; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.97 to 1.07; P=0.55). We estimated that the replacement of 5 percent of energy from saturated fat with energy from unsaturated fats would reduce risk by 42 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 23 to 56; P<0.001) and that the replacement of 2 percent of energy from trans fat with energy from unhydrogenated, unsaturated fats would reduce risk by 53 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 34 to 67; P<.001).

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that replacing saturated and trans unsaturated fats with unhydrogenated monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is more effective in preventing coronary heart disease in women than reducing overall fat intake.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / adverse effects
  • Coronary Disease / etiology*
  • Coronary Disease / prevention & control
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / adverse effects*
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Myocardial Infarction / etiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk


  • Cholesterol, Dietary
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated