Good Fat, Bad Fat


For nearly two decades, fat has been the villain for those keen to stay healthy.

Conscientious eaters avoided all kinds of food with fat, particularly “animal” fats in cheese, eggs, red meat, and but even sometimes the fats in nuts and avocados.

Saturated fat was practically a death sentence, responsible for “bad” cholesterol and clogged arteries, health authorities directed.

But as early as the 1990s it was becoming clear to some nutritionists that if fat was replaced by carbohydrates – as in the widely adopted low-fat high-carb regime – it did not lead to fewer heart attacks.

Butter Back In?

And now, nearly two decades later, a more complicated picture is emerging of how carbs and fat interact – and saturated fat is gaining in favour again.

It’s still a controversial area, but a new meta analysis of  claims has found there is no consistent link between eating saturated fat and heart attacks and strokes. Yep. As blogger Chris Kresser says “We’ve been duped. Lied to for fifty years.”

The just-published analysis pooled together data from 21 unique studies that included almost 350,000 people, about 11,000 of whom developed cardiovascular disease (CVD), tracked them for an average of 14 years, and concluded that there is no relationship between the intake of saturated fat and the incidence of heart disease or stroke.

While more conservative dieticians still warn you shouldn’t plaster your bread with butter just yet, saturated fat is no longer the bogeyman, even if it’s also not,  as Kresser claims “nailed in a coffin” just yet. (He’s a Paleo Diet advocate so has his own fish to fry.)

It’s clear some plant based fats like those found in olive oil, as well as fish-derived fats, reduce the risk of heart disease. And also saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol.

Refined Carbs Warning

But that’s only one risk factor for heart disease, reports The Salt, a health blog published by the authoritative US public radio website NPR.

Says blogger Allison Aubrey: “There’s now evidence that — compared with carbs — saturated fat can also raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and lower trigylcerides in the blood, which are both countering effects to heart disease.”

One of the meta-study’s co-authors, Dariush Mozaffarian a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, says saturated fat “has a relatively neutral effect. . .not beneficial but not harmful” as far as heart health is concerned.

The consensus among nutritionist seems to be that substituting fat for carbohydrates – particularly refined flour carbs – isn’t a good idea, but substituting polyunsaturated fat (from nuts, seeds like hemp and olives, cold water fish and leafy greens) is beneficial.

Med Diet ‘Big on Good Fats’

After all, the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, which includes lots of nuts, olive oil, fish, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and small amounts of cheese and meat, turns out to be a pattern of eating that includes 40 percent to 45 per cent of calories from fat.

One thing is clear – Ultra low fat diets are done and dusted for anyone wanting to stay in their prime!




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