Remember those days when saturated fat was the devil? Were you one of those people who filled your shopping cart with fat-free this and fat-free that? Those days are starting to be numbered.
While for many years we were schooled on the evils of saturated fat, pushing us away from things like butter and towards things like margarine, more and more studies are showing that eating saturated fat does in fact not increase the risk for heart attacks.
The most recent study was published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine. As reported by the New York Times, the study, "did not find that people who ate higher levels of saturated fat had more heart disease than those who ate less. Nor did it find less disease in those eating higher amounts of unsaturated fat, including monounsaturated fat like olive oil or polyunsaturated fat like corn oil."
“I think the evidence is really clear that the dietary guidelines shouldn’t be focusing on reducing saturated fat,” said study coauthor Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health. “There is no good evidence that low-fat dairy products are healthier than high-fat dairy.”
So is it okay to eat saturated fats now? If you read these kind of findings and translate them as "eat all the hamburgers you want!" you're probably in trouble. This study isn't an advocate for necessarily eating more saturated fats. Instead, it's highlighting the flaws in our single-nutrient type of thinking; the kind of thing that has driven the nutrition industry. When we deemed that saturated fats were bad, we tried to cut them out entirely, replacing them with plenty of processed ingredients that are now commonly linked to bad health.
“The single macronutrient approach is outdated,” Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the New York Times. “I think future dietary guidelines will put more and more emphasis on real food rather than giving an absolute upper limit or cutoff point for certain macronutrients.”
The other takeaway from this new study is what it had to say about trans fats. The researchers did in fact find a link between trans fats (ie hydrogenated oils) and heart disease. You know where those oils are found? Processed foods.
The study isn't recommending that you go out and start stuffing yourself with saturated fats, but it is saying that this isn't the culprit for heart problems that we once thought it was. The really bad stuff that you should be avoiding? Sugar and refined starches.
Ultimately, it's all a reminder that we need to think less about individual nutrients and more about our overall food intake instead. Switch the focus from low-fat which has a lot of people consuming a lot of processed foods, to an overall diet that is pretty much based around Michael Pollan's core eating policy: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Want to bake a cake? Do it with butter instead of margarine. Or if you're off dairy, opt for olive oil. But the point is to pick real foods over processed ones. Allow yourself to indulge a little. And then go on with your day without driving ourselves crazy. Diet products aren't what's going to save us, a more reasonable well-rounded approach to what we eat is.
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Image: Robert S. Donovan