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Fat, fat, fat

Look:  My favorite website for food and nutrition news (and evidence-based, at that) has done it again.  They've basically summarized all the info you need for this blog post.  That being said, here's the gist in a simple, fat-friendly nugget:


** AVOID TRANS-FATS AT ALL COSTS, BUT ADD SATURATED FAT INTO YOUR DIET  **


Yup, I know.  Even that little, itty bitty statement is baffling, right?  To make it even more confusing, the Mayo Clinic and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines don't agree.  What gives, man?  What is a well-educated, nutrition-conscious, healthy-savvy blog reader to do?

Well, my friends - it turns out you shouldn't avoid that stick of butter as much as you've been told to.  At least, don't substitute other things - like simple sugars and refined carbohydrates - for the butter.  Just have some butter every now and then.  And cheese - every now and then.  And maybe even some whole milk every now and then.

Yes, it's true.  And long overdue.  All saturated fats are not created equal, and some of them are very, very good for you.  Especially the ones that we've been trying to get rid of in the public health policies of the past 25 years.  Those steaks you may have been avoiding - and hence overindulging in the 'healthy' potato that it's served with - may actually do more good things for your total cholesterol than the potato would.  It comes down to the length of the fat chains that are in those fats (like steaks, chicken with skins, pork, etc).  It also means the vegetable saturated fats like coconut and palm oil that got a bad name in the late 70s and early 80s have seen a resurgence recently as 'good' saturated fats.  And boy are they good for you.  Your brain, nervous system, and cells are crying out for a little bit of good ol' saturated fat!

It comes down to heart disease, and whether dietary fat is directly related to the amount of fat floating around in your blood (aka cholesterol and triglycerides).

Saturated fats were theorized to play in the elevation of LDL cholesterol.  The evidence for this theory is now pretty much agreed upon to be slim to nil.  It turns out medium-chain saturated fats are very necessary in our diets, and by reducing "satfat" intake over the past 20 years and substituting refined carbohydrates, we may have done more harm than good. At last year's American Dietetic Assn.'s Food and Nutrition Expo, four nutrition experts agreed that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates is more dangerous in terms of raising cardiovascular disease risk.  Harvard School of Public Health's Dr. Walter Willett said, "If anything, the literature shows a slight advantage of the high fat diet."  He's been a big opponent of the 'low-fat diet' since the mid-90s, and the studies bear out his opinion that the "...Data do not support the strong association between intake of saturated fat and risk of coronary heart disease."

No wonder there's confusion, though.  Reputable scientists and organizations (including the USDA's Dietary Guidelines I've talked about) still lump all saturated fats together, and make recommendations to limit ALL of them.  As a nutrition professional, I find their view harder and harder to support, in light of the growing evidence. 

It all comes down to how much and how often you eat fats (as does everything!).  Just don't overdo it, make sure to mix in your vegetable oils with your butters, and throw some avocados and nuts on that salad.  And don't forget some salmon or some herring in your dinner plans!

I tell you my smart, nutrition-conscious, healthy-savvy foodie friends - just go have a little saturated fat, okay?

Resources:

  • The Harvard SPH has a great resource with more information on how to eat healthy fats.
    • Likewise, their Nutrition Source is one of the best, unbiased sources for food and nutrition info on the web.
  • This great LA Times article rightly points the finger at the real culprit of our heart disease-ridden, overweight society - carbohydrates.
  • A long, but super informative NY Times Magazine article by Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories
  • Stephen Guyenet's interesting blog take on the complex relationship between fat & health.  It's hard to argue with a PhD in neurobiology who studies body fat regulation.

 








macro - half an avocado - _MG_6473