We tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to food. We think that if a food is considered bad, we have to avoid it completely.
Yet, new research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, shows that there may be insufficient evidence to support the long-standing belief that we should only eat small amounts of saturated fat.
A QUICK FAT REVIEW:
Unsaturated fats – Considered the “good” fats. These fats can be found in nuts, avocados and other vegetables. Unsaturated fats are lower in calories than other fats.
Saturated fats – Found mostly in animal products, such as meats and diary. It is recommended we reduce consumption of these fats.
Trans fats – These fats are unsaturated (good) fats that have been partially saturated with hydrogen to extend their shelf life. Trans fats have been found to elevate “bad” cholesterol and should be avoided.
In the 1960s, studies showed that saturated fats increased LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol. This LDL cholesterol was assumed to increase the risk of heart disease.
Recent studies have shown no significant relevance between saturated fat intake and coronary risk. Researchers now think that the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease is more complicated than just looking at LDL (or bad cholesterol) that comes from saturated fats.
Worried about your cholesterol levels?
Learn more about the best exercises to help you lower your cholesterol.
So, what now? Based on the research, it seems that the ratio of LDL to HDL (the good cholesterol), is the more important predictor of heart disease. There is also evidence that when compared to eating carbohydrates, saturated fat can increase HDL and lower fat deposits in the blood. This would, in theory, help protect against coronary disease.
Learn more about selecting good carbs, or smart carbs, as part of a healthy diet.
Keep in mind, the study does not say that saturated fat isn’t a problem. We should still follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines for a recommended diet. The AHA currently says that no more than 6% of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat.
Tips on eating heart-healthy foods:
Choose good fats
Select unsaturated fats for cooking and eating, but still try to limit your fat intake. Use polyunsaturated fats, such as safflower oil, or monounsaturated fats, like olive oil.
Go easy on the carbs
When we attempt to eat less saturated fat, we often eat more carbohydrates instead. Carbs from refined grains (like fat-free bagels and low-fat cookies) can lead to weight gain, which is also not good for our health or our heart.
Replace red meat and processed meats
Just because saturated fats may not be as bad as once suspected, it doesn’t mean you should eat tons of red meat, bacon and cream. Replace those foods with nuts, fatty fish and healthy oils.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
We already know we should eat a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables. In fact, we should strive to make fruits and veggies half our plate.
Choose whole grains
Select whole grain foods, such as oatmeal and whole-grain breads, rice and pasta. Avoid white rice, white bread and pasta, as well as potatoes, sugary drinks and other refined carbohydrates.
The key to healthy eating – like the key to healthy living – is finding a good balance. Choose a healthy, balanced diet across all the food groups. Too many calories from any source, whether it’s fats or carbohydrates, can lead to weight gain. And, it’s carrying that extra weight that can increase your risk of heart disease and other health problems.
Need help eating a healthy, balanced diet? Read 11 Healthy Eating Habits for 2014.