Saturated Fat: No Longer Causes Heart Disease?
In my quest for a Nutrition Focused topic for today, one of my friends passed a long a really intriguing article from the NY Times – “Study Questions Fat And Heart Disease Risk”. It’s a really interesting article highlighting some new research from The Annals of Internal Medicine on the effects of dietary saturated fat on your cardiac health. This study, along with many others, is now challenging the long time belief that saturated fat raises your cholesterol and thus your overall risk for heart disease and stroke.
In the past, saturated fat has always been touted to be bad for us. Horrible for your health. And definitely not good for your heart health. Found in foods like butter, cheese, fatty meats and some oils, saturated fat definitely has a large presence in our diets – especially here in the US. This type of fat was previously blamed for raising LDL cholesterol levels (known as bad cholesterol) in your body. And the facts still show that. But new evidence shows that the type of LDL cholesterol levels actually raised are the less harmful version and don’t cause artery clogging plaque. Plus, it’s now believed that saturated fat also raises HDL cholesterol levels (the good kind of cholesterol).
The study came to the conclusion that when comparing the participant’s diets with varying amounts of saturated fat, there was no difference in the rates of heart disease. No matter if there was high saturated fat or low saturated fat amounts, the differences in rates for heart disease were negligible. In addition, the study challenged the long thought belief that we should focus on consuming foods high in those “heart healthy” omega 3 fats like fish, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds to help prevent and treat heart disease. Unfortunately, it showed that people with current heart disease or high risk for it do not necessarily benefit from the addition of heart healthy fat supplementation – like fish oil supplements. These heart healthy fats may actually only help prevent heart disease, not treat it or reverse it.
This study came to many new and exciting conclusions. Ideas that will definitely be changing the way nutrition counseling is prescribed and taught. But what does this mean for us now? Can we indulge in high saturated fat foods without worry ? And what dietary characteristics still can increase heart disease risk?
Well there is definitely more research that needs to be done. But overall, here are some good take aways to consider when reviewing this bright new research:
- Although your consumption of saturated fat may not affect your cholesterol levels and therefore your risk for heart disease, it’s important to remember that saturated fat is still…well fat. And fat has over twice as many calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein. The more fat you consume, regardless of the kind, inevitably the more calories you consume. More calories can equal excess weight gain, which CAN increase your risk for increased cholesterol and heart disease.
- While fish oil and other omega 3 fat supplements and food sources may not be as promising as once thought, it’s still safe for the average healthy person to consume them on a daily basis. There is still plenty of evidence showing that it may prevent or maintain good cardiac health. Plus, food sources of these heart healthy fats (nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, etc) provide a myriad of other health benefits like high quality protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. All good things for your health.
- Focusing on specific nutrients in your diet to cut out or increase does not always equal a healthy or balanced diet. Cutting out fat may cause an increased consumption of breads, rice, pasta or cereals. While cutting out all carbohydrates may lead to an over consumption of more fat and way too much protein in your diet. It’s definitely not ideal to focus on a specific nutrient. You need to focus on your whole diet and a balance of all nutrients in moderation.
- The best style of diet that has been proven tried and true has been equated to that of a Mediterranean diet. A varied and balanced eating style that includes high quality proteins (some with saturated fat and some with omega 3 fats), nuts, legumes, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The diet focuses on consuming many servings of fruits and vegetables with dairy and protein foods as more of the sides. Plant based and plant heavy diets have always shown to be good for your health.
For more information, read the article here. And also speak to your doctor or dietitian about what may be most appropriate for your health and current medical conditions. Your own physicians will be the best source of information for your health.