Newsflash: low-fat diets are not all that they’re cracked up to be.
For years Americans have been told to avoid fat, especially saturated fat, in order to lose weight and achieve optimal health. As the low-fat craze of the 1990’s influenced dietary intake, Americans health continued to decline with increasing rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
Now, the low-fat theory may be on its way out due to the latest research and data. Recently, the belief that saturated fat is a primary cause of medical problems such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes has been contested. Newer research has shown that saturated fat is not as evil as once purported, because although it may affect the overall blood lipid profile, long-term studies have been unable to link it with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, research shows even with the overall reduction of fat, including saturated fat in the diet, there was a marked increase in carbohydrates and the risk of cardiovascular disease was not reduced. And as refined carbohydrates and sugar increased, so did the national rates of obesity and diabetes.
These health idioms, which are based around earlier research, concluded that saturated fat increases LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’. There are many forms of LDL that are produced in the body, and the type that is increased by saturated fat is large-LDL particles.
Large LDL is considered not a danger to your cardiovascular profile, whereas the smaller, denser LDL particles are. The “dangerous” LDL particles that are small and dense LDL are not increased by saturated fat but actually increased by refined carbohydrates and sugar. In addition, saturated fat is known to increase HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol as well. It appears that the negative LDL effects of saturated fat were possibly overemphasized while HDL benefits minimized.
What You Should Know
It’s Probably Not as Bad as you Have Been Told
Demonizing a single macronutrient as the root cause of the current health crisis or as the major causative factor in entire disease processes, like heart disease, is an outdated approach to nutrition. Newer research shows that saturated fat is not solely responsible for heart disease, obesity and diabetes as once thought. Saturated fat as part of a healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and protein such as the paleo diet likely will not detract from your health.
Saturated fat is also thought to help certain functions in the body such as supporting hormonal health, health of nervous system, weight loss and satiety.
Not All Saturated Fat is Created Equal
Where you source your meat and animal products matters. The new perspectives on saturated fat do not mean that going to the nearest fast food joint is green light. Finding ethically sourced, grass-fed or pastured products raised without added hormones and antibiotics is important. Additionally, saturated fat is often commonly found with processed foods or generally unhealthy foods like fried items, for example. Again, focus on a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish and healthy sources of animal protein.
Don’t Be Fooled by Trans Fats
Saturated fat and trans fat are often lumped together in the “bad-for-you” fat category. Be fat-savvy and know that trans fats or hydrogenated oils are fats that have been manufactured. Trans fats increase ‘bad’ LDL while lowering the good HDL and have been positively associated with heart disease and deleterious health outcomes. Trans fats are usually seen in packaged or processed foods; so if you’re eating a whole food, paleo-diet rich fresh in protein, fruits and vegetables, you probably will be able to avoid trans fats.
Refined Grains and Sugar Contribute to the Problems we Once Attributed to Fat
That’s right. The same studies that de-emphasized the negative effects of saturated fat have also shown an increased association between refined carbohydrates and increased cardiovascular risk. Avoid refined carbohydrates, processed carbohydrates and most packaged goods so you can steer clear of these pitfalls.
The Bottom Line
Saturated fat is not as bad as once thought when it comes to causing cardiovascular disease. While you should still be cautious when you select your sources of saturated fat, foods including saturated fat can be part of a healthy paleo diet that is nutrient dense and rich in vegetables, fruits, seafood and protein.
Almendrala, Anna. This Study Says Saturated Fat is Ok. Ignore it. 12 August 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/saturated-fat-study-heart-disease_us_55ca879ee4b0f73b20bb131d
American Heart Association. Trans Fats . Updated 7 Oct 2015. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp#.VtHf2sc7MgM
American Heart Association. Saturated Fats Updated 12 Feb 2016
English, Nick. Everyone was wrong. Saturated Fat Can be Good For You. 21 November 2013 http://greatist.com/health/saturated-fat-healthy
Jameson, Marni. A Reversal On Carbs 20 December 2010 http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-carbs-20101220-story.html
O’Connor, Anahad. Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link 17 March 2014
Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Part D. Chapter 6: Cross-Cutting Topics of Public Health Importance – Continued Saturated Fat
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