Have you heard the one about heart disease and saturated fat? A recent study made headlines in the New York Times and other papers across the nation, with flashy headlines catching the attention of many: “Study doubts saturated fat’s link to heart disease”. I know, it sounds like a great justification for eating that double cheeseburger. But it’s also a contradiction to the recommendations of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, who encourage us to limit excessive saturated fat. What is an eater to do?
First, take this latest study with a healthy dose of skepticism. The authors said they did not find that people who ate higher levels of saturated fat had more heart disease than those who ate less. But the information was poorly collected: researchers either asked people what they ate yesterday (which may be very different from what they typically eat) or how often they ate certain foods (which also does not capture the whole picture). Lastly, people were mostly asked what they ate at the start of the study, rather than over the course of the study’s 10 or 15 years, when researchers then checked back to see if they got heart disease. So, one day of eating a double cheeseburger may look like it does not cause heart disease 15 years later even though every other day may have been full of healthy foods and exercise.
Second, remember that it is never a good idea to focus on just one dietary factor. When people cut saturated fats (such as meat, cheese and butter) from their diet, they often replace them with bread, cereal and other refined carbohydrates that can also be bad for your heart health. When people cut carbs, they often replace them with multiple daily servings of meat, also not heart healthy. Why go to the extreme? Include a variety of fats, carbohydrates and proteins in moderation, with a healthy habit of physical activity, and you’ll be able to eat for enjoyment without excess.
Third, consider that the healthiest populations in the world eat a mostly plant-based diet and eat a variety of foods from all food groups. We should focus on FOOD, not fats and proteins and carbs. Here’s what the vast realm of research supports for good health and longevity: a diet of mostly vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and whole grains with meat, dairy and oils added for flavor and interest. And don’t forget the dark chocolate and occasional glass of red wine. There is room for that double cheeseburger, just not every day or to the exclusion of real food. Real food that is not processed and filled with salt and sugar. Real food that looks, smells and taste like its natural form. Bon appetit!
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.