Do you find it weird but slightly happy news that diets high in saturated fats are getting lots of good press and are being recommended for wellbeing and maintaining a healthy weight? Are you following a low-carbohydrate plan such as keto or paleo or even spooning extra butter or oil onto your plate? This is definitely weird, not the least bit happy, and certainly not healthy.
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Ignoring saturated fat recommendations
The prevalence of low carbohydrate diet plans is so pervasive that many people are ignoring counsel on dietary fat intake and believe that saturated fat in dairy, coconut and palm oils, meat products, and even processed pastries, is not harmful.
Coconut oil has more saturated fat than butter and one spoonful has more than half the daily recommended allowance (RDA) for women. If you’re eating keto or paleo you are certainly well over the RDA with high consumptions of dairy in your coffee, plenty of meat at mealtimes, as well as cheese. Just 100 g of fatty meat and you are well above the limit of 20 g per day for women and 30 g per day for men.
Most health organizations recommend less than 35% of daily calories come from fat with less than 11% of those coming from saturated fat; that’s equivalent to just two and half tablespoons of butter or 2-3 ounces of bacon.
Most research indicates that saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, clogs arteries, and leads to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Other research points to inflammation as the cause of heart disease.
The trend to eat more fat is worrying; a diet high in saturated fat is one of the major causes of heart disease as is total and LDL (low-density lipoprotein or ‘bad’) cholesterol. People with other risk factors of heart disease would do well to consume even less than the recommended limits.
As more research is done and we see how different foods and body systems work together, we know that saturated fat isn’t a culprit in an of itself; it’s only one of many interrelated factors.
Replacing fat with sugar
If you are smartly bucking the trend against high saturated fat diets what are you replacing that fat with? That is of central importance. One study reported that when 5% of calories from saturated fats were replaced by an equal number from polyunsaturated fats (such as from salmon, sunflower oil, nuts, and seeds) or monounsaturated fats (such as from olive and rapeseed oils), the risk of death from any cause was reduced by 19% and 11%, respectively. In short, both types of a better fat substitution reduced the risk heart attacks. What also helps is replacing dietary saturated fats intake with whole grain carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholegrain bread.
On the other hand, when sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white rice, white breads and pastries) replaced saturated fat, the risk of having a heart attack did not remain the same but instead increased! When the food industry began creating lower fat versions of foods it did this by adding sugar for taste and heart disease prevalence increased. Interestingly, most of the fat in yoghurt is saturated but dairy products seem to have less of a negative impact on health than other animal fats. Of course, this means yoghurt without added sugar!
Whole is best
What you know to true, that whole plant based foods are the most beneficial for your heart and health, is still true.
– Limit saturated fats and use small amounts of poly- or unsaturated fats in their place
– Increase whole grains and unprocessed carbohydrates; reduce sugar
– Increase fruits and vegetables
Instead of looking at individual nutrients we should be tracking our whole diet. The healthiest meals contain plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and a little unsaturated fat from nuts and oily fish. Your heart will thank you.
James Kneller treats atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, and other heart conditions. He is an internationally recognized authority on cardiovascular health and personal development.
Catapano, A.L. et al. ESC/EAS Guidelines for the Management of Dyslipidaemias.
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Clifton, P.M. and Keogh, J.B. A systematic review of the effect of dietary saturated and polyunsaturated fat on heart disease. Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc. Dis. (2017). 27(12):1060-1080.