The association between saturated fatty acid (SFA) intake and ischemic heart disease (IHD) risk is debated.
We sought to investigate whether dietary SFAs were associated with IHD risk and whether associations depended on 1) the substituting macronutrient, 2) the carbon chain length of SFAs, and 3) the SFA food source.
Baseline (1993-1997) SFA intake was measured with a food-frequency questionnaire among 35,597 participants from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Netherlands cohort. IHD risks were estimated with multivariable Cox regression for the substitution of SFAs with other macronutrients and for higher intakes of total SFAs, individual SFAs, and SFAs from different food sources.
During 12 y of follow-up, 1807 IHD events occurred. Total SFA intake was associated with a lower IHD risk (HR per 5% of energy: 0.83; 95% CI: 0.74, 0.93). Substituting SFAs with animal protein, cis monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), or carbohydrates was significantly associated with higher IHD risks (HR per 5% of energy: 1.27-1.37). Slightly lower IHD risks were observed for higher intakes of the sum of butyric (4:0) through capric (10:0) acid (HRSD: 0.93; 95% CI: 0.89, 0.99), myristic acid (14:0) (HRSD: 0.90; 95% CI: 0.83, 0.97), the sum of pentadecylic (15:0) and margaric (17:0) acid (HRSD: 0.91: 95% CI: 0.83, 0.99), and for SFAs from dairy sources, including butter (HRSD: 0.94; 95% CI: 0.90, 0.99), cheese (HRSD: 0.91; 95% CI: 0.86, 0.97), and milk and milk products (HRSD: 0.92; 95% CI: 0.86, 0.97).
In this Dutch population, higher SFA intake was not associated with higher IHD risks. The lower IHD risk observed did not depend on the substituting macronutrient but appeared to be driven mainly by the sums of butyric through capric acid, the sum of pentadecylic and margaric acid, myristic acid, and SFAs from dairy sources. Residual confounding by cholesterol-lowering therapy and trans fat or limited variation in SFA and PUFA intake may explain our findings. Analyses need to be repeated in populations with larger differences in SFA intake and different SFA food sources.