For over 30 years health organizations such as the American Heart Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the World Health Organization have recommended limiting your intake of saturated fat from high fat milk products and fatty meats. Could they be wrong? Some researchers have called into question the science supporting this recommendation. What is my take? I stand behind the recommendation to limit saturated fat. Here’s why…
Saturated Fat & Your Heart
Solid, scientific research says a high intake of saturated fat can harm your health. In November of 2013, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released lifestyle guidelines based on a major scientific review (top scientists spent five years studying existing research). One of the main conclusions of the report was this: limit saturated fat to about 5 or 6 percent of daily calories to lower blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Saturated fat can harm your heart.
Saturated Fat & Body Fat
In research from Uppsala University in Sweden, 39 young and healthy weight individuals were fed an extra 750 calories daily via muffins high in either saturated fat (palm oil) or polyunsaturated fat (sunflower oil) for 7 weeks. Both groups gained weight, however, a high saturated fat intake turned on genes that markedly increased the accumulation of liver fat and abdominal fat – both of which are dangerous to health and increase the risk of disease. In contrast, a high polyunsaturated fat intake turned on genes that reduced the storage of fat and promoted an increase in lean tissue. The increase in muscle mass was three times more for those who ate polyunsaturated fat compared to saturated fat.
Saturated Fat & Inflammation
In a study from Tel Aviv University in Israel, 54 healthy, normal weight volunteers were given a meal with the same amount of calories, but different types of fat. One meal was rich in saturated fat (sausages) and the other meal was rich in monounsaturated fat (olive oil and nuts). Two hours after eating the saturated fat meal there was a significant increase in inflammation in the body. This did not occur with the monounsaturated fat meal. Inflammation is strongly linked to a greater risk of many diseases.
Saturated Fat & Cancer
European researchers looked at data from over 10,000 breast cancer patients from 10 European countries. Participants were followed for over 11 years. A diet high in saturated fat was linked to a significantly higher risk of breast cancer (receptor-positive). In the Harvard Nurses Health Study II involving over 88,000 women a similar link was found, especially for fat intake earlier in life.
Saturated Fat & Dementia
Numerous studies link a high intake of saturated fat to a higher risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. In the Women’s Health Study, based on data from 6,000 women over the age of 65, women who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fat had worse overall cognition and memory over four years of testing. Research from Wake Forest School of Medicine found that diets high in saturated fat can quickly rob the brain of a key chemical that helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
Don’t Replace Saturated Fat With Bad Carbs
Replacing foods that are high in saturated fats with foods that are high in unhealthy carbohydrates may be even more harmful to health, including heart health. This includes refined carbohydrates like white bread, high sugar foods (including soft drinks) and many processed foods. It’s your overall diet pattern that matters most! A healthy diet is low in saturated fat, sugar and salt, but also rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish (especially higher fat fish, like salmon), low fat dairy and lean protein (especially beans).
Reducing Your Intake of Saturated Fat
Read food labels and choose products that contain no more than about 2 grams of saturated fat per serving. Drink fat-free (skim) or low fat (1%) milk. Don’t put cream in coffee. Choose low fat yogurt. Buy light or reduced fat cheese and enjoy in small quantities. Most full fat cheeses contain more than 30% milk fat (30% M.F.). Light cheeses contain less than 20% milk fat (20% M.F.). Use a heart-healthy, soft tub margarine instead of butter or dip your bread into small amounts of extra virgin olive oil. Take the skin off chicken. Avoid fatty meats including ribs, sausages and bacon. Avoid pâté and fatty cold cuts like salami and bologna. Buy extra lean ground beef (cook and drain off the fat before adding to dishes like chili or spaghetti sauce). Lastly, go online before you dine. Many foods, including hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, shakes, desserts, specialty coffees and iced coffees are loaded with saturated fat.
A high intake of saturated fat can be harmful to health, including heart health, brain health, cancer and more. Don’t replace foods high in saturated fats with foods high in unhealthy carbohydrates. Make sure your overall diet is healthy!